Holidays in Islam
Muslims celebrate holy days, fasts, and feasts throughout the year. These holidays reflect the diversity of the world’s almost two billion-strong community of Muslim believers. Some, like the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, continue ancient Arabian rites whose Islamic form was codified by the Prophet Muhammad (570-632). Others, like the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday (Mawlid al-Nabi al-Sharif), came into being hundreds of years later. Sunnis, Shi’a, and the other groups that make up the larger Islamic community (ummah) also have their own particular holy days. Still other holidays are local celebrations of miracle workers, military victories, or major political events, the latter of which are often suffused with religious significance.
The most ancient Muslim holidays are connected to events in the life of the Prophet. The month-long fast of Ramadan, which takes place in the ninth month of the Islamic year and concludes with the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, commemorates the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, and is the only month of the year mentioned in the sacred text. During Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from sunup to sundown, when the end of the fast is celebrated by a festive meal (Iftar).
The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca begins on the eighth day of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar. The pilgrimage incorporates elements from pre-Islamic Arabian belief, including the pilgrimage itself and the veneration of the Ka‘ba, the sacred building at the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The Hajj is also connected to Abraham, for instance in the reenactment of the Patriarch’s near sacrifice of his son during the animal sacrifice of Eid al-Adha. The ritual structure of the Hajj that pilgrims follow today was set by the Prophet Muhammad during his first and only Hajj in 632 CE.
Other prominent holy days, particularly those observed by Shi’a Muslims, are connected to the biographies of other members of the Prophet’s family. During the month of Muharram, Shi’a commemorate a number of fast and pilgrimage days related to the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Husayn ibn ‘Ali, the third Shi’a Imam, at the order of the Caliph Yazid I at the battle of Karbala. Shi’a pilgrims from around the world gather in the city, located in Iraq, on the day of Ashura to mourn Husayn’s martyrdom; Sunnis can also fast on this day.
Palestinian Muslims have historically observed a number of important local holidays, such as the annual pilgrimage from Jerusalem to Nabi Musa, a site near Jericho identified as the burial place of Moses. While references to the veneration of the site date back to the Mamluk period, the Ottoman authorities restored the tomb and promoted the pilgrimage, which coincides with the beginning of Easter. Similarly, the Druze community celebrate an annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Nabi Shu’ayb, located near the city of Tiberias. Shu’ayb is identified with the biblical Jethro, whom Druze venerate as their fourteenth prophet. Today, the pilgrimage takes place in the spring, between the 25th and 28th of April.
The National Library of Israel collection includes items that tell the fascinating stories of the Muslim holidays. In the pages below you can find rare and illuminated manuscripts, photographs, news reports, and recordings of holiday songs and prayers. Other items are available by searching the Library’s online catalog or contacting librarians through email, text, and the chat feature on our website.