To many non-Muslims in our multi-racial society, it does not come as a surprise if many still cannot differentiate the symbolic days between Hari Raya Puasa and Hari Raya Haji. Simply put, Hari Raya Puasa symbolises the end of Ramadan (fasting month) and Hari Raya Haji is in remembrance of the sacrifices made by Prophet Ibrahim on his son, Ismail. Both days are public holidays in Singapore and more often than not, after celebration of Hari Raya Puasa, Hari Raya Haji will follow suit some months later.
Tracing the sacred journey, Hari Raya Haji is usually celebrated over a period of four days by Muslims in Islamic countries and the festival starts on the 10th day of the month of Zulhijjah which is the last month of the Islamic calendar.
Aside from the sacrificial theme, Hari Raya Haji also marks the end of Hajj where thousands of pilgrims converged on the Holy Land of Mecca to perform a series of symbolic rituals. Before the 8th of Dhul-Hijah (sacred month of the Islamic calendar that marks end of the year), anyone who wants to perform pilgrimage (Hajj) pronounces the intention to perform Umrah while approaching the Miqat (specific places to do Hajj or Umrah). A second intention for the actual Hajj is then pronounced at a later period. The rites of Umrah and Hajj may include putting Ihram (the state of sacred purity Muslims must adhere to); performing supererogatory prayers; making several types of Tawaf (moving in anti-clockwise direction & in harmony); doing Sa’ee (ritual walking) between Safa and Marwah; trimming and/or cutting hair, praying and staying in Mina, praying and standing in Arafah, praying and staying in Muzdalifah, throwing pebbles in three Jamrahs (stoning of the devil); sacrificing an animal; praying behind Maqam Ibrahim and drinking from the well of ZamZam. On completion of the Hajj journey, the pilgrim asks Allah to accept the rituals and promises to abide by the divine commands. Prophet Muhammad had said, “Whoever goes to Hajj without obscenity he or she will be forgiven as a new-born.”
During Hari Raya Haji, male volunteers will congregate at the mosques to offer their prayers and reflect upon the sermons that are read out. This serves as a timely reminder to share one’s wealth with the less fortunate people. After the prayers, sheep, goats and cows are then sacrificed and that symbolises Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrificing his own flesh and blood for God. The meat is then distributed among the Muslim community. As a customary, the Muslims would then pay a visit to their parents, families and friends where they come together for a hearty meal.
“Surely Abraham was an example, obedient to Allah, by nature upright, and he was not of the polytheists. He was grateful for our bounties. We chose him and guided him unto a right path. We gave him good in this world, and in the next he will most surely be among the righteous." (Qur'an 16:120-121)