What’s the Difference Between Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha?

(Last Updated On: July 7, 2022)

Colloquially referred to as Eid, you might have noticed the prefix appear twice in the title. If you don’t observe either, you may be wondering why there might be two Eid holidays. Beyond simply translating the names of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha from Arabic to English, what’s the difference between Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha?

Translations

In English, “Eid” translates more or less to “festival” or “holiday,” which should answer the “more than one” question. Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are the two biggest holidays celebrated in Islam, with Eid al-Adha being the larger of the two. Colloquially Eid al-Adha is sometimes called “Big Eid.” By contrast, Eid al-Fitr may colloquially be called “Lesser Eid.” Eid al-Fitr is celebrated first, at the end of the Ramadan fast. Translating to English, Eid al-Fitr is literally the “Holiday of Breaking the Fast.” Eid al-Adha in English is the “Holiday of the Sacrifice.” Both these translations should give you a pretty good idea of what each holiday celebrates.

Eid al-Fitr

But what do they mean, really? Let’s start chronologically with Eid al-Fitr. Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, the specific day will differ year to year when mapped on a Gregorian one. As the holiday’s name implies, Eid al-Fitr is always celebrated directly following Ramadan–and on the first day of the 10th month of the Islamic calendar. Once it begins, Eid al-Fitr lasts for up to three days. Its origins are said to come from the prophet Muhammad. It’s said that when Muhammad migrated from Mecca, festivals began in Medina. Once he made it to Medina, Muhammad found people celebrating on two specific days. Those two days would become Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

Because Eid al-Fitr is aligned with a lunar calendar, it begins at the first sighting of the crescent moon. This means the exact timing can be offset by a day or so if it’s cloudy or the moon is otherwise obstructed. How exactly Eid al-Fitr is observed can differ regionally, including how many days it lasts (it’s between one and three, though). Depending on the branch of Islam one obseres, the specific elements of the Eid al-Fitr prayer differ, though there is no call to prayer and the prayer is two units. It’s also forbidden to fast on the first night of Eid al-Fitr (it is the day of breaking the fast, after all), and the prayer is accompanied by an act of charity before it begins. 

Further Reading: What Is Ramadan? Why Does the Date Change?

Eid al-Adha

Unlike its smaller counterpart, Eid al-Adha doesn’t come on the heels of Ramadan. Roughly translating to the “Holiday of Sacrifice,” Eid al-Adha commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son to Allah. He was supposed to provide a lamb, but didn’t have one and was asked to sacrifice his son as a result. Ibrahim’s son isn’t directly named in the text of the Quran, but it’s broadly accepted that his son’s name is Ismail. God intervenes at the last second and prevents Ibrahim from the sacrifice. If you’re familiar with Christianity or Judaism, you might recognize this story as the one with Abraham. 

Eid al-Adha is often accompanied with the distribution of meat and chanting the takbir before and after the Eid prayers. The affluent sacrifice their best domestic animals to parallel the story. Sacrificed meat is to be split into thirds; for the immediate family, other relatives and friends, and the needy. The intention here is to ensure every Muslim gets to eat some meat.

Festivities last for four days, falling on the 10th day of the final month of the Islamic calendar. Eid al-Adha also marks the end of the Hajj, which is an annual pilgrimage made to Mecca. 


See if you know which countries celebrate Eid here.

About the Author:

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Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.

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