Today, Malaysia, just like the rest of the Muslim world, celebrates the biggest Eid of all – Eid ul Adha. Locally, it’s known as Hari Raya Aidiladha or Hari Raya Haji or Hari Raya Korban. Even though the celebration for Hari Raya Aidilfitri tends to be on a grander (and prolonged) scale in Malaysia, technically, it’s Hari Raya Aidiladha that is the bigger and more important Eid.
The ‘haji‘ part of the term ‘Hari Raya Haji‘ comes from the fact that the celebration is observed after the conclusion of the Hajj, or the Muslims’ pilgrimage to Mecca.
The ‘korban‘ part of the term ‘Hari Raya Korban‘ comes from the practice of sacrificing cows, goats or sheep on that day. Interestingly enough, ‘korban‘ is not just a Malay word; apparently it is Hebrew, as well.
Hari Raya Aidiladha is actually the commemoration of Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ismail, for the sake of God. [NB: Ibrahim is Arabic for ‘Abraham’.] Muslims — those who can afford it — are obliged to donate their share in the slaughter of a cow or goat. The amount varies from year to year, based on the market price of the animals, I suppose. This year, for instance, it ranges from about RM225-RM290 per portion of a cow.
Muslims celebrate Hari Raya Aidiladha by going for special prayers in the morning, then proceeding with the sacrifice of the cows and/or goats.
In the surau near my house, you can see a couple of cows tied up in the premises a few days before the big day. On the day itself, the menfolk help each other out digging holes in the ground (for the blood from the neck), tying up the cows and holding down the cows during the slaughter. Certain practices are observed prior to the slaughter — such as making sure that the knife is very sharp but keeping it away from the animal’s sight, as a gesture of kindness to it. After the slaughter, the community work together in skinning the cow, then cutting up, portioning and packing the meat in plastic bags.
The community shares in the meat, with priority given to the poor. In the more well-to-do areas in KL, there have been cases of people not taking the meat, thereby forcing mosque volunteers to go around and distribute it in the neighbourhood. As a result, some Malaysians prefer to give their donations for the korban to organisations that organise the slaughtering of the animals in places like Cambodia or Mindanao, Philippines, where the people are more needy.
The only difference between the Islamic and Christian versions of the story of Abraham’s sacrifice is the son who was to have been sacrificed. While the Christians believe that it was Isaac, the Muslims believe that it was actually Ismail. The Qur’an does not state specifically which son it was, but right after the story of the intended sacrifice, there is mention of another son for Abraham (“And We gave him the good news of Ishaq – a prophet – one of the Righteous” 37:112), hence it can be deduced that it was Ismail who was meant to be ‘sacrificed’. The Bible, on the other hand, specifically mentions Isaac by name in Genesis 22:1-19 (“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Mori’ah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”).