Eid el Fitr

This is a four days celebration which takes place at the end of Ramadhan, the month of fasting and it is the biggest and the most respected of all festivals in Zanzibar. Also known as Eid or Sikukuu (days of celebration, festival or holiday), this festival is a time of gift giving and of giving alms. The fasting of Ramadhan is meant to remind people what life is like for their less fortunate brethren and the alms giving at Eid (known as Zakat-el-Fitr) is a continuation along the same idea. Both fasting and the giving of alms are two of the five pillars of the Islamic faith. Because the Islamic calendar is different from that of Christians, the dates for Ramadhan and Eid change every year by about 11 days.

The festival is observed with great enthusiasm and pomp in the island. The islanders are in a merry-making mood and this is a time for visiting relatives and friends. Eid is a nice time to see all the little girls in their new dresses and the boys in their new sneakers. The girls wear kohl around the eyes regardless of age, and the boys run around firing cap guns. There is a general feeling of celebration as people go from house to house visiting friends and relatives, preparing traditional Muslim food and attend Taarab concerts and discos at night.

Eid el Hajj

Eid el Hajj (also known as Eid-al-Adha or Eid al-Kabir) is the high point of the hajj season when many Muslims go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. As the name implies, the importance of this festival lies in the sacrificing of certain animals as a commemoration of the prophet Ibraham (Abraham).

The marking of Eid al-Adha celebrates Ibrahim’s willingness to obey God by sacrificing his own son. Told by God to sacrifice his most valued possession, he came to realize that the dream meant he had to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. When told of the dream, Ishmael said he must do as commanded. When the blindfolded Ibrahim took up a knife and made the sacrifice a voice from heaven told him to look down, and he saw that instead of Ishmael lying in front of him there was a ram. Ibrahim and Ishmael had both survived their test of faith.

The visitor to Zanzibar during this festival will witness the re-enactment of Ibrahim’s obedience by the sacrificing of goats and sheep. The meat from the sacrificed animal is usually divided into thirds, with one taken by the family, a third given to neighbours and relatives with the remaining third being given to the poor. Along with prayers and sermons, the mutual visiting of friends and family, lavish meals and the giving of presents, this festival is a joyous time in Zanzibar and also marks the end of the Hajj season, where many local pilgrims return from their visit to the holy cities of Medina and Mecca.

Eid is a joyful experience and everybody is out and about celebrating. In Zanzibar the partying continues for four solid days, with many open areas around town and in the villages turning into festival venues. There is a general feeling of celebration as people go from house to house visiting friends and relatives and attend taarab concerts and discos at night. In town, the festivities can be seen at the Mnazi Moja grounds across from the National Museum or at the Kariakoo fair grounds out by the Main Post Office. Because the Muslim calendar is different from that of Christians, the dates for Eid change every year by about 10 days so check a local Islamic calendar if you’re looking to visit Zanzibar during Eid.