If you have or are hoping to make Muslim friends this year, it’s helpful to know when Muslim religious holidays take place and what they are celebrating. Understanding these occasions can help you start a conversation with new acquaintances or get to know existing friends better. It also offers opportunities for Christians to explain some of the traditions around their faith and exchange observations about cultural practices with Muslims. As you explore Muslim holidays, it’s useful to know a few things that factor into the festivities:
There are two dominant sects of Islam: Sunni and Shia. They may celebrate holidays in different ways.
Because the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar calendar, holidays don’t occur on the same day each year of the Gregorian calendar.
In Arabic, the word “Eid” means “feast,” “festival,” or “holiday” in a general sense, but there are two specific major festivals per year that bear this name: Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha.
Some holidays involve fasting or other special dietary restrictions.
"BECAUSE THE ISLAMIC CALENDAR IS BASED ON THE LUNAR CALENDAR, SOME HOLIDAYS DON'T OCCUR ON THE SAME DAY EACH YEAR."
What Holidays Do Muslims Celebrate?
Here’s a quick breakdown of each Muslim holiday, what it celebrates, and how it is observed:
Al-Hijra. Al-Hijra is the Islamic New Year, which celebrates the Prophet Muhammad’s establishment of the first Islamic state in 622 CE. It marks the beginning of Islam as a community of people. This holiday is fairly understated, and there is no specific activity associated with it, although many Muslims make New Year’s resolutions on this day.
Mawlid al-Nabi. Mawlid al-Nabi means “Birthday of the Prophet,” which in many Muslim countries is a public holiday. Muslims are somewhat divided on observing this holiday; some feel it places too much emphasis on the Prophet Muhammad as a human. Those who do mark the occasion attend prayer services, share meals, attend lectures, recite the Quran, and participate in marches.
Ramadan. Ramadan lasts for an entire month, and it’s one of the holiest months in the year, as it celebrates the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. Participants fast during the daylight hours, attend special services, and focus on becoming closer to God through acts of discipline, prayer, reflection, and charity.
Eid al-Fitr. Eid al-Fitr (Festival of the Breaking of the Fast) effectively marks the end of Ramadan. Muslims wear dress clothes and attend a prayer service called salat-al-eid, which in many mosques also incorporates food, games, bazaars, and rides for children. People also visit with their families for a few days, and children receive gifts.
Eid ul-Adha. Eid ul-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice) is the greatest festival in the Islamic calendar, and it celebrates the completion of the annual Holy Pilgrimage of Hajj. This pilgrimage is obligatory for all eligible Muslims and is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The holiday is spent with family and loved ones; Muslims wear new or dress clothing and exchange gifts.
Ashura. Ashura is known to all Muslims, but the two sects honor the occasion in different ways. For Sunni Muslims, it commemorates the day that Noah left the ark and that Moses was saved from the Egyptians; on this day, Muslims may choose to fast. For Shia Muslims, this holiday is a somber one that commemorates the martyrdom of Husayn, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. People participate in mourning rituals, passion plays, and parades centered around lamentation.
If you’d like to understand more about Islam, Islamic holidays, or Muslim beliefs and cultures, it can be helpful to get involved with an organization that seeks to build connections between Christians and Muslims.
"THERE ARE TWO SECTS OF ISLAM: SUNNI AND SHIA. THEY MAY CELEBRATE SOME HOLIDAYS IN DIFFERENT WAYS."
Make New Muslim Friends With Neighborly Faith
Neighborly Faith brings Christians and Muslims together to have dialogues and build real friendships on college and university campuses. We don’t ask participants to bring the most watered-down or diplomatic version of themselves into our spaces—we encourage Christians and Muslims to be authentic and transparent.
After all, if there’s at least one thing that we can say that evangelical Christians and Muslims for sure have in common, it’s that some of their beliefs and practices may seem strange in a secular culture. Our events shouldn’t be one more space where devout individuals feel they must filter themselves. This doesn’t result in division; genuineness promotes trust.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned at Neighborly Faith, it’s that well-intentioned efforts to engage with Muslims are often stifled by outdated techniques, leading to flash-in-the-pan outreach or heated debates—and both of these fail to promote authentic listening and enduring relationships.
We believe Christians should be known by Muslims as being the most curious, generous, and empathetic members of our society. Muslims won’t become Christians because we oppose Islam, or by making it harder for them to be Muslims. They will be attracted to Christ by our good works (Matthew 5:16).
Fight Misconceptions and Make New Muslim Friends With Neighborly Faith
Neighborly Faith is a student-led organization committed to bringing Christians and Muslims together and creating real friendships with neighbors of all faiths. We share the expertise of Evangelical scholars and practitioners to train a generation of leaders to love and lead like Jesus in a diverse world.
Our Boundless Program connects Christian students with influential Muslims in their field in online and in-person learning and networking opportunities. NF Media trains evangelicals to lead and love across faiths. What Went Wrong? tackles the big questions about polarization, and offers real solutions. Our Fellows Program is a competitive fellowship that will equip a cohort of Evangelical college students to lead initiatives that seek justice for and build friendships with people of other faiths in their communities.
If you’re interested in leading with a neighborly faith, contact us today!