Hari Raya Haji
Hari Raya Haji (which means “great day of the haj” in Malay), also known as Aidiladha (alternatively spelt as Eid al-Adha or Eid Adha) or the Great Day of Sacrifice, is a Muslim festival that falls on the 10th day of Zulhijjah (the 12th month in the Islamic calendar). It also commemorates the willingness of the Islamic prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismail in an act of obedience to Allah (God). One of the main rituals of the festival is the korban, which involves the sacrificial slaughtering of livestock.1 It is one of two major Muslim festivals in Singapore that are celebrated as public holidays (the other being Hari Raya Puasa).
Hari Raya Haji is celebrated to mark the Muslim pilgrimage known as the haj. According to the fifth pillar of Islam, all able-bodied Muslims who can afford to do so are obliged to undertake this pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.2 The haj retraces the journey of Prophet Muhammad’s pilgrimage to Mecca and must be undertaken during Zulhijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar.3
The festival also commemorates the story of Ibrahim and his son Ismail, both of whom were said to have been guided by Allah to build the Kaaba: a square stone building in the centre of the Great Mosque in Mecca that is considered by Muslims to be their most holy site. It is in the direction of the Kabaa that all Muslims face during prayers.4
According to the story found in the Quran, Allah one day commanded Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismail as a test of his obedience. Just as Ibrahim was about to carry out this command, Allah intervened to stop him and allowed for the sacrifice of a sheep in place of his son. Ibrahim’s exemplary act of sacrifice and obedience to Allah is commemorated during Hari Raya Haji through the ritual of korban, which involves the sacrificial offering of livestock.5
Rituals and practices
Fasting and prayers
Unlike during Ramadan when all Muslims are required to fast daily from sunrise to sunset for an entire month, fasting for Hari Raya Haji is usually done on the eve of the festival (known as Wukuf) and is not compulsory. On the day of the festival, Muslims first gather in mosques for congregational prayers before carrying out the korban ritual.6
The korban is one of the most significant rituals of Hari Raya Haji. The ritual is considered a sunnah muakkad (non-compulsory but strongly recommended obligation) and can be done individually or as a group. Muslims who can afford it are encouraged to perform the korban.7
The sacrifice ritual begins by facing the animal to be sacrificed in the direction of the Kabaa and uttering a prayer.8 The jugular vein at the animal’s throat is then slit quickly to ensure a quick death, usually within a minute. The animal is then cleaned and its meat carved up for distribution.9
As the korban signifies a sacrifice of anything valuable, livestock such as sheep, goats or cows are usually chosen as the offering. The person who sacrifices the animal keeps one third of the meat, while the remaining two thirds are shared with friends, neighbours and the poor and needy.10
In Singapore, the ritual takes place at mosques and religious schools. The korban may be performed by the donor or by appointed butchers at the respective slaughter sites.11
Besides its religious significance, another objective of the korban is to raise funds for the various Muslim organisations and mosques offering korban services. The funds are to help with their upkeep and educational programmes.12
Calculation of the date
There is no fixed date on the Gregorian calendar for Hari Raya Haji. Like all Islamic festivals, the date for Hari Raya Haji is based on astronomical calculations that rely on the sighting of the new moon and thus differs from year to year. In Singapore, the Islamic Religious Council (known in Malay as Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura, or MUIS) is responsible for determining the date of the festival each year.13 Hari Raya Haji is designated as a public holiday in Singapore.
Sourcing for korban livestock
One of the major issues that has plagued Hari Raya Haji celebrations in recent years is the shipment of the livestock needed for the korban. On several occasions, the shipments were delayed, forcing the cancellation or the postponement of korban.14
MUIS took over the importing of animals for korban in 1992. However, the organisation announced in June 1997 that it would no longer source for the animals needed for korban and would hand over the responsibility to the mosques. On its part, MUIS would continue issuing guidelines regarding the importing of livestock.15
Performing korban overseas
Another trend that has developed in recent years is the performing of korban overseas. Many Muslim Singaporeans have donated livestock for korban to both Islamic and non-Islamic countries as part of their charity and humanitarian relief efforts. After the korban ritual is performed, the meat is distributed to the less fortunate in these countries.16
In 2005, a group of Muslim Singaporeans donated cattle for the korban to the residents of Banda Aceh. This was in done to help those locals who had been affected by the December 2004 tsunami, which had occurred just one month prior to Hari Raya Haji.17
Some Muslim Singaporeans also see performing the korban overseas as an opportunity to bond with their relatives who live abroad in places like Malaysia.18
Another reason for some Muslim Singaporeans preferring to perform the korban overseas is the relatively lower costs compared to carrying out the ritual locally.19 This is because the price of korban sheep in Singapore has been increasing rapidly due to unfavourable exchange rates, falling supply of livestock, inflation and higher costs of logistics and transport. In 2011, the cost of each sheep was S$443.50, a 50 percent increase from the year before. It was then the highest recorded price for korban sheep.20 In 2012, the price for each sheep increased further to S$465.21
Australian export regulations on korban livestock
In 2012, Australia – the main source of korban livestock for Singapore – imposed new regulations on foreign livestock exporters. The new rules included giving more space for each animal in the holding pen, allowing only trained personnel to carry out the slaughter in a swift and humane manner, and the need for the slaughter knife to be twice the length of the animal’s neck. All these new regulations meant that the cost of the korban rites would increase further.22
Following the new rulings, MUIS and the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) carried out training for those involved in slaughtering the animals. Independent auditors also carried out audits on the korban process at the various mosques and submitted the reports to the Australian government.23 The same year, the Australian government approved the export of 2,500 sheep for korban at16 mosques and two organisations. These centres met the necessary criteria set out by international animal welfare standards.24
Muslim Singaporeans were advised by the authorities to consider performing the korban overseas as Australia may eventually decide to ban the export of live animals for korban. The government also announced that it was looking for other sources beyond Australia for korban livestock.25
In 2013, MUIS raised the number of korban centres to 23. The centres have to meet international welfare standards for korban operations before appointment.26
1992: MUIS took over the import of korban livestock.
1997: Shipment of korban livestock from Australia delayed; Responsibility for sourcing of korban livestock transferred from MUIS to individual mosques.
2005: Shipment of korban livestock delayed causing some mosques to postpone Hari Raya Haji ritual; Singaporean Muslims donated korban animals to residents of Banda Aceh.
2006: Hari Raya Haji occurred twice in the same year, in January and 31 December.
2012: Australia imposed new regulations on foreign livestock exporters.
1. “Hari Raya Haji, Day of Sacrifice, also Marks End of Pilgrimage,” Straits Times, 11 June 1992, 20; “Celebrating Hari Raya Haji with Prayers, Sacrifice,” Straits Times, 22 May 1994, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
2.” Whole-Hearted Giving for Religion and Brotherhood,” Straits Times, 13 July 1989, 39. (From NewspaperSG)
3. David E. Long, The Hajj Today: A Survey of the Contemporary Mekkah Pilgrimage (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1979), 8–10.
4. Long, Hajj Today, 6.
5. “Religion and Brotherhood.”
6. “Day of Sacrifice.”
7. Mardiana Abu Bakar, “Sacrifice for the Soul,” Straits Times, 13 July 1989, 39. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Long, Hajj Today, 21.
9. Arlina Arshad and Wong Sher Maine, “Learning Firsthand the Muslim Way of Life,” Straits Times, 24 February 2002, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Hari Raya Haji – a Quiet, Solemn Day for Muslims,” Straits Times, 13 July 1989, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Samantha Santa Maria, “An Old Hand at the Korban Ritual,” Straits Times, 29 March 1999, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Shaik Kadir and Shaik Maideen, “Muslim Singaporeans Take Korban Rites Overseas,” Straits Times, 30 December 2006, S10. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Announcement on the Beginning of Zulhijjah 1442H/2021 for Singapore,” Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura, media statement, 10 July 2021.
14. Indrani Nadarajah, and Ting Siew Lee, “35 Mosques Forced to Cancel Ritual,” Straits Times, 16 April 1997, 3; Indrani Nadarajah, “Mosques Find Alternative Animal Supplies,” Straits Times, 17 April 1997, 39; “Korban Sheep Delayed by Another Day,” Straits Times, 23 January 2005, 6; Ho Ka Wei, “Sheep Sail in on Time for Sacrificial Rritual,” Straits Times, 24 January 2005, H3; Arlina Arshard, “Moves to Get Korban Sheep Here on Time,” Straits Times, 4 June 2005, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “MUIS will no longer source for sheep for mosques,” Straits Times, 14 June 1997, 42. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Yeow Pei Lin, “More Muslims Choose to do Sacrificial Slaughter Abroad,” Straits Times, 28 April 1996, 30; Zakir Hussain, “Sharing a Ritual, in More than One,” Straits Times, 10 January 2006, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Kadir and Maideen, “Muslim Singaporeans Take Korban Rites Overseas.”
17. “Singapore Muslims Donate Cattle for Banda Aceh’s Haji Ceremonies,” Channel NewsAsia, 21 January 2005. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
18. Tuminah Sapawi “Malays Performing Sacrificial Slaughter Overseas on the Rise,” Straits Times, 29 April 1996, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Yeow, “More Muslims Choose to do Sacrificial Slaughter Abroad.”
20. “Sheep Prices at Record High,” Channel NewsAsia, 27 September 2011. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
21. “Korban Ritual to Continue but at a Higher Price,” Channel NewsAsia, 28 September 2012. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
22. Jennani Durai, “Koran Ritual Could Cost More this Year,” Straits Times, 29 April 2012, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Durai, “Koran Ritual Could Cost More this Year”; Neo Chai Chin, “Target to Clear 35 Mosques to Perform Korban Ritual,” Today, 14 August 2012, 21; Tessa Wong, “16 Mosques Audited for Korban Processes,” Straits Times, 14 August 2012, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
24. “Explore More Sources for Livestock,” Ministry of Culture Community and Youth, 3 November 2014.
25. Stacey Chia, (2012, October 27). “S’pore Must Look Beyond Australia for Korban Livestock, says Yaacob,” Straits Times, 27 October 2012, 1; Daud Yusof and Dylan Loh, “Sheep for Ritual: Be Prepared for Alternative Arrangements, says PM,” Today, 27 October 2012, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Ministry of Culture Community and Youth, “Explore More Sources for Livestock.”
The information in this article is valid as at 9 October 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.