Since most Hui people are Muslims, they follow the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar calendar that has 12 months and 354 days in each year. This makes their years 11 days shorter than our Gregorian calendar and so they have to wait less time between festivals! The three main festivals are all religious and are known as Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Mawlid an-Nabi.
During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, the Hui observe a religious practice known as Ramadan. Throughout Ramadan, men older than 12 and women older than 9 must fast during daylight hours and can only eat and drink once it is dark (i.e. before sunrise and after sunset). It is practised during the ninth month because, according to the Quran, this is when Allah bestowed his teachings upon the prophet Mohammed, meaning this is the most sacred month in the Islamic calendar.
Muslims fast during Ramadan in order to experience starvation and thus empathise with those less fortunate. Just imagine hungrily watching your co-worker eat a McDonalds, knowing that you have to wait another 8 hours to eat, and you’ll understand just how challenging this is! Once the fasting has ended, they celebrate a three-day long festival known as Eid al-Fitr. It begins on the 1st day of the 10th month and each person will get up early in the morning, take a bath, and thoroughly clean their house and surrounding streets. They then light incense and head to the mosque in their formal clothes, where they will attend a religious service and listen respectfully to the imams giving lectures and sermons.
Once these are completed, they must go to their family’s cemetery and hold activities in honour of their ancestors. The family will then gather together and make traditional food such as fried dough pastries and fried cakes. Alongside these fried delicacies, they will prepare a feast of chicken, mutton, beef and braised vegetables, which will be shared with relatives, friends and neighbours as a sign of goodwill. After a month of fasting, it’s a small wonder that anyone has the patience to prepare food and not just wolf down the raw ingredients! The following two days of the festival are celebrated with feasts, lion dances, wrestling, and all manner of entertainment. As this is considered an auspicious occasion, many Hui youths will also get married during this festival.
The term “Eid al-Adha” means “sacrifice and self-devotion” in Arabic, so it is unsurprisingly also known as the Feast of Sacrifice, and the Festival of Fidelity and Filial Piety. It is a four-day festival that begins on the 10th day of the 12th month according to the Islamic calendar and revolves around the sacrifice of an animal, usually an ox, which people will divide into three portions. The first portion of meat is given to family members, the second is gifted to relatives, friends, and neighbours, and the final portion will be used as alms to help the poor. The older family members boil the meat and inform the children that, after they have finished eating, they must bury the bones underground and cover them with yellow earth instead of giving them to dogs.
They traditionally sacrifice animals during this festival in homage to the ancient prophet Ibrahim. According to the Quran, Allah spoke to Ibrahim and ordered him to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Ibrahim sharpened his knife and approached his son, but relented and begged his son to leave. However, Ishmael told his father that, if it was the will of Allah, then he must be sacrificed.
Ishmael lay down in acceptance of his death and Ibrahim felt tears stream down his cheeks as he placed the knife on his son’s throat. At that moment, Allah stopped Ibrahim and provided him with a “greater sacrifice” than Ishmael, although it is never explicitly mentioned what this sacrifice was. This festival honours both Ibrahim’s devotion to Allah and Ishmael’s filial piety in obeying his father without hesitation.
During the festival, most families will host a gathering and share a feast of beef, mutton, fruit, fried cakes and other delicious dishes with their relatives, friends, neighbours, and sometimes local imams.
The prophet Mohammed is believed to have been born and died on the same day so this festival commemorates both his birthday and the anniversary of his death. It takes place on the 12th day of the 3rd month according to the Islamic calendar. During the festival, Muslims will go to the mosque, chant scripture from the Quran, send their blessings to Mohammed and his family, and listen to lectures by imams on the life of Mohammed. Once the religious ceremony has finished, they will donate grains, edible oil, meat, and money to the mosque.
For one day only, they will take charge of maintaining the mosque by helping to mill flour, purchase groceries, fry cakes, boil meat, cook delicious dishes, and perform all other daily chores. They all volunteer readily for these jobs as they consider this festival to be a particularly auspicious day to perform good deeds. When the work has been completed, people will gather together to enjoy a feast. In more affluent areas they will have huge gatherings, with dozens of tables laden with dishes for everyone to enjoy!