A Very Sweet Middle Eastern Holiday – Eid al Adha

One of the most interesting aspects of spending time in other countries is seeing how people in other cultures celebrate their holidays – and sometimes celebrating with them.

One Muslim holiday little known to the Western world is Eid al Adha, also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice. This three-day holiday begins Friday, October 26 this year.

This holiday celebrates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ismael to God. As the Koran tells the story, Abraham blindfolded himself before going through with the act of sacrificing his son Ismael, only to open his eyes and see that he’d actually sacrificed a lamb and not his son after all. I’m Christian, so I believe the biblical version – that God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, not Ismael, and then God stopped Abraham just before he killed his son. Both versions of this story show strong faith in God.

In keeping with religious history, Muslims to this day continue to sacrifice on Eid al Adha. Not people, of course, but animals. Cows, sheep, goats and camels are the sacrificial animals, with families typically sacrificing just one of the above.

Eid al Adha, however, does have a much cheerier side. During this three-day period Muslims are generous with their money, bestowing gifts, monetary and otherwise, on family and friends. One of these gifts sometimes comes in the form of sweets. And one of the most popular Eid al Adha sweets in the Middle East is halwa. Here people know that one of the absolute best versions of halwa you can find are in the sweet shops of a small Persian Gulf town called Salahah, Oman.

A sweet shop in Salalah, Oman

I was in Salalah just prior to Eid al Adha in 2010, and discovered this jelly-like sugary sweet at that time. People travel to Salalah from as close as Saudi Arabia to as far away as Bahrain to taste Salalah’s regionally famous halwa. I was very happy not only to taste it and buy some to take home with me, but extremely privileged to visit one of Salalah’s foremost halwa factories to see how it was made. Here’s what I found:

Man making halwa in Oman

Boiling vat of halwa in Oman

Halwa takes three to four hours to make during which into a boiling vat are poured three types of sugar, dried fruit, ghee, rose water, saffron and honey. Once it reaches a boil, the mixture is ladled into bowls to set into bowls full of the tasty treat.

Bowls of Halwa in Salalah

Out of this oven emerges the flavors of halwa, including saffron and sultaneer.

Oven for cooking Halwa in Oman

Riding around Salalah I saw shops with glass windows full of blue, red and yellow bowls full of halwa. If you stop at one of these shops to try some, as I did, you’ll find that they’ll serve you samples of halwa along with strong cups of Omani coffee.

Freshly made halwa

Not many Westerners travels to Oman at all, much less during the Eid al Adha holiday. If you do ever find yourself in the region anywhere near this holiday, though, definitely, definitely buy some Omani halwa for yourself and your friends and family back home. You’ve never tasted anything quite this sweetly delicious.

To my Muslim friends – Eid ad Adha Mabrook!

10 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Candice says:

    I so admire your willingness to toss yourself into such completely foreign cultures. Gorgeous shots.
    Candice recently posted..In defense of the press trip (or why I’ve become a lazy traveller)My Profile

  2. Sabina says:

    Thanks, Candice :) It’s become my thing, I think.

  3. Steve says:

    This was an interesting post for me. I came to Morocco a day after Eid al Adha ended so I actually got to miss the holiday. I wish I had been able to see it though. Apparently, it’s an interesting experience.

    Although most of the teachers at my school said they were glad to be out of the country during this time. They told me about the sacrificing of sheeps and goats. I guess their blood runs into the streets. I’d still love to be around to see the festivities though. And I’d like to try that Halwa too.
    Steve recently posted..Why It’s Hard to Do Things That Are Good for YouMy Profile

  4. Sabina says:

    Hey, Steve – I was afraid there would be blood running in the streets too, when I was in Dahab, Egypt for Eid al Adha. Fortunately, the only gory scene I saw in Dahab was at a butcher’s shop, where there were dead lambs and their bloody skins lying all around. The only other such holiday I spent in a Muslim country was in Sharjah, UAE, which was a large city, so no blood in the streets there.

    I’m looking very forward to hearing about your adventures in Morocco!

  5. Gotta love the variety of cultural interpretations to events and stories. Visiting the factory sounds like fun. I like it that they mix sweetness with colors.
    Ayelet – All Colores recently posted..Northern Israel: My First (Mini) Mountain ClimbMy Profile

  6. Sabina says:

    Yes, that factory was an incredible surprise find. And the halwa was delicious!

  7. Shalu Sharma says:

    Eid is also celebrated in India as well. Although India is mainly a Hindu nation there is a sizeable Muslim population. Halwa has always be my favourite, we get them in India as well. Very interesting.
    Shalu Sharma recently posted..Potato cutlet as a starterMy Profile

  8. You could see those shops everywhere in Oman. In Nizwa I bought some halwa to take home for my parents to try, in the best shop in the city. And I’m upset to say but nobody liked it ha ha ha Nobody in my country appreciated the texture of it I think. Oh well, I enjoyed it :)

    Oman is an amazing country, so beautiful! I generally love Arabic countries, but Oman is very high on my list of best travels ever!
    Marysia @ My Travel Affairs recently posted..Top Travel Destinations 2013My Profile

  9. Muchas gracias, me ha gustado mucho. Un beso!!

  10. Samer says:

    Hi Sabina, great piece! Do you happen to know exactly what street this little factory was? Doing a story on Salalah and would love to get in touch with them before heading out there. MEGA THANKS!

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