Aqiqah: the Islamic Welcoming Celebration for a New Baby

Muslim couple with newborn baby
Muslim couple with newborn baby. Getty Images / Juanmonino

Background

Muslim parents do not traditionally hold a "baby shower" prior to the child's birth. The Islamic alternative is a welcoming ceremony called the aqiqah  (Ah-KEE- ka), which is held after the child is born. Hosted by the baby's family, the aqiqah includes traditional rituals and is an essential celebration for welcoming a new baby into a Muslim family. 

The aqiqah is the Islamic alternative to the baby shower, which in many cultures is held before the child's birth.

But among most Muslims, it is considered unwise to host a celebration before the child is born. The aqiqah is a way for parents to show gratefulness and thanks to Allah for the blessings of a healthy child.

Timing

The aqiqah is traditionally held on the seventh day after the child's birth, but it may also be postponed until later (often the 7th, 14th, or 21st day after birth). If one cannot afford the expense at the time of the child's birth, it may even be postponed longer, as long as it is done prior to the child reaching puberty. Some scholars even advise adults to make an aqiqah for themselves if the celebration was not done earlier. 

The Aqiqah Meal

Muslim parents often host the aqiqah at their home or a community center. The aqiqah is an optional dinner event designed to celebrate the child's birth and welcome him or her to the community. There is no religious consequence for not holding an aqiqah; it is a "sunnah" tradition but is not required.

The aqiqah is always hosted by the parents or extended family of the newborn child. In order to provide a community meal, the family slaughters one or two sheep or goats. This sacrifice is considered the defining part of the aqiquah. While sheep or goats are the most common sacrificial animals, in some regions, cows or camels may also be sacrificed.

There are precise conditions attached to the sacrificial slaughter: the animal must be healthy and free of defects, and the slaughter must be done humanely.   One-third of the meat is given away to the poor as charity, and the rest is served in a large community meal with relatives, friends, and neighbors. Many guests bring gifts for the new baby and the parents, such as clothing, toys or baby furniture.

Naming and Other Traditions

In addition to prayers and well-wishes for the baby, the aqiqah is also a time when the child's hair is first cut or shaved, and its weight in gold or silver is given as a donation to the poor. This event is also when the baby's name is officially announced. For this reason, the aqiqah is sometimes referred to as a naming ceremony, although there is no official procedure or ceremony involved to the act of naming. 

The word aqiqah comes from the Arabic word 'aq which means to cut. Some attribute this to the child's first haircut, while others say that it refers to the slaughtering of the animal to provide meat for the meal.