After the birth of a child, Muslim parents often host the aqiqah, or welcoming celebration, at their home or a community center. The aqiqah is an optional 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. One third of the meat is given away to the poor, 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.
The aqiqah is traditionally held on the seventh day after the child's birth, but may also be postponed until later. The aqiqah is the Islamic alternative to the baby shower, which in many cultures is held before the child's birth.
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, it is sometimes referred to as a naming ceremony, although there is no official procedure or ceremony involved.
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.