New moon over Mecca and Minnesota marks Eid

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In the Twin Cities and around the world, Muslims celebrated Eid ul-Adha this week, a prayer service commemorating the prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son at the altar.

It’s a story that some Christians shy away from – the idea that God would ask Abraham to kill his son, as act of obedience, is troubling. Not so for Muslims.

“It’s more about the concept of obedience,” said Kashir Khan as he left the prayer ceremony Apple Valley Community Center Friday morning. Khan, 24, grew up in Hyderabad, India and lives in Eagan. After prayers, he will change out of his robe into a white collared shirt and dress pants and rush off to his job at a software development company.

At the prayer service, Khan joined roughly 100 men dressed in long cotton robes. Some are dressed in white with white skull caps called topis. As they entered the community center, the men and women filtered into separate rooms. The men removed their shoes, and help their kids do the same. Then they carefully arranged their prayer rugs. Most are from Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, but Khan said that’s not important.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to be a Muslim, and see this unity – people are from all different colors and races,” he said.

The Imam from the local mosque As-Sahabaha gave a brief sermon in English as the men found their place on the floor. “Today we focus on sacrifice,” the Imam said. “For God to ask Abraham to do this sacrifice – it seemed repulsive at first but he was willing to do it.”

For interesting international bloggers’ perspectives on Eid celebrations, read Arabeyes: Celebrating Eid Al Adha

In the Christian and Jewish traditions, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Muslims believe God asked Abraham to kill his other son Ishmael. In all the stories, Abraham binds his son on altar and prepares to kill him. At the last moment an angel tells Abraham that God was only testing his obedience. Abraham then sacrifices a ram instead.

Eid ul-Adha marks the end of the weeklong period of pilgrimage to Mecca, or hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam. Each year, Muslims making the pilgrimage retrace Abraham’s path to the place where tradition says he built his altar. [Ed. note: Eid ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, which is earlier in the year.]

The Imam from the As-Sahabaha mosque finished his talk, and the men prepared to pray. They stood in lines with their heels on a tape marker, and scooted in close to one another so that their shoulders nearly touched. Some smelled faintly of incense. While the Imam prayed aloud, the men raised their hands to either side of their faces three times. On the Imam’s cue, they prostrated their bodies with their foreheads touching the linoleum floor three times. After the prayers, the men greeted one another with three embraces.

Saoudy Ahmed Saoudy is the spiritual director of the Islamic Center of Minnesota. He said Eid is about humility.

“Everything we have, we got from God,” Saoudy said, explaining that commemoration of Abraham’s test of faith focuses one’s mind on the fact that worldly riches come from God rather than from oneself.

Saoudy grew up in Cairo, where his family would participate in the slaughter of a calf or a goat for Eid. This year, a Muslim butcher is slaughtering a cow for Saoudy at a local farm. Any Muslim can pray over an animal before the slaughter making the meat halal, a similar designation to kosher in the Jewish tradition. Saoudy purchased one-seventh of a cow for $200. His portion will be divided in three ways – one part for him, one part for friends, and one part for the needy.

Khan, the computer programmer, said he sent money to family in India to slaughter a cow for him. He would like to be with them, but he said he’s grateful for the ceremony.

“It’s about obedience to the highest level,” he said. Daily prayer, and ceremonies like this help remind him to be constantly attuned to the will of God.

But Eid is also a light-hearted holiday. Tonight after work, Khan will feast on goat with friends. Children receive cash gifts and they go around bragging to one another about how much they received, Saoudy said.

“It’s like Halloween when kids tell each other how much candy collected,” Saoudy said.

The Islamic Center of Minnesota held several prayer services in Brooklyn Center on Wednesday morning attracting about 1500 Muslims from across the metro area. Mosques and Muslim organizations use a lunar calendar to decide when the holiday should fall. Last year it fell in February. But religious groups use different criteria to determine exactly when the holiday should fall – some say when the new moon rises over Mecca in Saudi Arabia, other go by the sighting of the new moon over the United States.

Joel Grostephan is a reporter based in St. Paul. His work is regularly aired on KFAI Radio and in The Environment Report (based in Ann Arbor, Michigan). He’s always looking for a good story about class, race or poverty. Contact him at jgrostephan@gmail.com.

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