They come from more than a dozen countries, speak different languages, reflect the myriad of cultures throughout the world.
Yet despite their differences, the women and men gathered Tuesday for Eid Al-Adha – the most significant holiday in the Muslim calendar – seemed like a large, extended family. They shared their food, held one another’s babies, and called one another “sister” or “brother.”
“We have each other,” said Dzenana Prozorac, who immigrated with her mother and son to the U.S. from Bosnia 13 years ago. “We are all together praying for peace on this special day.”
More than 300 Muslims from throughout Spokane and Coeur d’Alene came to Spokane Valley’s CenterPlace at Mirabeau Point Park to celebrate Eid Al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice.
“Assalamu-alaikum,” they greeted one another in Arabic, the language of the Quran, Islam’s holy book. “Peace be with you.”
Barefoot, heads bowed to the ground, the congregation prostrated themselves in prayer as they praised and gave gratitude to God. Although they all gathered in the same auditorium, the women and men prayed and ate on opposite sides, separated by a wall of black curtains.
“Today is a great day,” proclaimed Mamdouh El-Aarag, president of the Spokane Islamic Center. “Today, we thank Allah for all the blessings.”
During his sermon, which he gave in both English and Arabic, El-Aarag spoke of their obligation to give to the poor, to care for one another and to “build a community based on forgiveness, equality and love.”
He also announced plans to raise funds to build a new mosque and community center – a bigger one to accommodate the growing number of Muslims in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area.
Located in north Spokane, the current Islamic center is the size of a small house and is suitable only for Friday prayer gatherings. During Eid Al-Adha and other major holiday celebrations, members of the mosque have to rent an auditorium or banquet room to make space for all the families.
At least 1,000 Muslims live in the area, according to Saleh Elgiadi, chairman of the committee in charge of building the new Spokane Islamic Center. The committee hopes to raise an initial $500,000 for the project, which will include classrooms and a 3,000-square-foot hall.
Many were thrilled to hear the news, especially on this day of celebration.
Eid Al-Adha marks the end of the hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca and one of the five pillars or commandments of Islam. It also commemorates the obedience of the Prophet Ibrahim, also known as Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son to follow God’s command.
Muslims throughout the world usually re-enact Ibrahim’s obedience by slaughtering a cow or lamb. The meat is divided into three parts – one is kept for the family, a third is given to friends and relatives and another third is given to the poor. Unless they live on a farm, most Muslims in the area no longer perform that rite. Instead, most choose to donate money to the needy, said Amna Ahmed. Although she usually designates her gift to help the poor in her native Pakistan, Ahmed recently gave money to help the tsunami victims in Indonesia.
“It is a time for sacrifice,” she explained. In addition to fasting prior to Eid Al-Adha, Muslims also give up a portion of their income to help care for the less fortunate.
Although obedience and sacrifice are the major themes of the holiday, many – especially the children – consider it an opportunity to visit old friends and connect with others who share their faith.
Like the hajj in Mecca, the celebrations in Spokane show how Islam can unite the different cultures of the world, said Elgiadi, who is originally from Libya.
“It’s a symbol of unity and the desire for mankind to be peaceful with one another,” he said. “These are people from all corners of the world.”
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