by Samina QuddosNews Reporter
Sunday, more than 6 million Muslims around the nation celebrated the Festival of Sacrifice, Eid-ul-Adha, which first occurred more than 1,400 years ago.
"Muslims believe that Prophet Abraham had a vision from God telling him to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, as a test of his faith and obedience," said Rashid Neyaz, an environmental engineer at Saudi ARAMCO.
"Just as Prophet Abraham was about to sacrifice Ishmael, God told him he had passed the test and replaced his son with a sheep. Each year, Muslims celebrate Eid-ul-Adha to commemorate that sacrifice," he said.
Eid-ul-Adha lasts three days and begins with a congregational prayer. This year, more than 12,000 Muslims attended the Eid prayers at Astroarena Complex near the Astrodome, said Hafiz Babar Waheed, who earned the Hafiz title for memorizing the Holy Quran.
After the prayer, Muslims sacrifice a well-cared-for sheep, cow, bull, goat or camel. Although some people sacrifice their own animals, most Muslims in Houston ask Islamic meat stores to slaughter the animals on their behalf, said Mazhar Kazi, senior educator and author of more than five Islamic books.
The meat from the animals is divided into three equal portions. One portion is used by the family, another portion is given to friends, and the third portion is donated to needy Muslims, Kazi said.
Afterward, Muslims visit friends and family and enjoy the special feast prepared for Eid-ul-Adha. Muslims also send out cards and exchange gifts with each other during the three days of Eid, Kazi said.
According to Kazi, Muslims look forward to Eid-ul-Adha because of its religious importance and related festivities. Islam encompasses more than 4,000 ethnic groups, and the celebration of Eid-ul-Adha varies according to different cultures, Kazi said.
"In Syria, the men go to the Eid prayer and the women stay together," said Iman Abdi, pre-pharmacy student at the University of Houston. "Usually the women go to the house of one of their relatives. For example, I used to go to my grandfather's house. Also, carnival-like fairs come to the city for the three days of Eid so kids can enjoy and take rides on the merry-go-round."
In India and Pakistan, Eid-ul-Adha is a time to make special foods and buy new clothes, Neyaz said. Many of the women make designs and patterns on the palms of their hands by applying henna, a dye extracted from the leaves of a tropical Asian plant.
"Even in America, we prepare special dishes, we visit the cemetery, we express our affection by greeting and embracing, and we have an open house that welcomes everyone to visit on Eid," Neyaz said. "We still do the same things we did in India and Pakistan because our cultural heritage is very important to us."
In South Africa, the unique thing about Eid is that the men bring home the animals that will be slaughtered three to four days before Eid so the children can feed and take care of them, said Najmah Omarjee, a substitute teacher of Sunday Islamic school classes at Savoy Mosque. By the time the animal is slaughtered, the kids have become attached to it and really have a sense of the sacrifice, Omarjee said.
After Eid prayer, all the relatives gather in one house with their animals, and the animal's owner slaughters it in the backyard, Omarjee said. In America, South Africans do not slaughter their animals in the traditional way because back yards are not designed for it, but they still maintain their culture by baking, cleaning and sewing their own clothes.
According to Abdi, it is important to realize that Eid-ul-Adha is as important to Muslims as Christmas is for Christians.
"At Christmas, people bake goodies and have gifts for the kids, and we do this on Eid," Abdi said. "Since we have freedom of religion here, we should have time off for our holiday like we do for Christmas. This is our holiday, our time to celebrate."