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Holy Day Unites Families
By William Moyer
Johnson City, UK, Jan. 8, 2006 (Press & Sun-Bulletin) – Thousands of Muslims in the Southern Tier are preparing to observe one of Islam's holiest feasts.
Eid al-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice, begins Wednesday with a Salatul Eid prayer service at the Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier's mosque in Johnson City.
Kasim Kopuz, the mosque's imam or prayer leader, will greet congregants with "God is the greatest." Kopuz expects as many as 2,000 men, women and children to come to an 8:30 a.m. service Wednesday to pray for blessings and peace on the prophets before going home to observe the Eid al-Adha feast.
"I enjoy having this day to celebrate with my children and family," said Kamal Ahmed, of Binghamton , who's a student at Broome Community College . "It's very important to me because I'm very connected to my religion and to prophet Abraham, Moses, prophet Jesus and prophet Muhammad."
Ahmed, 45, who fled Somalia about 10 years ago, will serve his wife, children and mother a feast Wednesday that includes a freshly slaughtered goat or lamb, as well as a traditional Somali dish known as sambusa— pastries filled with vegetables and onions.
The feast at Ahmed's and hundreds of other Muslim households across the Tier will commemorate Abraham's willingness to obey Allah's command to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Muslims believe the son was Ishmael rather than Isaac as told in the Old Testament.
According to the Quran, Allah provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice rather than Ishmael because the father had shown his love for Allah exceeded all others, including his son. The meal also commemorates Abraham's wife Hagar's struggle to find food for Ishmael, Kopuz said.
The four-day Eid al-Adha feast accompanies the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, which annually draws as many as 2.5 million Muslims to their holy city, where Muhammad was born around 570. This year's pilgrimage was marred by the collapse Thursday of an eight-story building in Mecca that killed at least four dozen pilgrims and injured at least 62 others. Some believe pilgrims who die during Hajj are martyrs.
In 2004, on the final day of the ceremonies, 251 people were trampled to death when the crowd panicked during the ritual stoning of the devil.
Hajj is the once-in-a-lifetime obligation of all able-bodied Muslims, and one of the five pillars of Islam. The others are: a declaration of faith that there is no deity but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger; daily prayers; fasting during the holy month of Ramadan; and zakat,or charity.
Six adults from the Johnson City mosque took the pilgrimage to Mecca this year, Kopuz said. Muslims believe Mecca , as well as Medina , is where Allah revealed the Quran to Muhammad. Mecca also is the site of the Ka'bah, a holy building that Muslims believe Abraham and Ishmael built as the House of God.
Eid al-Adha is one of two major feasts on the Islamic calendar. The other is Eid al-Fitr, which breaks the monthlong dawn-to-dusk fast during Ramadan.
Only a portion of the meat from this week's Eid al-Adha feast will be eaten by the immediate family, Kopuz said. About one-third is given to friends and one-third is donated to needy people.
In that way, the sacrificial feast brings people together, Kopuz said.
"We are sacrificing for God to be closer to him through the connections to his prophets," he said about the role of the ritual in his congregants' lives. "Also, they feel socially bonded together as creations of God in a metaphorical sense."
These annual rituals allow Muslims to stay close to their beliefs — a role that ritual also plays in monotheistic Christianity and Judaism — and have a social component, too, a Binghamton University professor said.
"The pilgrimage is not only an obligation — one of the five pillars of Islam — but it also empowers the believer spiritually. You're retracing the steps of the prophet Muhammad," said Richard Antoun, professor emeritus of anthropology. "You have all these metaphorical equivalents of ancient events that provide rich symbols about the core of their faith."
For the feast, many Muslim families sit at a table with neighbors.
"It's a time of social solidarity," said Antoun, who has done post-graduate research in Jordan and Iran . "You usually invite people to your house (for the feast) that you would not necessarily invite otherwise."
Cuneyt Kaya will be away from his family and home in Islamabad for the first time this week when he observes Eid al-Adha.
The observance is as much a family reunion as a religious obligation, said Kaya, 26, who is doing research at Yale University on Islamic philosophy for a doctorate degree at a university in Turkey .
"It's very important for family, aunts and uncles, too," he said about the observance. Kaya will phone home sometime during the four-day feast, which he will observe with Kopuz and his family.
BY THE NUMBERS
The Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier in Johnson City does not keep a formal membership roll, but Imam Kasim Kopuz estimates that as many as 1,000 households with 2,500 Muslims from 25 countries live in Broome County . In the past two years, he said attendance at the Jumah prayer service on Fridays has increased from roughly 150 males to as many as 250 when Binghamton University is in session.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington , D.C. , says Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions in the world with an estimated 7 million Muslims in the United States and 1.2 billion worldwide. The council has estimated almost 2,000 mosques, Islamic schools and centers in the U.S.
The Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier wants to open a private school in a vacant building on Endicott Avenue in Johnson City to teach prekindergarten through fifth grade.
HAJJ AND EID AL-ADHA
Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca that is required of all able-bodied Muslims to commemorate the trials and sacrifices of Abraham, his wife Hagar, and their son Ishmael. As many as 2.5 million Muslims go to Mecca during the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islamic faith.
Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, is celebrated during Hajj to commemorate Abraham's willingness to obey Allah's command to sacrifice his son Ishmael. A freshly slaughtered goat or lamb is usually served at the meal with portions donated to neighbors and the poor. Eid al-Adha is one of two major feasts; the other is Eid al-Fitr, which is celebrated after a monthlong fast during Ramadan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.