Members of the Greater New Orleans Muslim community gathered Wednesday (June 28) at the area’s mosques dressed in their finest to celebrate Eid al-Adha, the second of two major Muslim celebrations each year. Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, includes a special prayer to honor the prophet Abraham’s (or Ibrahim) obedience to Allah.
Masjid Abu Bakr Al Siddiq in Kenner held three prayer ceremonies to accommodate the hundreds expected to attend each one. Dr. Mamun ur Rahman, the Jefferson Muslim Association secretary and an epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the mosque, which can accommodate 700 guests at a time, welcomed about 1,850 for prayer for all three services that day.
Just before 9:45 a.m., the time for the mosque’s third and final Eid al-Adha prayer, men and women filed into an auditorium through separate entrances, leaving their shoes at the door and filling about half of the large hall. Plush red and white rugs covered the floor where members sat in anticipation of the imam leading them in prayer. In the back of both sides, small children in colorful dresses and dark slacks fidgeted in their places and stood up, ready to run across the room and play with their friends – their parents whispered sternly to implore reverence.
At the front of the men’s section, near an empty podium, men were chanting melodically the familiar “Allahu akbar,” meaning God is great. After the imam led the congregation in prayer, including two kneeling bows toward the east, he delivered a message about submitting to the will of Allah, like – according to the Quran – Abraham did, by his willingness to sacrifice Isma’il (referred to as Ishmael in Judaism and Christianity), his son with Hagar, the daughter of an Egyptian King gifted to Abraham’s wife Sarah.
In the Quran, the story begins with a dream that Abraham had in which he was sacrificing Isma’il, Loyola University Religious Studies professor, Adil H. Khan, explained. Abraham and his son believed the dream meant that this sacrifice should be carried out. But as they were preparing for the sacrifice, an angel came to Abraham and instructed him to sacrifice an animal instead of his son. Eid al-Adha honors Abraham’s readiness to obey Allah, even if it meant sacrificing his son. This story is similar in Christianity and Judaism in which an angel stops Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac.
“Abraham’s legacy is the embodiment of submission to the will of Allah,” the imam told the crowd. “The best way of life [is] standing for justice, being honest [and] being truthful.”
Muslim holidays follow the Islamic lunar calendar. Eid al-Adha immediately follows the hajj or yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that many Muslims, if they are fortunate, make at least once in their lifetimes. The hajj is one of five pillars of Islam.
“Pilgrims who travel to Mecca will pray where Abraham is believed to have prayed and run between the hills where Hagar is believed to have run in search of water for baby Isma‘il,” Khan said.
Eid al-Adha is less well-known outside of Muslim communities than Eid al-Fitr which directly follows the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during each day and restrict eating to the hours between sundown and sunrise. Eid al-Fitr is translated to the feast of breaking the fast. Eid al-Adha means the feast of sacrifice, referring to Abraham and his obedience to the dream with Isma’il.
“Variations of these rituals existed in pre-Islamic times when they were carried out by polytheistic Arabs,” Khan said. “They were adopted by Islam and stripped of the additional polytheistic practices focusing on monotheism and Abraham.”
For Eid al-Adha, Muslims are instructed to sacrifice an animal and divide it into three portions – one is kept for the family, one is given to members of the community or extended family and another is donated to the poor or those less fortunate than the giver.
“Some Muslims will still personally sacrifice animals,” Khan said.
Dr. Rahman, the Jefferson Muslim Association secretary, said some members visit nearby farms to watch or participate in the slaughter of a goat or lamb.
“Many Muslims today, however, will alternatively purchase the meat and distribute it accordingly,” Khan said.
Rahman and his family have arranged such a purchase with a butcher.
Although the major celebrations mostly happen on the first day of Eid al-Adha, the holiday lasts four days. The other three days can be used to carry out obligations, like sharing the meat that a family has acquired.
After the prayer, in front of the mosque, members greet each other, kissing cheeks and introducing their children who may have been away to community elders. Women in brightly colored saris with matching shawls as head coverings greet others in traditional hijabs over ornately embroidered dresses. Men in white kaftans, blue tunics and yellow dashikis gather. The members show the diversity of the congregation.
According to Rahman, members of the mosque represent more than 40 countries around the world.
The Eid al Adha prayer is followed by a day of celebration and fellowship. Given the ability to take off from work, Muslim community members visit each other’s homes, often visiting multiple homes, and sometimes bringing gifts, to eat and commune with one another.
Zannatul Nasrin and her husband Mohammad Abdur Razzique work at Tulane University’s School of Medicine as a medical research technician and a research scientist respectively. They were both able to take the day off. Nasrin’s mother came to visit from Dhaka, Bangladesh, where she is also from.
“It’s a time of celebration!” Nasrin said. “I feel happy to have my mom here. Now we’ll go to friends’ houses to eat food.”
The family had at least two invitations to community members’ homes.
Razzique said the family had already purchased their meat from a halal butcher and had a plan for distributing the meat in the coming days. He said he was excited for the day off to spend time with friends and “eat good food.”
Rahman is also from Bangladesh and has lived in New Orleans since 2000. His father came to visit and he and his family planned to spend the morning after their Eid al-Adha prayer getting in touch with loved ones spread out around the United States. and the world.
“But nowadays it’s much easier to do video phone calls,” Rahman said. “They’re thousands of miles away, but it feels like they’re close to you.”
Then he and his family, including his father, planned to visit a few homes. He had a plan for not overeating.
“You can not eat everything everywhere,” he said. “But it’s just to spend time with friends.”
Rahman said Eid al-Adha makes him reflect on the larger faith community that he is a part of – the mosque and the Jefferson Muslim Association is part of the East Jefferson Interfaith Clergy Association. He thinks about how he can be kind to the people he works with and lives near.
“[Eid al-Adha] makes me encouraged to do sacrifices in my life,” Rahman said. “I think how I can make a better community for everyone, be tolerant to others. We have so many different types of people.”
Rahman said the Muslim association and the mosque usually host an Eid al-Adha picnic on the weekend after the holiday to encourage fellowship, especially for members who do not have family nearby. Vendors sell food and activities and attractions are planned for the children who attend. This year, however, since the weekend is also Fourth of July weekend and temperatures are high, they are discussing with members about hosting a picnic at a later, and maybe slightly cooler, time.
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