Half a world away in Mecca, some 3 million Muslims were ending their holy pilgrimage, or “hajj,” to the most sacred place in Islam, fulfilling one of the five pillars of their faith.
At the same time, nearly 7,000 Valley Muslims gathered Wednesday morning in a hall at Phoenix Civic Plaza for Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, one of their two holidays in the Islamic calendar.
“This is called the 'Big Holiday,’ ” Janan Atiyeh of Phoenix said. Bigger, she said, than the better-known Eid al-Fitr, the feast day that marks the end of the annual month of fasting, Ramadan.
Waves of Muslim families rode down escalators and flooded into a hall whose floor was covered with plastic, then demarcated by long strips of paper oriented toward Mecca. During the 30-minute rituals, they prayed in the direction of the sacred seat of their faith in Saudi Arabia, where the Prophet Muhammad was born and lived. As is custom, men gathered for prayer at the front of the hall while women and children, many brightly dressed, were grouped in the back.
Muaz Redzic, imam of the Scottsdale Mosque, led prayers in Arabic and English for the mass audience. “What is this unity all about?” he asked worshippers. “It is to help each other in righteousness and piety, not in sin and rancor.” He called on followers to purify their souls and follow a straight path.
“It is a joyous occasion for Muslims all over the world, both from those who make the pilgrimage and those who wish to make it,” said Dr. Salaheddine Tomeh, a Paradise Valley physician.
The Feast of the Sacrifice commemorates a centerpiece moment for all three major monotheistic faiths, the time the Prophet Abraham (or Ibrahim) was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Ishmael), as a burnt offering to show his faith and obedience to God, only to be stopped by an angel and presented a ram to slaughter in his place.
“This is a major gathering for all Muslims,” said Shabib al-Hadheri, president of the Islamic Community Center in Tempe. “They come together and they remember their brotherhood,” and cultural and national differences among Muslims fade away.
He said it is a Muslim custom to fast during the daylight hours the day before Eid al-Adha. “Yesterday was a very blessed day,” he said.
Hafez Turk of Tempe beamed at the size of the turnout. “In 1979, we had about 70 people at the Los Arcos Mall in Scottsdale,” he said. It’s estimated almost 100,000 Muslims live in the Valley.
“People who make the hajj never forget it,” said Turk. Muslims typically give gifts, often money and toys to family members for Eid al-Adha, take work holidays, visit in homes and gather in restaurants to celebrate. Giving generously to charity is also called for.
Atiyeh’s husband, Marwan Ahmad, said Muslims would be celebrating four days this week.
He vividly recalled his Mecca pilgrimage three years ago as a sea of believers swept along while circling the great Kaaba — the cubelike shrine covered in a black veil and containing a sacred black stone — seven times.
Pilgrims clad in simple white garments throughout the two-week pilgrimage carry out prescribed rituals daily, including visits to nearby Medina, casting pebbles at “the devil” and visiting Mount Rahma, the rocky hill on Arafat where they believe Adam and Eve were reunited after fleeing Eden.
There, they also ask for God’s forgiveness in what is said to be a preview of the Day of Judgment.