Bearing prayer rugs and dressed in their finest clothes, more than 7,000 Valley Muslims gathered Tuesday for their annual Eid al-Adha celebration as 2.4 million others experienced the obligatory pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Tempe resident Hafez Turk remembered being the speaker for the Valley’s first Eid al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice, gathering in 1979 when the Muslim population was only a few thousand. "I gave the lecture at First Federal Savings Banks at Los Arcos Mall (in Scottsdale) and 70 showed up," he said. Today, the Muslim population has grown to more than 35,000.
Tuesday’s hourlong event, which included chanting, prayers and a talk by an imam, brought the faithful to Phoenix Civic Plaza to commemorate the most important feast on the Islamic calendar, which traditionally lasts three days. It recalls the Prophet Abraham willingness to obey God’s instruction to sacrifice his son Isaac before a voice from heaven halted him and allowed him to sacrifice a nearby ram.
Turk said a tradition of some Valley Muslims is to order a slaughtered lamb from a butcher or farmer and donate some or all of it to a needy family. In other cases, families donate the comparable money for a lamb to Muslim social services and relief groups.
"I make sure to bring my family to this," said Faheem Zaman of Chandler, who recently moved from San Francisco. He said he hopes to make the pilgrimage to Mecca someday, fulfilling the fifth of the five Pillars of Islam. Turk estimated that about 70 Valley Muslims are taking part this week in the hajj.
Leena Nasaredden, 17, of Tempe helped direct women and girls to the section of the hall for the prayer service. "This is a chance for all of us in the community to get together in one place for a spiritual gathering," she said. She said she planned to join many others in a full afternoon of celebrating at Castles N’ Coasters fun park, offering a special rate. A Valleywide Eid al-Adha picnic will be noon to 6 p.m. Saturday at Encanto Park in Phoenix.
Shahriar Anwar of Chandler took off from morning work to attend. He compared the day to Thanksgiving and Christmas. He said Muslims see the story of God sparing Isaac as an important test of faith. "It shows how much faith they have for God," he said.
In his lecture, imam Didmar Faja of the Greenway Islamic Center in Phoenix called on Muslims to be tolerant and open to all faiths.
"Intolerance is on the increase in the world today causing death, genocide, violence, religious persecution and so on," he said. "In every situation it is evil and painful. The Quran speaks of the basic dignity of all human beings."