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Festival of Sacrifice celebrated at Islamic Center

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Nov. 16, 2010 at 5:16 a.m.

Three-year-old Bareera Saif stands next to her mother during prayer service at the Victoria Islamic Center on the holiday of Eid al-Adha marking the end of Hajj.  Area Muslims celebrated the morning with a prayer service, breakfast and distribution of gifts for the children.

Eid al Adha Facts:Also called "Festival of Sacrifice" or "Greater Eid."

One of two major Muslim holidays to commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael.

Eid al-Adha is celebrated annually on the 10th day of the 12th and the last Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah.

An animal is traditionally sacrificed on Eid al-Adha, usually cows, lambs and goats.

The festival occurs after the culmination of the Hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Hajj is an annual trip to Mecca, and Muslims are required to make the trip at least once in their lifetime as part of the five pillars of Islam.

Dressed in their Eid al-Adha best, Muslim families excitedly gathered at the Victoria Islamic Center on Tuesday morning to celebrate the Festival of Sacrifice.

"Eid Mubarak" (Happy festival) and "Allah Akbar" (God is great) was exchanged between friends and family as they embraced and kissed each other's faces.

Eid al-Adha is one of two major holidays celebrated in the Islamic faith, preceded only by the holy month of Ramadan, which also culminates with a community celebration.

Festivities began at 8 a.m. with a traditional prayer service, followed by a sermon given by the center's Imam Osama Hassan. Colored lights and other festive decorations were hung around the center, and a sign that read "Eid Mubarak" was displayed on the wall.

"Today is a great day to celebrate the obedience and the sacrifice," Hassan explained during the sermon. His words referred to the religious roots of Eid al-Adha, which stem from the story of Abraham sacrificing his eldest son Ishmael in obedience to God. Moments before Abraham was to perform the act, God offered him a ram to sacrifice in Ishmael's place.

To that end, each Muslim family is obligated to sacrifice an animal on Eid al-Adha, usually a goat or lamb, and give one-third of the meat to the poor. The remaining two-thirds of the meat are divided equally among the family, and their friends.

In Mecca, more than 5 million Muslims will perform the act of animal sacrifice, then freeze the meat to be distributed to some of the most impoverished populations in the world.

"The biggest thing about this day is the obedience, to follow the tradition of Abraham," Islamic Center President Shahid Hashmi, said.

Following the sermon, a community breakfast was shared, and the men and women sat in separate areas of the center to eat and continue the celebration.

"I am happy to be here with everyone," Yuni Thomas said. "Everyone is smiling and there is always so much love in my heart."

For many, it was the first breakfast they'd enjoyed in nine days, because the days leading up to the festival are spent fasting.

"These are the best days because they are all part of the five pillars of Islam," Hassan said. "And blessings are multiplied 700 times this time of year when we fast."

Among the five pillars of Islam is Hajj, or making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is asked that all Muslims make the Hajj at least once in their lifetime as an act of obedience and submission to God.

Eid al-Adha is the celebration marking the end of Islam's annual Hajj.

After breakfast, everyone gathered near the gift table where gifts were handed out to children. They approached the table, hugged Hassan, then sat and waited patiently to unwrap their present.

"Everyone can get gifts, but we try to make our gift exchange about the children," Hassan's wife, Sarina Vasquez, said smiling.

As the children tore open the wrapping paper, parents circled around them to take pictures and wish them a "Happy eid."

"It's an exciting celebration, it brings us so close this time of year," Vasquez said. Eid al-Adha is observed for three days, but the primary celebrations are carried out the first day, or the 10th day of the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah.

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