Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Begining of Eid al-Adha -the Feast of Sacrifice

By:Kaylyn Hlavaty

Beginning on October 15th, Muslims around the world gathered at mosques for dawn prayers to celebrate one of Islam’s most sacred holidays, Eid al -Adha.  The holiday marks the end of the hajj, the pilgrimage made by Muslims during to the Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The Eid al -Adha, the feast of sacrifice, commemorates the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his first-born son Ishmael as an act of submission and dedication to Allah’s request and his son’s willingness to be sacrificed. In the Quran, as Ibrahim is about to sacrifice his son, he hears a voice from heaven that stops him and allows him to sacrifice a sheep instead.

Every year during Eid al -Adha, Muslims slaughter sheep, camels and cows to symbolize the sacrifice Ibrahim was willing to make for God. At dawn, men, women and children go the mosque to pray. Following prayer, families go to the cemetery to honor the loved ones lost.

Inside the Al-Amin mosque. photo taken by Kaylyn Hlavaty
As a journalist and foreigner, I wanted to witness the traditions and hear the meanings of this holiday. Around 7 a.m., I made my way to the Mohammad Al-Amin mosque in downtown Beirut. I wanted to begin my observance of this holiday with the first tradition of the day: going to the mosque. After I took my shoes off and I covered from head to toe, I went upstairs to the women’s praying area. 

The women were sitting in groups, some with children waiting for the morning prayer to start and others already praying. Not knowing where to sit, I slowly made my way over to a group of women talking. I introduced myself and I started to ask them questions about what Eid means to them. Since none of the women spoke English, we used our facial expressions and body language to communicate. Since we couldn’t understand each other when we spoke, we used facial expression and handshakes to show understanding and respect.

The burial of the late Abdalah Hasbalah

Amal Bakri was one of the many women who were gathered at the Mohammad Al-Amin mosque. She saw I was struggling to communicate verbally with the other women. She joined in the conversation speaking French and a little bit of English. It was enough to understand each other. Soon after, it was time for prayer. I sat on the side, watching women, children and men devotedly pray. After prayer, Amal invited me to meet her husband and her son who spoke better English. We sat in the car talking about the holiday and then before I know it, I’m in the car with her husband, mother, son and sister going to the cemetery. This is another tradition associated with the holiday. Family members visit loved ones who have passed away.

Eid is very special holiday for her and her family, like it is for many Muslims because it’s a time to spend with family and a day to be joyous.  Once we got to the cemetery, she explained to me that her father had died four months ago.

“It’s still very hard for me and my family. We are all very close and when you lose someone so close to a holiday that means a lot to us, it’s even more difficult,” said Amal.

Children selling flowers outside the cemetery
As I walked inside the burial grounds, I was told to put my camera away, so out of respect I did. On the way her father’s resting place, there were many other families paying their respect to the deceased. I was standing with the family watching Amal and her sister read verses from the Qur’an. Once everyone started to cry, I started to get emotional as well. I thought to myself, here I am with a family I have only known for about thirty minutes and they were generous enough to invite me to the cemetery during a intimate occasion. Also, they furthered the invitation to spend an entire day with them. I felt honored to be in that moment and witness this special moment. It’s not every day a journalist or an outsider for that matter can experience Eid the way I did.

They invited me for Nescafe and as the avid coffee drinker I am, I immediately accepted the invitation. While Amal was preparing the coffee, her son Ahmad Bakri took me to see the slaughtering of the sheep. I was happy I could see the slaughter just down the street from their house. I was prepared to see quite a bit of blood because I come from a family of hunters so I’m used to this sort of process. According to tradition, the sheep were slaughtered in the front of the mosque. Women, children and men stood to witness the slaughter. There were three sheep already dead when I arrived, which left one sheep to follow the rest.
The slaughter in front of the mosque. Photo taken by Kaylyn Hlavaty

Once I saw the slaughter of the final sheep, we headed to Ahmad’s house in Kornish al Mazraa where his sister, Nada, his father Farook, his brother Emel and his mother Amal all live. From the moment I walked in, I was given such warm hospitality. Once we drank coffee, I wanted to see more of the traditions that were taking place, especially the outreach to the poor. Ahmad took me to Ibad Al Rahman. It resembles a charitable center with an attached mosque. Throughout the year, this center provides prayer classes, medical and food assistance and on Eid, meat donations to the community and the poor. Throughout the holiday, there is approximately 3,600 sheep butchered and donated to the center.

Children witnessing the slaughter. Photo taken by Kaylyn Hlavaty
A man carrying several bags filled with lamb meat walked out of the donation center. I stopped him to ask how Eid is important to him and if he could explain any special traditions he had. His name was Mohamed Mogharbl. He came to the center because a relative of his family donated a lamb to the center and he was picking some up for his family, uncle and the rest he was going to give to the poor.

“I had to get a card from the officials at the center so I could get permission to pick up the meat. On the card it says the price of the sheep, the kind of sheep such as in size and fat ratio and the name of the sheep dealer,” said Mogharbi.

When I asked him how the center knows who is considered poor and ones who are there to pick up the meat, he said there was a separate line for the poor people and the card allows anyone to pick up the meat. On average, to donate a sheep, it costs around $300 USD. As a general rule, the sheep has to be older than five months and it should be in good health.

The butchers passing out the meat inside the center
Photo taken by Kaylyn Hlavaty.
Since part of Eid is about giving to the less fortunate, Muslims make it a goal to donate either money to someone they know or give the extra meat from the lamb to the poor. When Mogharbi was a child, his father would give money to an older lady down the street as part of celebration before Ramandan ending. Mogharibi continues the tradition by giving money to the lady’s daughter.

“It’s very important in our religion that we give when we can, especially during Ramadan and during Eid because it’s these good deeds that we will be rewarded for,” Mogharibi said.

In just my short time walking around the neighborhood with Ahmad, I could feel the energy of happiness and giving in the air. Children playing with snap rocks; aromatic scents occupying the air and sightings of families walking the streets were traits of holiday atmosphere. 

                People waiting in line for sheep meat. Photo taken by Kaylyn Hlavaty
On the walk home there was the occasional Syrian refugee women with her children on the streets asking for money. People just walked by them like they didn’t exist. I see more and more women and children begging for food or money as the options to live are far and few in between.

Once we arrived back at Ahmad’s house, we had delicious dinner of rizz with lahmeh. It’s made with rice, cashews and beef. There wasn’t a time that I wasn’t offered coffee and tea and the frequent attention given to me. By the time dinner was done and one of Amal’s sister left, it was already 4 p.m. I decided it was my time to head back to Ashrafieh, which is only a ten-minute drive without the Beirut traffic. As I left the house, I felt like I knew them for much longer than the eight hours we spent together.

I was fortunate to run into Amal at the mosque and for her to welcome a complete stranger into her home and invite me to experience her holiday traditions. From the moment we met, there was a language barrier, but it didn’t stop us from showing our true expressions towards each other, which was respect and acceptance. Despite what some may believe about the views Christians have towards Muslims and vice versa, my experience today proved again that no matter the religion, beliefs or social background, we can all find understanding and acceptance amongst one another. Some say actions speak louder than words, and today they spoke loud with kindness and generosity.

Left: Farook Bakri and  Emel Bakri  at their home in Kornish al Mazraa
Photo taken by Kaylyn Hlavaty

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