Sacramento-area Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha in largest such gathering in 20 years

A father and daughter were among thousands of Muslims celebrating Eid al-Adha at the McClellan Conference Center on Thursday.
A father and daughter were among thousands of Muslims celebrating Eid al-Adha at the McClellan Conference Center on Thursday. smagagnini@sacbee.com

An estimated 5,000 Sacramento-area Muslims – thought to be the largest such gathering here in 20 years – filled the McClellan Conference Center on Thursday to celebrate Eid al-Adha, among the holiest holidays in the Islamic world.

The prayer coincides with the end of hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca observed by millions of Muslims. On Thursday morning, more than 700 pilgrims died in a stampede outside Mecca during the “stoning the devil” ritual, where worshippers throw stones at three pillars, symbolizing when the Prophet Ibrahim, also known as Abraham, stoned the devil and rejected his temptations.

“To Allah we belong and to him we shall return,” said Imam M.A. Azeez of the Tarbiya Institute, who gave the Eid sermon on behalf of several area mosques, including Salam Islamic Center, Masjid Ibrahim and Masjid As-Sabur.

For centuries, Eid al-Adha – the “Feast of Sacrifice” – has been observed by Muslims worldwide, who after prayers often sacrifice a sheep, goat or cow, eat a third of the meat, share a third with friends and neighbors and donate the rest to the poor, said Irfan Haq, president of the Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations.

In Sacramento, some men will go to farms to sacrifice lambs for the holiday, Haq said. “And there have been 500 orders of lamb, goat and beef at the Halal Market.”

Muslim families usually take several days off from work to cook, celebrate and buy new clothes, Haq said. The holiday is marked by joy, reconciliation and “labayk,” meaning to answer someone’s call – be it the call of Allah, the call to go to hajj, or to aid the needy or oppressed. “We have tens of thousands of Iraqis, Syrians and Afghans moving into our country, into our city in the next few months – are we ready to help them with food, shelter and education?”

Labayk includes the call “to struggle against ignorance and injustice, and lead the fight against ISIS and extremists, and come back to your community and fight the racism that is so prevalent in our society,” Azeez said. “Let the spirit of labayk guide you in the choices you make and what you say and do.” He added, if you’re estranged from a family member, “pick up the phone and say, ‘ “salaam alaikum,” it’s been awhile.’ ”

Azeez added, “Our hearts are so focused on what we don’t have ... we need to focus on what we do have: loved ones who care about you; your ears, nose, digestive system; the fact you are blessed to be citizens of one of the best countries on Earth. It is only fair that you live and experience the spirit of sacrifice – praise the doers, not the takers, not those who complain.”

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @StephenMagagnini