Baltimore Muslims observe holiday of sacrifice, submission and unity Worshipers recall struggle of the prophet Ibrahim

April 29, 1996|By Ginger Thompson | Ginger Thompson,SUN STAFF

Sumanayah El-Sheikh stood yesterday on a hill overlooking her mosque in Catonsville and stared down at the 2,000 people who had gathered there for one of the most important Muslim holidays of the year.

Smiling, she pointed out clusters of Egyptians hugging Sudanese and Pakistanis kissing African-Americans on the cheek.

It is that show of unity, she explains that marks the Eid-Ul-Adha, the holiday of sacrifice. It is one of the most significant Muslim holidays of the year and Ms. El-Sheikh's favorite.

"This is the day when people forget that they come from different countries; that they are different colors and different shades; that they are richer or poorer than others," said Ms. El-Sheikh. "This is the day when we recognize humanity is one and comes from one source: Allah."

On this holiday, Muslims celebrate the struggle of prophet Ibrahim to prove his unwavering faith in one God at a time when most people worshiped idols. It is a struggle that is described in the Old Testament, but the Biblical prophet is called Abraham.

In the struggle, God asks Ibrahim to prove his faith by sacrificing his son. The prophet obediently places his son on an altar and raises his blade to kill the boy.

God stops the slaughter. Pleased with Ibrahim's conviction, God tells the prophet that he will be rewarded and asks Ibrahim to sacrifice a lamb instead of his son.

"The prophet Ibrahim's struggle shows us that we must be willing to follow God's teaching no matter how difficult," said Dr. Bashar Pharoan, president of the Islamic Society of Maryland. "We must be willing to sacrifice whatever God asks."

Muslims celebrated Ibrahim's faith during prayer services yesterday morning. At the Masjid Al-Rahma in Catonsville, hundreds of women wearing jewel-colored dresses filled one auditorium. And hundreds of men, some wearing Sunday suits and others wearing embroidered gowns, filled an adjacent auditorium. All remained kneeling and prayed silently as the imam chanted into a microphone, "God is great."

Despite the raging violence by and against Muslims around the world -- particularly in the Middle East and Bosnia -- almost no one yesterday wanted to talk about divisions and conflict.

"Today we put all those differences behind us," said Rashid Shakir, a 40-year-old mechanical engineer. "Today we focus on what unifies us, not what divides us."

To re-enact the sacrifice made by Ibrahim, Muslim families bought goats and lambs and sent them for slaughter, giving the majority of the meat to needy families. The Muslim families keep about one-third of the meat for meals with friends and relatives.

"For us this day is like Christmas," said Mohammad Youmis, a restaurant owner who worshiped yesterday at the Masjid Al-Rahma in Catonsville. (Masjid is another word for mosque.) "It is the day we put away all our sadness and give thanks to Allah. We give gifts to our children, and we have special meals with our families and friends," he said.

In another gesture of sacrifice, many Muslims spend the holiday by making a pilgrimage to Mecca, a city in the desert of Saudi Arabia that is the birthplace of the final Muslim prophet, Mohammed. All Muslims who can afford the journey are required to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lives.

It is estimated that a few hundred of the 5,000 Muslims in Baltimore made the pilgrimage, called Hajj. They are expected to return this week.

Those who stayed home listened to stories about Mecca from others who have made the pilgrimage. Nadir and Baseemah Najeeullah, who worship at the Masjid Walter Omar in West Baltimore, made the trip in 1991. And although yesterday was their 21st wedding anniversary, what they celebrated at their mosque was the fifth anniversary of their trip to Mecca, a time that Mrs. Najeeullah described as "a honeymoon."

During the journey, Muslims must complete a series of physically intense rituals. For example they must walk seven times in a circle around the temple called the Kaaba, which was built by prophet Ibrahim. They must throw heavy stones at three pillars which mark the spot where Satan tried to tempt Ibrahim not to sacrifice his son to God. And Muslims must climb to the field on Mount Arafat where the prophet Mohammed is said to have preached his farewell message of harmony to all people.

"It was physically difficult and at times it was hard getting along with so many different people," said Mrs. Najeeullah, a 39-year-old dentist. "But the struggles made it even more moving and meaningful."

She added, "It confirmed that this faith is universal. You look out over the desert and you see millions of people from all types of cultures and of different nationalities praying the same prayers and following the same rituals."

Pub Date: 4/29/96

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