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Ayman Hassan, the leader of the Islamic Center of St. Joseph, speaks to about 100 Muslims from the region Friday as they celebrate one of their faith’s most important holidays: Eid-al-Adha.

About 100 Muslims from the region packed into the Islamic Center of St. Joseph on Friday to celebrate one of their faith’s most important holidays: Eid-al-Adha.

It coincides with one of the largest annual gatherings of people in the world, when Muslims make the hajj, or pilgrimage, to the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

It’s a mandatory religious duty for Muslims to travel to the holy city at least once in their lifetime, and 3 million pilgrims made the journey this year.

Ayman Hassan, the leader at the Islamic Center of St. Joseph, said that he fulfilled hajj twice in the 1980s.

“You can’t imagine the spirituality that I was experiencing when I was in Mecca and Mina,” Hassan said. “It’s where Abraham, his wife Sarai, his son Ishmael and all their offspring used to live, and I really experienced the same spirituality that they were experiencing.”

Hassan added that many people wear white as a symbol of equality regardless of nationality, skin color or financial standing.

“It is a sign of unity,” he said. “In such white color uniform, you never recognize or figure out the wealthy from the poor, the arrogant from the humble, you can see all of them as one body, united, no difference between any two of them.”

Those who are unable to travel to Mecca still can celebrate from home, and many were fasting from sunrise to sunset Thursday to celebrate the Day of Arafat.

The local group of Muslims began their Eid-al-Adha celebration Friday morning by praying toward Mecca at the center. Then, families went home to slaughter a sacrificial animal, which honors a common monotheist story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God’s command.

“According to the way of the prophet Muhammad, we should divide the sacrificial animal after slaughtering into three-thirds,” Hassan said. “One-third for the poor and needy and this is the most important one, the second third to our neighbors, either Muslims or non-Muslims, but the closest, and third for the family members’ dinner.”

Hassan’s son Mostafa, who’s in fifth grade, sees Eid as a time to connect with family and friends, and that it’s similar to Christmas when adults give kids prizes and money.

“As a kid experience, it’s about having a good time basically,” he said. “On Eid, you should be happy; there is no reason to be sad or anything.”

The conclusion of hajj also symbolizes a rebirth and is an opportunity for Muslims to have sins forgiven so they can start a new chapter.

Mostafa said that he’s looking forward to making the trip to Mecca in the future.

“It’s a beautiful place over there,” he said. “I would be really happy to be around Muslims and be proud of my religion.”

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Nathan Ellgren can be reached at nathan.ellgren@knpn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @NPNowEllgren.

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