POCATELLO, Idaho — Thousands of years ago, as the Koran has it, a man named Abraham was ready to sacrifice his only son as God — Allah — had commanded.
Then God spared the boy and asked Abraham instead for a lamb.
That, as Mohammad Halawany explains it, is the premise of Eid al-Adha, the most important day of the year for Muslims marked by a sacrifice in kind and, often, by a pilgrimage to Mecca.
This is a national holiday in Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia, where Halawany, a 28-year-old electrical engineering major; Dhary Algadran, a 24-year-old computer science major; and some 640 other Idaho State University students were born and raised. Another 480 ISU students are from the adjacent and much smaller Islamic nation of Kuwait.
September's Eid al-Adha and July's Eid al-Fitr are the two most important holy days for Muslims around the world. This year, schools in New York and several other U.S. cities closed for the Eid holidays. Idaho State University was among the majority of public institutions to remain open on Thursday, the main day of Eid al-Adha in North America. Although Halawany's professors told him he could take the day off, he didn't want to miss a test in one of his classes. He thought it made more sense, as a student body, to hold the big party on Saturday, when no one had to choose between academic or professional responsibilities and religious expression.
In Saudi, Algadran and his family would have friends and relatives over, cook for them, talk with them, and have a good time together. But the most important part of Eid is the giving, he said.
"We give to poor people to support them," Algadran said. "It's our duty as Muslims."
For Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice, practicing Muslims sacrifice an animal, usually a cow or lamb, and give one-third of the meat to family and friends and another third to people of lesser means.
In a party thrown Saturday by the university's Saudi, Kuwaiti and Islamic Society clubs in the Student Union Building Ballroom, it was all on the table. Because they don't raise their own animals here, organizers asked a local farmer to kill a lamb for them, with the purpose of serving as a sacrifice, Algadran said.
As the primary chef, Algadran spent half a day and much of another preparing food for the feast attended by 450 people. He started around 6 p.m. Friday, guiding a team of peers to chop the onions this way and the zucchini that way. He labored into the night, until he finally went home at 1 a.m. Saturday, only to return seven hours later. Around 5 p.m., he sat on a step outside the Student Union and took a smoke break.
At 6 p.m., the Ballroom doors opened and guests began to filter in. They gave their $5 tickets to white-robed men standing at the door and sat at long tables covered in white cloth. Most women covered their hair with hijabs, but some didn't. Some men covered their hair with hijabs, but most didn't. Halawany wore a black suit over a blue-and-white checkered shirt. Alagadran wore his black chef's uniform. At 6:30, dinner commenced. Guests lined up to fill their plates at buffet tables covered with meats, vegetables, grains and cakes. At a smaller table they could choose a can of Pepsi or Coke or Sprite or a bottle of water.
After everyone had filled their plate at least once and most were happily eating and talking, the speeches began. Several of the speakers were students, all men. Most spoke in English, but some spoke in Arabic. One was Halawany. Kevin England, the mayor of Chubbuck, gave a short speech. So did Brian Blad, the mayor of Pocatello. The mayors were otherwise sitting next to each other and across from their wives at a table near the stage.
Later, some men played a trivia game on the stage. At the very end of the night, 20 or 30 of the men climbed onto the stage and put their arms around each others' shoulders and swayed and stomped and danced and chanted in Arabic. Those sitting down who understood sang along. Those who didn't watched and clapped. Around 10 p.m., the party dispersed.
While the big celebration at ISU was delayed a few days from the true holiday, Pocatello-area Muslims still observed Eid al-Adha on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.
At 7:30 a.m. Thursday, dozens of men and several boys prayed at the mosque that opened on South Fifth Avenue last October. It was the first time Pocatello-area Muslims could pray the Eid prayers in their own mosque. Rabbi Ali Alhramelah led the early morning prayers. Halawany went, but Algadran didn't.
Algadran describes Eid as something emotional. Usually, he feels prayers and they fill him with a sense of love, he said. Here, without his family, especially without his mother, Algadran still hasn't been able to truly feel an Eid.
"The last Eid, I was in the states. And this Eid, I am in the states," Algadran said. "I didn't feel an Eid. Feeling an Eid without family... I have too many friends here but especially without my mom, I cannot feel an Eid."
But on Saturday night, he still felt happy watching people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, enjoying the food he cooked.
Information from: Idaho State Journal, http://www.journalnet.com