Thousands of Long Island Muslims on Monday began celebrating one of most holy times of the year, attending morning prayers at mosques and then gathering for special meals with family and friends.
Eid al-Adha, also known as the Feast of Sacrifice, marks the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia known as the hajj.
The faithful believe the three-day holy festival commemorates the biblical Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, at God’s command. Abraham did not kill his son, as God spared the boy. Instead, Abraham sacrificed a ram.
Thousands of years later, Muslims around the world recall that story by having an animal — usually a goat or lamb — sacrificed and then distributing a third of the meat to poor people.
Monday morning at the Islamic Association of Long Island, a mosque in Selden, hundreds of worshippers poured in for morning prayers, wearing traditional clothing from their native lands, including Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
The crowd of 500 people packed the mosque to capacity and overflowed into the parking lot, where rugs were laid out for people to pray on.
“It’s a nice way to get the community together,” said Umar Syed, 19, a sophomore biology major at Stony Brook University who lives in Port Jefferson.
Eid al-Adha showed how willing Abraham “was to submit to God’s command,” he said, adding the story helps him to obey certain regulations in Islam such as a prohibition against drinking alcohol.
Mohammad J. Akhtar, a chemistry professor at Stony Brook University who lives in Setauket, said the holy day underscores “the spirit of sacrifice among Muslims.”
Nearly 2,800 Muslims attended morning prayers at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale because even the largest mosques in Nassau County could not accommodate the crowds, said Habeeb Ahmed, a leader of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, one of the largest mosques in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Long Island is home to an estimated 80,000 Muslims, community leaders say.
After morning prayers in Selden and elsewhere, many of the faithful headed to Bello Farms in Holbrook to pick up a slaughtered goat or lamb. The meat is prepared at the slaughterhouse according to Halal guidelines, which make it permissible for Muslims to eat.
Many visited the Muslim-run business last week to pick out the goat or lamb they wanted slaughtered, and numbers were spray painted on their sides to keep track, said owner Faisel Ahmed. He buys the animals in Texas and has them shipped to Pennsylvania, where they stay on farms run by the Amish until they are finally brought to Long Island.
Masood Qureshi, 50, a Melville resident who works at a property development company in Manhattan, came to the farm Monday to pick up the slaughtered goat he selected last week.
“It’s a very serious obligation,” he said of the sacrifice. Like most Muslims, he planned to give one-third of the meat to the poor, one-third to friends and relatives and keep one-third for his family.
Some of the faithful participate in the initial part of the slaughter themselves, while others said they are too squeamish. “I never did it. My father did,” said Musharaf Hussain, 65, an accountant from Northport.
Ahmed said his business booms during the religious festival, which lasts for three days. His work force jumps from the usual four to about two dozen during Eid al-Adha, and he has to hire butchers from local supermarkets to help out.
He said he has to limit the number of orders he takes to a few hundred and could easily take hundreds more if he had more staff and space.
The holy day was preceded by the pilgrimage to Mecca, made by at least 2 million of the faithful this year. Muslims who are physically and financially able are required to make the pilgrimage once in their lifetimes.
Mecca, considered the holiest city in Islam, is the birthplace of Muhammad and the site of Muhammad’s first revelation of the Quran.