Thousands of Muslims flocked to mosques throughout Long Island Saturday to mark Eid ul-Adha, a major festival of Islam that marks the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca known as the hajj.
The faithful filled mosques for special morning prayers that started the three-day festival and went on to spend time with family and friends, exchanging gifts and sharing special meals.
"The significance of this day is immense," said Hafiz Rehman, a leader of the Masjid Darul Qur'an mosque in Bay Shore, the largest on Long Island.
Eid ul-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, comes one day after the hajj, during which more than 2 million people had arrived at Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, by Friday. Muslims who are physically and financially able are required to make the pilgrimage once in their lifetimes.
Mecca, considered the holiest city in the religion of Islam, is the birthplace of Muhammad and the site of Muhammad's first revelation of the Quran.
Eid ul-Adha celebrates the biblical patriarch Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, at God's command, the faithful believe. Abraham did not kill his son, as God spared the boy. Instead, Abraham sacrificed a ram.
During the festival, many Muslims have an animal, usually a lamb, slaughtered to commemorate the story of Abraham. They typically distribute one-third of the meat to the poor, and another third to relatives and friends. They keep the final third for themselves.
Most pay local butchers to provide the meat, said Habeeb Ahmed, a leader of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury. Others send money to countries overseas to have the slaughtering and distribution of meat to the poor done there, said Rehman, who said he sent money to his native Kenya.
The Islamic Center is collecting financial donations and expects to provide at least 2,500 pounds of meat to 1,000 or more poor people on Long Island and in New York City and New Jersey, Ahmed said.
Some Muslims also give money to charity to enable the poor to buy new clothes and food, Rehman and Ahmed said.
The entire festival reminds Muslims of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice for God and "of the ultimate sacrifice for your maker," Ahmed said. The festival ends Tuesday night.