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LI Muslims line Centereach football field to mark Eid al-Adha

Members of a Selden mosque hold Eid al-Adha

Members of a Selden mosque hold Eid al-Adha services at Percy B. Raynor Memorial Park in Centereach on Sunday. Credit: James Carbone

A mosque in Selden, heeding complaints about too many cars in the neighborhood during religious services marking the end of Ramadan in June, moved Sunday's Eid al-Adha services to a larger venue —  a football field in a public park in Centereach.

Some 4,000 of the faithful, carrying prayer rugs and dressed in traditional clothing, lined the field at Percy B. Raynor Memorial Park for the Islamic Association of Long Island's Eid al-Adha services, marking another of Islam's holiest days.

At a place where fans typically cheer on their favorite local youth football teams, an imam chanted prayers in Arabic for the morning service.

Following Islamic tradition, the men and women were separated, forming long prayer lines on opposite sides of the field.

“This is absolutely amazing,” said Suleman Malik, 30, an attorney from Selden. “This really is what it is supposed to be all about — respecting each other‘s faith, allowing people to assemble. You’re seeing basically the Constitution in full-blown colors today, and this is what America is supposed to be about.“

The faithful were marking the start of the three-day festival of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice. It falls at the end of the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that all Muslims are required to make at least once in their lifetimes if they are physically and financially able to do so.

The faithful believe that Eid al-Adha commemorates the biblical patriarch 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. During the festival, many Muslims have an animal, usually a lamb or goat, slaughtered and usually distribute one-third of the meat to the poor and another third to relatives and friends. They keep the final third for themselves.

Eid al-Adha typically starts with special morning prayers at mosques, followed by festive meals at home with relatives and friends.

Services for the holiday also were held at more than two dozen mosques across Long Island, which is home to an estimated 100,000 Muslims.

The Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury held services at an indoor soccer facility at Mitchel Field in Uniondale because the center’s mosque is not big enough to accommodate the crowds, said Habeeb Ahmed, a leader of the mosque.

The 7:30 a.m. service attracted about 1,400 people, while the 9 a.m. service attracted another  6,000 people, including some who could not fit inside and prayed outdoors, he said.

The Baqi Masjid mosque in Bethpage held its service outdoors on a polo field at Bethpage State Park, Ahmed said.

The weather was perfect for the services, and authorities in Suffolk cooperated with the Selden mosque's move to the stadium, said one of its leaders, Nayar Imam, who also is the first Muslim chaplain to the Suffolk County Police Department. Officers were stationed at the event, and the Town of Brookhaven granted permission for it to be held.

“I absolutely love it,” Urooj Khan, 24, a Stony Brook University student, said as the service in Centereach ended. “Everyone looks beautiful.”

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