A multipurpose room in Westbury’s Islamic Center of Long Island was transformed into an international food court last Sunday for an interfaith celebration of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha.
Roughly 200 residents of Westbury, East Meadow and the surrounding communities attended a service coordinated by the ICLI’s Interfaith Institute. Then came the feast, with guests sampling dishes from more than a dozen cultures, prepared by ICLI members and nearby houses of worship.
Seema Rahman, of East Meadow, an ICLI board member, described the event as “Eid 101” for the non-Muslim congregants, and a chance for people to get to know their Muslim neighbors. “And the best way to do that is to share food and break bread,” Rahman said, adding that she was inspired by the turnout. “Some people are here for the first time, and they made food for us.”
Mohammed Sohail Nabi, a board member of the Interfaith Institute, explained to congregants the history of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city in Islam, where it is believed that “all faith and history began.” Leading up to Eid al-Adha, Muslims from around the world make a pilgrimage to Mecca called the Hajj. Sahar Hussain, another Interfaith Institute board member, shared her experience from a pilgrimage in September 2015 with her husband, Yosuf.
All able-bodied Muslims are required to take the pilgrimage at least once and, each year, millions perform a number of rites over the course of a week. “It sounds archaic,” Hussain acknowledged. “And it was a little overwhelming at first . . . but it was such a humbling experience. There are so many people who come from all over and believe in the same thing. They want to be with their lord and re-center their lives.”
The rites of the Hajj include circling a shrine in the center of Mecca’s Grand Mosque, running between the mountains of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, praying at Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad gave his last sermon, and throwing stones at a trio of pillars that represent Satan and his three attempts to dissuade Abraham from following God’s orders.
Hussain recalled seeing an elderly man shouting at the pillars and throwing his stones with an intensity that she found as shocking as it was touching. “Some people get really into it,” she said. “It’s really inspiring to see that. They’re trying to get Satan out of their lives.”
The Hajj concludes with a three-day celebration known as the Feast of Sacrifice, which recognizes Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram in place of his son Isaac.
The ICLI’s feast was the brainchild of Lyn Dobrin, a member of the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island and a former Peace Corps volunteer. Dobrin, who lives in Westbury, is also a food writer who wanted to combine her passion with her humanist background by hosting the event.
“I feel, especially in this time, that we need to know more about each other,” Dobrin said, adding that she wanted the food festival to serve as a “tasting of different cultures and a learning experience.”
Guests were encouraged to meet new people during the feast, and to discuss what they learned about Eid al-Adha and how it relates to their own culture and religion. For example, Jewish guests may not have known that the holiday resembles the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashana, which also celebrates Abraham’s sacrifice of the ram.
The ICLI launched the Interfaith Institute in October 2015, and has since hosted numerous programs at which people of various faiths have been invited to engage in interfaith dialogue and celebrate different holidays, including the mosque’s first Passover Seder, held in April.