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The trip to Mecca:Why Muslims go

January 31, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

For the 40 to 50 families who worship at the Hagerstown mosque of the Islamic Society of Western Maryland, tomorrow is Eid Al-Adhaa, which the group's spiritual leader, Syed Qasim Burmi, told me is the second holiday in Islam.

Burmi said that the holiday coincides with the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca which all Muslims must make once in their lifetime, provided they're financially and physically able, "and if the way is safe."

The destination they seek is the Ka'ba, a place of worship that Muslims believe that God commanded Abraham and his son Ishmael to build more than 4,000 years ago.

There Muslims from all over the world gather, Burmi said, to show their universal brotherhood and to find out about each other's cultures and the conditions of their lives.

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"That is the physical aspect. As far as spiritually, in the Koran it says that God commanded the prophet Abraham to build a house just to worship him," Burmi said.

Abraham, Ishmael and his wife Hagar made the bricks, then Ishmael handed them to his father, who built the house, Burmi said. He added that when it was done, God commanded Abraham to announce that the faithful should come there to worship.

When pilgrims arrive at the Ka'ba, Burmi said they begin by saying a special prayer. The women dress as they do normally, but the men wear two pieces of cloth, neither of which is sewn, so that no one's attire is fancier than anyone else's.

"It shows universal unity among the Muslims," Burmi said.

Millions come to the site at any one time, Burmi said, adding that in addition to visiting the Ka'Ba, during the pilgrimage they must also visit three other sites - Arafat, Muzdalifah and Minaa.

Part of the worship activities there include throwing rocks to Satan "to show that we only follow God."

Then the worshippers return to Mecca, circle the Ka'Ba again and return to Minaa, where there is an animal sacrifice.

That part of the tradition is carried on here in the U.S., where a sheep, a cow or a goat is sacrificed, though not on an altar, but in a slaughterhouse, with the meat divided into three portions.

"There is one for ourselves, one for our friends and one for the poor," he said.

The sacrifice is in memory of the story the Koran tells about Abraham, who had waited a long time for a child. Then after Ishmael was born, God asked Abraham to sacrifice the child, Burmi said. Satan appeared to Abraham three times to tempt him not to go through with it.

But just as Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son, Burmi said a person appeared in front of him, carrying a ram that God had sent to replace Ishmael as a sacrifice.

"That tradition we practice every year, to thank God the Almighty for his blessing upon us, Burmi said.

The holiday itself will begin with morning prayers, he said, and then "we have a small sermon. After that we meet each other and we have a small meal before we slaughter the animals."

For more information on Muslim traditions, write to Burmi at the Islamic Society of Western Maryland, 2036 Day Road, Hagerstown, Md., 21740

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