Thousands of Southern California Muslims gathered Sunday to mark one of their most important holidays and the end of hajj, the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca.
They came -- young and old, men and women -- to celebrate Eid al-Adha, a holiday that honors Abraham, the prophet who was willing to sacrifice his son at God’s request.
But one gathering proved to be more than merely religious observances, as the Muslims demonstrated their increasing political involvement. At the Anaheim Convention Center, where about 8,000 Muslims came together, the Council on American-Islamic Relations sponsored a voter registration drive, which also took place at gatherings in New York and Washington, D.C.
“This is part of our nationwide effort to get Muslim voices out through voting, especially this election year,” said CAIR spokeswoman Sabiha Khan, who stood next to a sign that read: “I am Muslim. I am American. I vote.”
“There’s a big concern about the erosion of civil liberties, especially due to the Patriot Act.”
The act was passed by Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist acts and gives law enforcement sweeping powers to fight terrorism. Many have criticized it as an encroachment on civil liberties.
An estimated 1 million Muslims live in California, 600,000 of them in the southern end of the state.
As several people registered to vote Sunday and browsed fliers about political parties, local city council candidates -- recognizing the growing numbers of Muslims here -- turned out to introduce themselves. Seeking support from the newly enfranchised voters were businessman Harry Sidhu, real estate agent Faiz Zuberi and Lorri Galloway, executive director of the Eli Home for Abused Children.
Galloway was allowed to address the gathering, in a religion that separates female and male worshipers.
At the Los Angeles Convention Center, about 5,000 people attended a prayer service. There were no voter registration drives, but officials from the Islamic Center of Southern California said encouraging civic participation is one of their principal goals, said center spokesman Maher Hathout.
In a speech after the prayers, Hathout urged the faithful to participate more directly in U.S. society.
“This is our opportunity,” Hathout said, explaining that the public is curious and more interested in learning about Muslims after Sept. 11. “Islam should always be inclusive.”
Mohamed Younis, a 23-year-old pre-law student at UC Riverside, said many U.S. Muslims have been isolated and have shied from civic duty.
“I feel like this is the biggest problem that faces us as American Muslims: that most Americans know very little about us,” Younis said. “The No. 1 responsibility of my generation is to bridge that gap.”
Eid al-Adha is a time of celebration, a holiday that will continue for three more days.
Many women wore brightly colored shalwar kameez (pants and a long shirt) and a dupatta, or shawl.
And after the prayers, families said they planned to house-hop, visiting friends and relatives. Many had also made arrangements to sacrifice a lamb or goat as part of Islamic tradition. One-third is kept for the immediate family, one-third is given to relatives and friends, and the rest is donated to the poor.
The sacrifice is made in honor of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. But Ishmael was spared when God stepped in and provided a ram, according to the Islamic story, which is also told in Hebrew Scriptures.
On the large patios outside the Los Angeles Convention Center, families snapped photographs of one another and greeted friends with “Salam alaykum,” or “Peace be upon you.” Others browsed books on Islam and Muslims in the U.S. at a stall or, with their children, played carnival games that were set up nearby.
“It’s a family day,” said Aziza Shoman, 53, an Egyptian immigrant who lives in Temple City with her family. “Later we are going to a breakfast in Pasadena, to exchange gifts.”