Friday begins the worldwide Islamic celebration of Eid al-Adha (pronounced "eed ul ud-ha"), or the Festival of Sacrifice.
During the four-day holiday, which falls during the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, Muslims will attend a service that begins with a special chant glorifying God. A prayer and a lecture follow, along with a meal that includes a sacrificed animal, often a lamb.
It's the Muslim holiday most like Christmas, said Ahmad Kayello, imam of Modesto's Islamic Center. During the holiday, children will dress in their best clothes and visit relatives, who will give them money that the youngsters will use to buy bicycles or other fun items.
Unlike Ramadan, which is a time of fasting and prayer, Eid al-Adha is a time of feasting, often with friends, relatives and neighbors.
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The holiday harkens back to a story of Abraham, a patriarch in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths.
In the Torah and Bible, Abraham's wife, Sarah, is barren, so she gives her Egyptian maid, Hagar, to Abraham to bear children. Hagar gives birth to a son, Ishmael.
Sarah later becomes pregnant with Isaac, and eventually, because of conflict between the two mothers and their two sons, Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael into the desert with some food and water.
In the biblical account, after the water is gone, an angel points Hagar to a spring and promises that her son will become the father of a great nation.
In the Koran, there are two stories to explain the water. One is that Ishmael's foot hits the ground and a spring comes forth. The other says that an angel hits the ground with its wing to produce the water.
In all religious traditions, Ishmael is known as the father of the Arabs and the ancestor of Mohammed, the great prophet of Islam.
The spring still exists, Kayello said. It is called Zamzam and is in Mecca, Islam's holy city.
In a related story, the Bible records that Abraham is told by God to take Isaac to a mountaintop, where he is to sacrifice the boy on an altar.
After Isaac is strapped onto the wood and as Abraham raises his knife to kill the boy, an angel tells him to stop, that his obedience has been seen.
Instead of Isaac, Abraham sacrifices a ram found caught by his horns in a nearby thicket.
In the Koran, however, the story begins with Abraham having a dream about sacrificing his son, Ishmael. Abraham tells the dream to his son and, in effect, asks, "What do you think?"
A submissive Ishmael responds that if God has told Abraham to do this, he should obey.
When Ishmael is put facedown to be sacrificed (so that he does not have to see the knife in his father's hand), a substitution sacrifice is found, and so Ishmael is saved.
Usually on the first day of Eid al-Adha, Muslims will slaughter an animal. Only a lamb, goat, cow or camel is allowed, Kayello said.
The meat will be split into thirds, one portion for the immediate family, another for extended family, friends or neighbors, and the third for the poor or needy in the community. The act symbolizes a willingness to give up things that are of benefit to us or close to our hearts, in order to follow God commands, according to islam.about.com.
"The animal must not have defects, since it's for the sake of God," Kayello said.
The one who slaughters the animal is there "to witness the blood and say, 'Oh, God, accept (this sacrifice) for me and my family.' "
"The butcher can be Muslim or Catholic or Christian or Jew; they are all considered to be people of the Book," Kayello explained.
But just as Ishmael was facedown so that he wouldn't see the approaching knife, so too must the animal being sacrificed not see the knife that will kill it, Kayello said.
"It is prohibited to scare the animal," he said. "You are to show mercy, even upon slaughtering it."
The holiday is about submission and obedience to God, as well as depending on him to meet every need.
For more information, visit islam.about.com or www.islamonline.net.
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.