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Winonans celebrate Mecca pilgrimage finale (10/16/2013)
By Chris Rogers

Photo by Chris Roger
     Winona Islamic Center members listened to Imam Hamid Quraishi's sermon dedicating the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha on Tuesday. Quraishi challenged his congregation to make time for faith in the midst of busy lives.
The Winona Islamic community is a small group, but as they bowed in unison in the early morning light on Tuesday, its members were reminded of their connection to a much larger tradition of faith. Winona Muslims joined over a billion Muslims worldwide who honored the Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Ibrahim or Abraham.

It was a month to the day, almost, since the September 13 fire destroyed the Winona Islamic Center's building when Winona Muslims gathered in prayer Tuesday. Business people, working families, and students took time away from busy weeks to honor their faith, and while the location was unfamiliar the Plaza Hotel the communal kneeling and chanting in prayer was not. The community will gather for the feasting part of their celebration this weekend and have their first community meeting since the fire to discuss what in which direction to move forward, Winona Islamic Center leaders explained.

Tuesday's celebration of charity, prayer, and family commemorates the Quranic (and Biblical) tale of Abraham's obedience to Allah's command to kill his son as a sacrifice. In both traditions Allah (or God) stopped Abraham at the critical moment, explained it was a test, and allowed Abraham to sacrifice an animal instead.

Abraham's willingness to give up what was most dear to him is the ultimate human example of Taqwa, the Arabic term for focus on God, Islamic Center Imam Hamid Quraishi explained. In commemoration of Abraham's story, each Muslim who can afford to is expected to slaughter a lamb or the equivalent for the Eid al-Adha. A third of the sacrifice is given to the poor.

Though modernity has separated many from agrarian life, this tradition is less changed than one might think. Muslims living far from pastoral country sometimes opt to simply donate to a charity, Islamic Center President and Winona State University professor Mohamed Elhindi explained. For many, however, the visceral connection to Abraham's sacrifice is important. They may pay organizations who will slaughter a lamb on their behalf, he explained. Elhindi would often have family in Sudan kill a lamb for him; this year his brother is traveling to a farm in Wisconsin to sacrifice a lamb. Quraishi said he will travel to an area farm to sacrifice a lamb that will later be butchered.

The feast also marks the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca made by millions of Muslims every year.

Islamic teachings require all Muslims who are physically and financially able to complete the pilgrimage, called the Hajj, once in their lives. Winona Islamic Center founder and retired Winona State University professor Ahmed El-Afandi has made the Hajj six times.

"That is all that is required, but if you can do it more than is required [you may]," explained El-Afandi when asked why he made so many of the pilgrimages. Circumstances gave El-Afandi many opportunities to be in Mecca for the ceremony, he explained. One year he was teaching in Saudi Arabia; another he was working in East Africa. Every year, though, a yearning to experience it again tugs his heart toward Mecca.

"When you are in the Hajj, you disrobe of all material things. You literally wrap yourself with two towels and that's all you wear," he continued. "You get all these people and they're all dressed like you. You have no idea whether the person standing next to you or kneeling next to you or prostrating next to you is a king or a servant, a multi-billionaire or a pauper. They're all equal. They're all standing there with no distinction, and where else can you find that?"

In that way the Hajj is a reminder of the equality of humanity that underlies worldly prestige and wealth, El-Afandi said. "On the day of judgement it's the same," he added.

Pilgrims who make the Hajj set foot in the places graced by Abraham and the Prophet Mohammed. The ceremonies of their pilgrimage reenact scenes from the Qur'an. "You walk into those places and you get a feeling that you never get anywhere else," El-Afandi said of the experience. "Each time, it never disappears. You get that feeling that there is a power much bigger than me, much stronger." 


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