Santa Barbara area Muslims are gearing up to celebrate Eid al-Adha. Translated into English, Eid al-Adha literally means “Feast of the Sacrifice,” and commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. While in Jewish and Christian traditions it is Isaac whom Abraham was commanded to kill, in Islam it is Ishmael who Abraham was to sacrifice. In both narratives the son is spared, and a ram is offered in his place.
“This year, the Islamic Society of Santa Barbara (ISSB) will have a congregational prayer in which the community will come together to praise God. It is a time of celebration, and there will be food and festivities. It will also be a time of sacrifice,” said Imam Yama Niazi, a longtime resident of Santa Barbara who leads the congregation in prayer on Fridays at the Goleta Community Center.
Members of the ISSB will also celebrate in more intimate surroundings at their homes. “This year we will celebrate Eid al-Adha with friends and family,” said member Pauline Banales. “We will have a big dinner or a barbeque.” Although the holiday is festive and celebratory, there is also a serious spiritual component that Muslims observe. Dr. Saida Hamdani, a physician at Sansum Clinic, will spend time with her family in collective reflection. “This year, to celebrate, I will spend time with my family. I will try to remember Abraham’s sacrifice, as well as cultivate submission and obedience to God.”
This festival comes at the end of the season in which millions of people make a holy pilgramage to Mecca, a journey known as the Hajj. It can be a difficult one for many Muslims in the U.S. to make due to the financial expenditure, the long flight, and the travel time required. There are also religious requirements that Muslims must adhere to in order to be eligible to go, such as being debt-free.
However, going on the Hajj is a requirement for all Muslims who are able to do so, and almost all Muslims yearn to make the holy pilgrimage. For Afaf Turjoman, a longtime area resident who is on the ISSB board of directors, being able to perform the Hajj is a spiritual touchstone. “If there was one single event that I could call a milestone in my life, I would have to say it was going to Hajj. The Hajj is an overwhelming experience for those who are lucky enough to make it. It is difficult, yet so fulfilling.”
Often, Muslims speak of receiving a spiritual invitation or a calling to perform the Hajj. For Niazi, that came while he was sleeping. “I had a lot of dreams before I went, and in my dreams, I felt so spiritual and happy,” he said. “When I got to the Mecca, it felt exactly as it did in those dreams: otherworldly and charged with energy.”
That sense of otherworldliness resonates with others who have completed the journey. “Going on Hajj was more than I expected it to be,” said Zainab Turjoman, a frequent visitor to the Santa Barbara area who performed the Hajj 11 years ago. “There was a sense of leaving the world behind.” For Santa Barbara resident Pauline Banalas, who performed the Hajj in 2007, it was a dream come true. “When I got to Mecca, it was incredible. I could not think of anything to wish for as many people do when they perform the Hajj because I was so content.”
Some Muslims feel called to do the Hajj more than one time. Aguil Khan, who visits Santa Barbara regularly hoping to make a permanent home here, spoke with pride about his father’s commitment to service concerning the Hajj. “My father performed the Hajj over 51 times, nine of which he made on foot from Medina to Mecca.” This journey is one that the Prophet Muhammad himself made when he returned to Mecca after being exiled from the city of his birth. Khan’s father offered wisdom and experience to other pilgrims, as well as valuable translation skills. “He spoke Urdu, so he could help all of the pilgrims who came from India and Pakistan. He was always making sure that people found their way.”
Returning home after the Hajj often prompts Muslims to reflect further on their spirituality. For example, Dr. Hamdani felt a sense of extreme gratitude. “When I returned home, I felt very fortunate, grateful, and lucky to have gone on the Hajj. I wanted to make sure that I did not lose that sense of being so connected to God and other human beings.” For Zainab Turjoman, the journey also had a lasting impact. “I and the other people went there to connect with our creator as a shared experience,” she said, “and when I returned home, I felt enriched, cleansed, and purified.”
The privilege of performing the Hajj often leaves Muslims with the feeling of lasting spiritual transformation. “I feel that going on the Hajj changed me,” said Imam Niazi. “My sense of what it will be like on the Day of Judgment is more real because I stood in solidarity with so many diverse people at the same time in the same place, together.”
Banalas also took more home with her than her suitcase and boarding pass. “I felt a sense of peace that stayed with me long after I returned home to Santa Barbara.”
Muslims here and abroad will celebrate the legacy of Abraham on Thursday, October 25-Friday, October 26. For more information about Eid al-Adha festivities, contact the Islamic Society of Santa Barbara by phone at (805) 317-4277, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.