Saturday, December 30, 2006
The sectarian violence in Iraq was not far from the thoughts of Muslims who gathered in an Oakland mosque Saturday to observe the beginning of Eid al-Adha and heard a clergyman call for unity and inclusiveness of all people and faiths.
Eid al-Adha is a major holiday marking the end of the hajj, or annual pilgrimage to Mecca. A racially and ethnically mixed congregation of about 100 Muslims gathered at Masjid Al Iman in North Oakland, one of about 30 Islamic houses of worship in the Bay Area, to celebrate the occasion.
They sat on the carpeted floor of the Sufi mosque as Sheikh Ali Jensen, a visiting Sufi clergyman from Aptos (Santa Cruz County), delivered a message clearly aimed at the worsening Sunni-Shiite violence in Iraq but did not mention that country by name.
"There is, unfortunately, a disease that is creeping among Muslims now -- 'Either you are like me or you are not good,' " Jensen told the congregation. "At its extreme, (it says) 'Either you are like me or I will kill you.'
"All of these differences we hear about, it's crap. Don't accept it," he told the congregation. "Those people who are following different ways from us, we must not only tolerate them, we must respect them."
Muslims and non-Muslims alike, he said, are all "children of Adam."
Afterward, Jensen said his sermon was part of an effort by Muslim clerics to defuse strife within Islam and between religions by emphasizing ecumenical themes. "Due to the current circumstances, we're stressing unity among religions and among different groups in Islam," he said.
Some in the congregation said the sectarian warfare of Iraq has no place within Islam.
The cleric's message of inclusiveness was "the essence of Islam," said Dawad Sharifi, 30, a native of Afghanistan. "The rest is just politics."
"The tradition of Islam is not to be divisive. The more modern, politicized Islam causes these divisions," said Sayf Alusi, 30, an Iraq-born electrical engineer who earned a doctorate from UC Berkeley. The message of inclusiveness hit home, he said, when he and his family joined some 2 million Muslims of all backgrounds in the hajj two years ago.
Majeedah Shabazz, a 55-year-old paralegal student and nursing assistant from San Leandro, made the pilgrimage to Mecca in 2004. Her face glowed as she recalled "the best trip I ever had," surrounded by millions of believers who held the same goals.
She said she tries not to read about the religious violence in the Middle East.
There was at least one skeptic in the congregation, a 50-year-old Pakistani man living in El Sobrante who gave only his first name, Yusuf, and said he was attending the service with his girlfriend. He said he maintained "my own vertical connection" to Allah, had little faith in mosques and considered the sermon espousing Islamic unity "a lot of hot air" that ignored a long history of religious warfare.
Eid (pronounced "ede") al-Adha, which lasts three or four days in different traditions, also commemorates the scriptural story of Abraham offering to sacrifice his son to God. The son -- Ishmael in the Quran, Isaac in the Jewish and Christian Bible -- is spared when God provides a ram.
Sometimes called the Festival of Sacrifice, Eid al-Adha celebrates the faith of Abraham, who along with Moses and Jesus is considered a prophet in Islam.
Muslims have traditionally slaughtered a sheep or goat at the end of Eid al-Adha and shared the food with the poor. Jensen said a more common practice in the United States is to donate to charity.
Women, their heads covered by scarves or hats, sat during the service, as is common in Islamic practice, in the rear of the hall. Men, most wearing hats but a few in turbans, sat in the front.
Some congregants prostrated themselves after entering while others sat or knelt and joined the chanting. Everyone left their shoes at the door.
Rasheed Patch, an imam, or leader, of the mosque, said many participants were Sufis, members of a mystical branch of Islam that encompasses a variety of beliefs. About half the congregation is foreign-born, he said, a proportion representative of American Muslims.
An hour of chants in Arabic, praising Allah and Muhammad, was followed by an hour of prayers and sermons on the virtue of Abraham and the meaning of Islam. Congregants then circled the room, greeting one another with "Eid Mubarak" (blessed Eid), before dining on a meal of beef, chicken and salad.