STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Today is the end of the Islamic holiday known as Eid al-Adha. It's a four-day celebration, one of the biggest of the year for Muslims around the world. It commemorates a story that is also familiar to Christians and Jews. The story involves the prophet Abraham, who is important to all three faiths. God instructs Abraham to prove his obedience by sacrificing his son. Abraham prepares to do it, and then God lets him sacrifice a sheep instead. Today, Muslims celebrate by sacrificing a sheep or goat and sharing the meat with the poor, and on this holiday millions of Muslims are in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, where the month of the annual pilgrimage, or hajj, is also ending. Here in the United States, commentator Ahmed Tharwat celebrates Eid with his own pilgrimage, to the largest shopping mall in America.
Here in Minnesota, we do things a little differently. My daughter and I start our Eid by rushing through the early morning prayer. In the segregated prayer room, she's always perplexed by the unexplained gender separation. After the brief chanting of God's greatness--`Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!'--we begin the Eid prayer. And the imam, in his three-piece suit, gives a short sermon. `We need to stay true to our faith,' he tells us. `Don't listen to the extremists' rants. Listen to your heart.'
At social hour, after warm kissing and hugging, bagels replace the traditional Eid cookies for the Eid snack. Then we all head to Mall of America, the shopping mecca of the world, the consumer cathedral, where millions visit to worship Calvin, Liz, Lauren, Tommy and Victoria. For Muslims in Minnesota, when winter eliminates any hope of outdoor celebration, Mall of America has become a new culture sanctuary. Thousands of American Muslims of all ethnicities, races and creeds gather to celebrate our own native customs and identities.
Next to the Betty Crocker bakery, a few Egyptian men catch up on the latest political jokes in Egypt. Several Palestinian women watch nervously as their kids vanish into the maze at the Kambis Nobi Indoor Playground(ph). Next to them, a cluster of young Pakistani men are listening to their iPods. By the Rainforest Cafe, some West Africans in crisp white robes and hats seem oblivious to the strange artificial noises coming from the theme restaurant. On the roller coaster, Muslim boys ride with Muslim girls, who laugh as their head scarfs, hijabs, fly all over their faces above their unconcerned parents.
And in the middle of the mall, a few Muslim women, cloaked with their traditional black dress, burqas, walk together. Their black unified bodies eclipse the front windows of Victoria's Secret, but they seem oblivious to its window undressing displays. We aren't shopping, just celebrating. There are no bags to carry, just our kids; no cultural idol to worship except our God. No fashion trends to follow; only our tradition. It is Christmas, without the shopping.
Every year, thousands of Muslims in Minnesota turn the biggest shopping center in the world into a non-shopping mall, where the biggest gift we get is our free spirits.
INSKEEP: Commentary from Ahmed Tharwat. He's the host of "Belahdan," which is an Arab-American television show in Minneapolis.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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