Area Jews, Muslims mark Yom Kippur, Eid al-Adha
For thousands of Muslims and Jews across Metro Detroit, two holidays converging this weekend allow followers of both faiths to find ways to help others while observing long-held traditions.
Many Muslims on Saturday celebrate Eid al-Adha, which memorializes how the Prophet Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son to God. The holiday also coincides with hajj, the yearly pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Muhammad, who Muslims believe is the last prophet of Islam. Devotees celebrate with prayers, gifts, gatherings and charitable giving.
Those events coincide this weekend with Yom Kippur, considered the holiest day for Jews. It began Friday evening, lasts through sunset Saturday and ends the Days of Awe that launched Sept. 24 with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Families fast, pray and attend special services in synagogues.
The observances come as extremist militants continue their attacks in the Middle East and press for territory, which some Muslims fear has influenced public perceptions here.
Jews' prayers for peace this year are significant "after a very difficult year for things going on in the Middle East," including the deadly conflict between Israel and Hamas over Gaza, said Daniel Gross, a cantor at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills. "It's always a sensitive subject but it's especially close to heart this year. ... While it is a time of personal reflection, it's also important not to avoid what's happening externally."
Meanwhile, the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations is asking Muslim community leaders nationwide to consider more safety measures after a recent spike in death threats, "Islamophobic" statements from elected officials and media outlets as well as other incidents.
"This is a time of both optimism and tension for Muslims in Metro Detroit," said Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR's Michigan chapter. "Many Muslims feel that people in our area who don't know Muslims may unfairly conflate what's going on halfway across the world with people who are living down the street."
That's why Eid and its accompanying charitable acts can showcase Islam, said Mansoor Qureshi, president at the Detroit chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA.
"The actual sacrifice is helping others … so I think this Eid, especially, we need to focus and practically show what the true meaning of sacrifice is because unfortunately there are people who call themselves Muslims and kill innocent people. We need to show the real Muslims are the ones who uphold the sanctity of life rather than take life."
The Michigan Muslim Community Council is partnering with several groups as well as more than 20 area mosques and community centers for an effort that aims to collect enough money to fund the sacrifice of lambs for an estimated 25,000 pounds of meat.
The meat is distributed to about 1,000 families across the region, said Mouhib Ayas, vice chairman of the council. "It's trying to be engaged with the community," he said.
Area Jews are seeking engagement by giving back during Yom Kippur. Synagogues, day schools and senior homes are collecting groceries for an annual food drive through Yad Ezra, the Berkley-based kosher pantry that aims to feed regional Jewish families in need.
"It helps raise awareness of the families among us who don't necessarily have the same food security we might have," said Lea Luger, executive director of Yad Ezra.
Others' needs moved Jacqueline Steingold, a longtime member of Temple Emanu-El in Oak Park, to donate cans of food to the cause. "To connect Yom Kippur with giving food to people who need it is a good connection," the Detroiter said. "I have been a social worker, so I see a lot of connections between poverty and food and people's abilities to get ahead."
For Muslims, their holiday coincides with another sort of connection. Metro Detroiters are joining the more than one million Muslims worldwide expected in Mecca for hajj. Among the "five pillars" of the Islamic faith, the journey — which involves a series of rituals over several days — is obligated for those who have the physical and financial ability.
One of the rituals is circling the Kaaba, a stone structure Muslims believe Abraham and his son Ishmael erected, seven times. All Muslim prayers, wherever performed, are oriented in its direction.
Some 200 Muslim American Youth Academy students depicted the circling, or "Tawaf," in a re-enactment Thursday at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn. "It takes them back to the roots of the religion," said Hala Hazimi, the school's principal. "It's really spiritual."
The spiritual aspect inspired Amjad and Buthayna Farah of Livonia to spend years seeking the best opportunity to embark on their first hajj.
Since the couple left last week, daughter Amal Farah has eagerly watched their social media updates as they revel in visiting holy sites and encounters with other believers. "They seem to be really enjoying it and learning a lot," she said.
Meanwhile, the 19-year-old college student strives to pore over the Quran, the Muslim holy text, while awaiting prayers this weekend at a mosque and a meal with lamb at her cousins' home.
The days around Eid are "a happy time," she said. "It's all celebration."