With COVID-19 safety protocols in place, hundreds of Muslim-Americans, many dressed in festive garb, gathered in Bensonhurst Park on July 20 to celebrate Eid al-Adha, one of the biggest and most important holidays in the Muslim calendar.
Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, is celebrated by Muslims all over the world for a period of three to fours days. According to tradition, the holiday commemorates prophet Abraham’s willingness to offer his son Isaac to God when an angel presents Abraham with a ram to slaughter instead.
Like so many celebrations, outdoor prayer services for Eid al-Adha had to be canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making Tuesday’s gathering even more joyous for the worshippers who came together along the Brooklyn waterfront.
Malik Hassan, public affairs and civic engagement coordinator at the Muslim-American Society of New York’s Brooklyn-Staten Island branch, and one of the organizers of the prayer gathering, estimated that about 5,000 people showed up to the park for the early morning service.
It was the first time MAS held such a large, outdoor gathering for Eid al-Adha, Hassan said, though the group also held an outdoor prayer at the park for Eid al-Fitr back in May.
“It felt great,” Hassan said. “I think being able to celebrate outdoors with lots of your family members and community members, with a variety of different organizations and mosques coming together to celebrate outdoors gives you a bit of a glimpse of the beginning of the end for COVID restrictions and COVID in general.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who delivered remarks before the prayer gathering, acknowledged that the past year has been painful for the largest Muslim community in the United States.
“Last year was painful in every way,” de Blasio said. “But for people of faith and for people who love their community not to gather, I know for so many of you, that was so difficult.”
Under a hazy sky caused by the smoke from the western wildfires, Hizzoner expressed his “joy seeing everyone together again.” In closing, he urged those who have yet to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to do so.
“I’m asking you personally, for your own health and safety for your family and for your community you love,” the mayor pleaded. “Please get vaccinated so we can put COVID behind us forever and gather anytime we want because we deserve that.”
State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who represents Brooklyn’s 22nd district, home to a large Arab-American population, stressed the significance of Eid al-Adha as the city looks to put the coronavirus behind it. The southern Brooklyn pol said that Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to God was an analogy of what New Yorkers experienced last year.
“The lesson, I hope we all learned, is that faith and devotion to God above will carry us through, no matter what the challenge, no matter what the obstacle, no matter what the difficulties,” he said, “so I join you all in celebrating today.”
Ahead of the prayer, Councilmember and New York City Comptroller candidate Brad Lander told the crowd he was proud to pass on his City Council seat to Shahana Hanif, the Democratic nominee for the Park Slope district who, if elected in November’s general election, would be the first Bangladeshi-Muslim Councilwoman in New York City’s history.
Prior to his own election in, the 39th Council District had always been represented by white Christian men, said Lander, who was the first Jewish New Yorker elected to represent the seat.
“And now in the future, it’s being represented by a Muslim woman,” Lander said. “That’s the New York City we want to be building together, and I feel proud to be here with you this morning. It’s beautiful to be back together.”
In addition to MAS Brooklyn, Tuesday’s prayer service was hosted in partnership with the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge and the Arab American Federation. In a video message posted Tuesday morning, members of the Muslim American Society of New York wished all those who celebrate “Eid Mubarak.”
Additional reporting by Ben Brachfeld