Maine Muslim families celebrate Eid al-Adha

·3 min read

Jul. 10—There were balloons and a line of children eagerly waiting to pick out a new toy.

There were treats, face paintings, smiles and dressy clothes.

Sunday was Eid al-Adha, an important Muslim celebration that honors the Prophet Ibrahim's devotion to Allah. Eid al-Adha also marks the completion of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, according to Walid Moumneh, board president of the New England Arab American Organization, which has locations in Portland and Westbrook.

NEAAO helps new Mainers who fled countries because of war and chaos.

The celebration on Sunday was held outside at the Westbrook Community Center.

Before the day was over, Moumneh said an expected 900 people would attend.

For Muslims, there are two Eid festivities each year. The first, Eid al-Fitr, is held at the end of Ramadan and is the bigger celebration, but this year Eid al-Fitr fell in April when there was a spike of COVID-19 cases, and that event was called off, said Melinda Thomas of NEAAO.

Instead, the New England Arab American Organization threw a celebration during Sunday's Eid al-Adha so the community would not go without a gathering, Thomas said.

Oula Alshaar of Westbrook was among the adults giving out toys.

From Syria, Alshaar and her husband came to the United States in 2013.

Eid is a time for Muslims reflect about their religion, share food and visit family and friends. Similar to how Christians plan and look forward to Christmas, getting ready for Eid takes a lot of work.

"It's so special for Arabic people," Alshaar said. "You have to visit all of your family, if you have a sister, brother, mom," she said. "You have to clean your home," plan on what new clothes to wear. "You're always thinking about this day."

Observing Eid is different than in her home country, she said. In the United States, Muslims can feel isolated. Getting together with other Muslims helps her feel more connected to others, and the Eid celebration makes "you feel at home," Alshaar said.

Amira Ammar of Portland, who is from Lebanon, said the day is an occasion "to give of yourself, your time, your money, to relieve some of people's pains." She used to teach English and Arabic, and when she lived in Lebanon worked to raise money for the poor.

There are approximately 6,000 Muslims in Maine, including new families from Afghanistan, according to the NEAAO. Most Maine Muslims live in Cumberland and Androscoggin counties, including in Portland, Westbrook and Lewiston-Auburn, as well as in Augusta, Waterville and Biddeford, Thomas said.

In addition to Afghanistan, Maine's Muslims come from Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Morocco, Lebanon, Iran, India, Libya and some areas of central Asia, she said.

Allison Hodgkins of Yarmouth was busy painting the face of a young boy. Hodgkins grew up in Yarmouth, and spent years in the Middle East leading study abroad programs in Jordan, Egypt and Jerusalem for the Council on International Educational Exchange. "Coming back to Yarmouth, Maine, after 20 years abroad, going into Hannaford and finding Arabic food on the shelves, and seeing women in veils, made me really happy," she said.

Living with Arabs and Muslims for so many years, and being part of the Eid celebration in Westbrook, "is just wonderful, she said. "It's such an expression of everything that I believe is great about Maine."