On a beautiful, chilly August morning, thousands of Muslims here in Minnesota headed to, of all places, the U.S. Bank football stadium. There they gathered on Tuesday in the tens of thousands to celebrate what was dubbed “Super Eid.”
The Eid al-Adha (feast of sacrifice) commemorates the story of Abraham and his son Ishmael (let us not get picky about which son it was), who was to be sacrificed until God replaced him with a sheep.
On this celebratory day, thousands of Muslims descended from everywhere, by car, bus, light rail, even on foot, dressed in their colorful clothes, unapologetically celebrating their traditions and costumes. At the “Super Eid,” there was no tailgating, no eating or drinking in front of the stadium. Surprisingly, standing by the stadium gates, a few groups calling themselves Muslims’ Neighbors greeted everyone with love signs.
There was no Muslim ban at the U.S. Bank Stadium that morning.
One of the “Love Your Neighbor” supporters commented: “I brought all my family here [six of them] with love signs, to welcome Muslims and respond to some hate messages that I have seen on social media.”
Even the security staff at the stadium was courteous and friendly. “I’m here to make sure everything is going smooth for everyone,” explained an over-enthusiastic young man with a U.S. Bank security badge. The police surrounding the stadium were discrete, just watching from afar, not looking for any trouble. Many organizers and staff were on hand, too, mostly from the Somali community.
The morning started with people moving in an orderly fashion through the security gates without any major incidents. Muslims take their shoes off for prayers, anyway, so there wasn’t any need to ask. The staff greeted everyone with “Happy Eid” or “Eid Mubarak.
Inside the stadium, instead of heading to the stands, people swarmed onto the field. At the tunnel, you could see Muslim women cloaked in their colorful clothes, poised to take the field, undeterred by the posters of scantily dressed cheerleaders on the tunnel walls.
At the “Super Eid,” unlike the Super Bowl, participants were on the field not to play but to pray. They “took a knee” — OK, two knees — to submit to almighty God, not to the almighty NFL owners.
On the field, women were seated on one side and men on the other. The stadium stands were almost empty, with a few onlookers sitting there, intrigued by the whole spectacle.
Also on hand was U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, the DFL candidate for governor. When I asked about his reaction, he pointed to the field and said: “These are the Muslims who make Minnesota great.”
It was eerie inside the stadium — no big screens, no advertisements or announcements. There wasn’t any consumption going on — no beer, hot dogs or peanuts interrupted the action. Concession stands were dark and abandoned. The majority of people who came to U.S. Bank stadium that day were seeing it for the first time, impressed by the epic place.
When the chanting of “Allahu Akbar” started to fill the stadium, there was no alarm, no heightened security.
The Imam finally took the stand in the front of the massive crowd and, like the quarterback of the hometown team, announced the start of prayer. First, “Everyone should stand straight in unison and in lines,” he ordered the crowd.
After the prayer, most people were heading to the exits. The imam tried to keep the crowd from leaving, to stay and listen to his sermon. I always feel sorry for the person who gives the Eid sermon. Unlike a Friday sermon, it is given after prayer.
Nothing disperses a Muslim crowd quicker.
“Being proud, and a good Muslim, is being a good American,” the imam assured everyone. However, his wise words vibrated in vain, lost on the crowd which was consumed with greetings, with lots of hugging and kissing. Depending on custom, some were given from the left side to the right side of the face, others from right. Some gave one kiss, others two or three. Some gave them on cheeks, others on the forehead. All a bit confusing for a novice to the greeting.
One heard people speaking in many native languages, but the warm smiles were universally understood. Parents held on to their kids, making sure they wouldn’t get lost or venture into uncharted territories inside the vast stadium.
This is the first time Muslims used the big football arena for the Eid prayer, and it didn’t go without some critics. Some complained, “It is a costly exhibition.” However, most were thrilled to be there.
In fact, people from all over the country came to be part of the “Super Eid” spectacle. Three hundred families came from Chicago alone, said one organizer. “I came all the way from Oklahoma with my kids to be here,” said one mother with a big smile. “We old generation may think it is a waste of money [$120,000], but our youth here are watching sports and always on social media. Now when they go back to schools, they have something to talk about with their friends,” the director of al Farook mosque said.
Remembering the purpose of the day, I asked a couple of young kids what they knew about the Eid al-Adha, only to get some giggling. Their father intervened and started telling them about the story of Abraham and his son — “The angel Gabriel asked Abraham to slay his own son to show his absolute obedience to God, but he …” Before he could finish, the kids went back to their smartphones, wanting no part of this disturbing conversation.
The “Super Eid” was a great success after all. These thousands of Muslims were in dire need of reassurance from each other and from the community that even with all the Islamophobia and hateful rhetoric in this country nowadays, there is still something worth celebrating, even inside a football stadium.
Hopefully, this “Super Eid” spirit will linger at U.S. Bank Stadium and help the Vikings this season.
Happy Eid, everyone.
Ahmed Tharwat is host/producer of the Arab American TV show, BelAhdan. He blogs at Notes from America (www.ahmediatv.com). On Twitter @ahmediaTV.