Islam’s Eid celebration—a diet-free zone

The aroma of roasted lamb wafted down a hall on the fourth floor of the National Bowling Stadium. Families brought dishes to pass—colored rice, steamed rice, rice with saffron, almonds, golden raisins and slivered carrots.

“Today we don’t count calories,” said Abdul Barghouti, vice president of the Northern Nevada Muslim Community. He wore blue jeans and a cartoon tie. “We say goodbye to diets. You guys do it on Thanksgiving. We do it today.”

Muslim families from Reno and Sparks gathered Saturday to celebrate Eid Al-Adha, the “Feast of the Sacrifice.” Though Eid landed on Jan. 21 this year, the NNMC’s party was delayed to book the room.

The local Muslim community includes families from Jordan, Egypt, Japan, Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Iraq and Afghanistan. They are restaurant owners, bankers, stay-home parents and entrepreneurs. Barghouti, a Palestinian, works as a computer engineer.

Five-year-old Sahar dressed in an ornate, gold-trimmed red-velvet dress and green scarf—the colors of Afghanistan’s flag. Sahar’s mother, Shukvia Sharifzia, wrote her name for me. I asked her husband his name.

“Mohammed,” said Mohammed Sharifzia. “We’re all Mohammed.”

His friend, Mohammed Sultani, grinned at this.

Mohammed Sharifzia has lived in Reno for 12 years. He said he enjoys the familiar climate.

“We like the four seasons, the mountains and the view,” he said. “It’s very much like Afghanistan.”

Before the feast began, Sahar joined children playing on an inflatable playground. On a toy dubbed “Bungee Run,” Sarah Elfass, a 10-year-old Hunter Lake Elementary student, raced Ramesha Sattar, a 10-year-old from Sacramento. Attached to Bungee cords, the girls raced down the course only to get snapped back into the puffy walls.

“You put the things on and you try to run and put the things, the …” Elfass said.

“Beanbags,” Sattar said.

“Yeah, the beanbags, put them on the sticky stuff,” Elfass said. “You try to be the fastest.”

Elfass won.

“We want families to come with their kids and enjoy,” said NNMC President Mahmoud Hendi, standing near a pile of children’s shoes. “We also want people in Reno and Sparks to know we exist—and that we’re exactly like everybody else, with jobs and families and children. We want to clarify misconceptions about Islam, which is a religion of love and peace, a religion of tolerance.”

Reno Muslims participate in interfaith community activities with other churches and synagogues.

“I feel extremely safe,” Barghouti said. “This is a wonderful, wonderful community. People are tolerant and understanding.”

The only complaint some have is with radio talk show hosts who misconstrue Muslims, Barghouti said.

“It saddens me, the things you hear on the radio,” Barghouti said. “It seems some are trying to damage the things we’ve built here for the past 10 years.”

“There are demagogues attacking our religion,” said Salem Mohamed, a NNMC trustee who said he challenged a local radio host to a debate. “Ask me the hardest questions, and we will be able to refute those who say that our religion is violent.”

A recent e-mail exchange with the local host ended with both men promising to pray for the other, Mohamed said.

“I said, ‘I will pray that God Almighty will remove the hatred from your heart,’” Mohamed said.

Standing with self-employed Sparks mother Nadiah Beekun, I watched children compete on an inflatable obstacle course, the Adrenaline Rush. A teen racing a younger boy appeared to fall down while going up a squishy mock climbing wall.

“He’s deliberately losing for that little kid,” Beekun said in a whisper. As the race ended, she said loudly: “Darn it, that little kid beat him!”