No one would confuse Coca-Cola Park, home of the Ironpigs, with Mecca, but when thousands of Muslims gathered in prayer in the gardens on Sunday, it gave the stadium a kind of community holiness.
More than 4,000 Muslims entered the stadium early in the morning to celebrate Eid al-Adha, commonly called Eid, one of the two largest Islamic holidays.
It was the first time that six mosques in the Lehigh Valley region came together to organize such a celebration, with the aim of promoting Muslim unity and dispelling misconceptions about religion.
One of the organizers, Mohammed Khaku, a member of the Al-Ahad Islamic Center in South Whitehall Township, hopes he is not the last.
“This was our first learning experience,” he said. “Next year we will be well organized. Instead of getting 4,000 like today, we might get 10,000″.
Khaku said the leaders of the participating mosques observed other places, including local university stadiums, but reached an agreement with Coca-Cola Park about two weeks ago.
The faithful had to go through a large permanent sign near the entrance of the stadium that said “This is Bacon USA”, it may not be the right note for a religion that prohibits eating pork products.
And yet, the sun was shining and the weather was good when Muslims arrived from the other side of the Great Lehigh Valley region to mark the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj.
Muslims everywhere are expected to be able to pilgrim to Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once in their lives. But all observant Muslims celebrate the end of Hajj with the Eid al-Adha holiday, which means “feast of sacrifice”.
The celebration marks Abraham’s will (also known as Ibrahim) to sacrifice his son Ishmael in obedience to God before God stopped him and gave him a sheep to sacrifice.
Sunday’s event was the Al-Ahad Islamic Center, Al-Maqasid, the Easton Phillipsburg Muslim Association, the Pennsylvania Islamic Education Center, the Lehigh Valley Muslim Association and the Respect Graduate School.
The prayers were directed by Imam Basheer Bilaal of the Muslim Association of the Lehigh Valley. Attendees were encouraged to return at 1:30 p.m. to see the IronPigs play the Charlotte Knights.
While the rhythmic chant of the Islamic call to prayer was played by the stadium’s speaker, Ahmet Tekeliglu, director of outreach and education of the Council of American-Islamic Relations in Pennsylvania, said mass murder last March in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zeeland a supposed white supremacist raised security concerns for Muslims.
“It is at the bottom of people’s minds,” said Tekeliglu of Allentown, who emigrated from Turkey in 2007. But he said that if people let that fear stop them from joining, they would be giving in to terrorism. But it also sounded optimistic about the future.
“We are American Muslims, we are diverse but we are here to remain as Americans,” he said, citing the line popularized by Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it leans toward justice.”
He planned to return to Coca-Cola Park in the afternoon to watch his first live baseball game.