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Berlin: Eid al-Adha is our christmas

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It's early in the morning. Kreuzberg lays silent in the drizzling rain under the grey sky of Berlin. It is a November day like every other - and special for the more than 4 million muslims in Germany

Daniel Steiner goes around the big circular hall. He is looking for the replacement speaker, as the actual speaker  spontaneously left to undertake a pilgrim trip to Mecca two days ago. 'You have to be prepared,' Daniel smiles, relaxed. After all this is not the first muslim feast he has organised. The 32-year-old with thin blonde hair is the chairperson of the German-speaking muslim group in Berlin (DMK-Berlin e.V). For the official start of the festive day he has rented a municipal wedding hall. In all there are around seventy members although Daniel expects approximately 400 believers for such an important islamic feast. The hall in the popular district of Kreuzberg is as big as a handball field.

Prayer time for first day of eid

It is a few minutes before eight thirty and the entrance door is continuously being opened and closed. 'Salam Aleikhum brothers and sisters,' greets Daniel, sharing kisses and embraces. He knows most of the people personally, and almost all of them are wearing festive attire. Daniel is also well dressed, with polished shoes, black suit and white shirt. New clothes during eid are a tradition, as well as giving small gifts to friends and bigger ones to families. 'The eid al-adha is like a christmas for us,' explains Daniel as he lays the first prayer rug on the hall’s floor. The rug is colorful and embroidered with an oriental design. The most important thing about it though is its alignment - it should be laid down in the direction of Mecca.

It’s becoming noisy in the hall. Rhythmic and repetitive chantings like the takbeer ('god is the greatest') and other hymns of Allah are being played on the loudspeaker. Some children play tag, others have unpacked their marbles as their families greet each other vocally. Daniel distributes texts of Arabic prayers translated in German. German is spoken here because these are the muslims from all over the world who have gathered here. Daniel himself was raised in Potsdam - 'you can grow up religious even in the GDR' - and he converted to Islam at the age of twenty-two.

Es wird des Propheten Ibrahim gedacht, der laut islamischer Überlieferung bereit war, seinen Sohn Ismael Allah zu opfern.

By now there are batches of trainers, boots and canvas shoes near the holy rug. Everyone looks for a place in the hall which are divided as per gender: men in the front at the right side, women at the back on the left. Behind the table are the remaining people who have been excused from the prayer. Even some non-muslims are here. Everyone is welcome, says Daniel, though he does not officially want to advertise the celebration, as eid should be celebrated in harmony. The loudspeakers crackle. Daniel faces the men on the speaker who are composing catena. 'Allah is great, there is no god other than Allah,' sounds the Arabic from their mouth. Daniel prays in the chorus with others.

'The best that we can do is food'

Every muslim has to pray together on the first day of eid. The other three days are spent with friends and families visiting each other at home. For this evening, Daniel has also made 'family hopping' plans: 'The best that we can do is food,' he grins. The last verse will be spoken in the next fifteen minutes and Daniel is already back on his feet, while others are relaxing on the prayer rug and listening to the speaker's sermons. He is stacking the paper plates and arranging the cutlery, baking sheets and dishes on the large table. The flavor of garlic and spices has spread all over the hall. Every centimetre of the buffet table is occupied.  The German Kalter Hund ('Cold Dog') pastry, potato salad and mayonnaise, rice and vegetables, Turkish pizza, pitta bread and yoghurt – the variety of the food is as colourful as the people in the hall. 'Happy eid al-adha,' says Daniel, shaking hands around the dining table, but he can't hang around. 'Never mind,' he says, putting three spoons of sugar in his coffee, 'anyway I have to lose the calories.' That's for sure - over the next three days, he will be getting more than enough of them.

Images: girls (cc) Dr. Pat; praying (cc)Travlr/ both courtesy of Flickr

Translated from Berlin: Das Opferfest ist unser Weihnachten