Chams pray during the Eid el Adha Festival at the Norul Ehsan Mosque.
A healthy white beast writhes in the dirt. The cow's feet are bound and her eyes
bulge in distress. Ten men stand around her. A boy affectionately strokes her head.
Another digs a circular pit, the size of a large basket. They drag the cow over the
pit, stopping when its neck stretches acrosss the hole. Ali Musah holds a dagger
ceremoniously close to his chest. The cow's head is pulled back so its neck is taut.
Musah moves over and cleanly slices her neck. The pit quickly fills with blood.
January 21 was the annual Muslim feast, Eid el Adha. The entire Muslim world celebrates
the feast over a four-day period, marking the end of the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca.
After Ramadan, it is the second most significant event in the Islamic calendar. Cambodia's
Cham Muslim community usually celebrates it for just one day. Ali Musah is the Imam,
or the head, of Norul Ehsan Mosque, seven kilometers from Phnom Penh on National
Road 5. He said all 700,000 members of the Cham community would be celebrating Eid-el
The number of cows, sheep, camels and goats slaughtered during the festival worldwide
would number in the millions. There are strict guidelines to follow on the quality
of the animal a Muslim chooses to sacrifice for the Eid el Adha. According to Islamic
scholar Imam Malick, the animal that is chosen must be fat, healthy and good-looking.
No animal that is blind, lame, has a fractured leg, is missing an ear or tail, or
has a broken horn can be selected. None of the meat from sacrificed animals goes
to waste, and the poor are able to revel in the festivities as well. It is a giving
time with money and meat being shared out between all Muslims.
Seven cows were sacrificed for the families who worship at Norul Ehsan Mosque. Each
cow costs between $180 and $200, and seven Malaysian men donated this year's group
It's an early start, with prayers beginning at 7 a.m. Cham Muslims started to trickle
in to the mosque from 6.30 a.m. in a mixture of traditional dress; some men wore
the full-length white dishdasha, with red and white checked shumagh (headdress),
others with colorful sarongs and skullcaps.
Noticing the absence of women, Musah was questioned if Eid-el Adha was a mens-only
festival. "Oh no," he answered. "There is just no space for women
today." He said 200 worshippers usually come to the mosque on Fridays, but he
estimated at least 600 were praying on the straw mats this morning.
An elderly muezzin stood preaching at the microphone, sending unbroken Koranic verse
spiraling up and out the minarets, echoing in the mosque grounds and drowning out
the sound of the nearby highway.
There are five pillars in Islam. Making the trip to Mecca in Saudi Arabia is the
fifth pillar of duty to Allah. If a Muslim can afford it, Musah says, they are expected
to make the journey to Mecca, which houses Islam's most sacred Grand Mosque. Musah
has been fortunate enough to make the trip twice. Once, in 1989, sponsored by the
Cambodian government, and again in 2000, paid for by his cousin. One hundred members
of the Cham community traveled to Mecca for this year's pilgrimage, joining an estimated
2.5 million other pilgrims, all dressed in white. The Saudi Arabian government paid
for 30 Chams, and Musah says the Cambodian government issued their passports for
The Eid el Adha concludes the pilgrimage period. The sacrifice of an animal is believed
to represent a show of ultimate devotion to Allah, following the tradition first
set by the prophet Ibrahim.
According to the Koran, Allah asked Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Ishmael
for a feast. Without hesitation both father and son agreed. To reward Ibrahim for
his unwavering devotion, Allah sent the angel Gabriel to intercept Ibrahim just as
he was about to sacrifice his son. The angel gave Ibrahim a ram to slaughter for
the feast instead.