Triangle Muslims show ‘community’ and ‘unity’ at joint Eid Festival in Raleigh

Thousands of Muslims from across the Triangle came together for the first time on Saturday to celebrate one of the most important holidays in their faith.

Eleven Triangle mosques and Islamic organizations joined forces to hold what was billed as North Carolina’s largest Eid festival.. More than 8,000 people were expected to walk through the Jim Graham Building at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh to celebrate Eid Fest 2024.

“It’s wonderful,” said Tanko Braimah of Durham, who came to the festival with his wife and two daughters. “It shows the unity within the Islamic community.”

The festival comes as the Muslim community continues to rapidly grow in North Carolina.

North Carolina has the 11th-largest Muslim population of any U.S. state with 130,000 people. Festival organizers say 30,000 Muslims live in the Triangle area.

Commemorating Eid al-Adha

Eid Fest 2024 marked the celebration of Eid al-Adha, which is celebrated by Muslims across the world. Eid al-Adha marks the culmination of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and the celebration of Abraham’s willingness to follow God’s command to sacrifice his son.

Previously, local Islamic groups held their own festivals for Eid al-Adha. The Islamic Association of Raleigh had the largest, drawing 8,000 people,

But Ali Zelmat, a spokesperson for the Islamic Association of Raleigh, said it was becoming more challenging with parking and crowding concerns holding the festival at its campus in the Method community.

Zelmat said having all 11 Islamic groups work together allowed them to hold a bigger festival than any one group could put on.

“The concept of community and building that structure of community is very central with Islam,” Zelmat said. “We work with the other mosques on a regular basis. It just came together this time.”

Another advantage of holding the festival at the Jim Graham Building, Zelmat said, is that most of the events were being held indoors, out of the extreme heat.

“Weather-wise, especially at the end of June, it’s much better because people can actually enjoy the cool air indoors,” said Danielle Ivanova of Raleigh, who came to the festival with her husband and four children. “Plus it’s easier to find your kids if they’re running around.”

Celebrating Muslim holidays

Children were running around all through the indoor gaming area as their parents listened to music, enjoyed the food and shopped from local vendors in the bazaar.

Braimah said Eid festivals allow Muslim families to celebrate religious holidays just like Christian families.

“During the months of the traditional Christian calendar, you have the Christmas holidays and festivities where we as Muslims don’t get to celebrate that piece,” Braimah said. “Sometimes our kids miss out on group gatherings like that. This helps to bring all the children and their family and the community to ... to help our kids grow in solidarity.”

Tabassum Sk made the transition Saturday from festival attendee to being a vendor as she sold Indian dresses and scarves from her new business in Fuquay-Varina. It was a two-way exchange as she shared her Indian culture while hearing from the people browsing at her table.

“It’s great. I’m meeting new people,” Sk said. ““I’m experiencing everybody else’s culture,”

Raising money for Palestine

The festival took place amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza.

“Life continues and we still recognize the holiday,” Zelmat said. “It’s a little bit tempered by our concern for the suffering going on in the world. “

Hiva Alayyan and other members of N.C. State’s Muslim Students Association did what they could Saturday to bring attention to the issue in Gaza. They asked their fellow Muslims to donate money that will be used to provide humanitarian relief.

“We still acknowledge what’s going on to the people in Palestine and we still grieve for them,” Alayyan said.