GREENSBORO — As minivans and other vehicles begin trickling into the Greensboro Coliseum parking lot and empty out, a visual symphony emerges of colorful hijabs or Muslim head coverings for women.

Pink, red, yellow — blue with gold stars — as those women and their families arrive for the early morning prayers of Eid al-Adha, the festival of the sacrifice in Islam.

Even the littlest in the family carry prayer mats.

"Keep up," a father gently admonishes his youngest son, who wears an identical white thwab, or long tunic worn by Muslim men.

Like other followers of Islam around the world, the hundreds at the special gathering are observing Eid al-Adha, which is based on the story of Ibrahim's (also known as Abraham) willingness to obey Allah. During this test of faith, Ibrahim was asked to sacrifice his son, but God places a lamb in his place.

It is one of the holiest days on the Islamic calendar and also marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca — a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for all Muslims physically and financially able to perform it.

"It is our new year," says Waheed Tigini, one of the organizers.

Around him many arrive in their finest clothing, including whole families in the same matching colors or materials, such as the nine in the same royal blue sheen including the youngest in a stroller.

Reginald Essau Thompson, here with his wife Ada Bellow and their children, grabs the hand of a man he has not seen in maybe a year.

"This is a beautiful thing," Thompson says of the fellowship after the two catch up.

Just past vendors at the outer doors selling items such as prayer mats and turbans for those who need one — even bubble-making toys for the children— the families and others are soon separated by gender on either side of a curtain partition that continues into the special events center. In the tradition in the faith, men and women do not pray directly beside each other.

As the clock ticks toward the 7:30 a.m. service, the trail of people picks up. Organizers had tried to secure the main coliseum floor but it was already claimed by the Market America event. But this portion of the converted special events center is bigger than any one of the area's mosques could hold.

Mats soon dot the floor on both sides of the fabric partition as the service starts.

In near unison, the men and women kneel and begin reciting the Arabic words of prayers led by the Imam, or religious leader, using a microphone.

Prayers now on their lips have passed from generations.

At times they bow together.

At other times they lay prostrate on their rugs.

The Arabic chanting include asking Allah for forgiveness and a clean slate for the new year.

They leave for smaller gatherings of friends and families in homes, with meals heavy with fresh lamb and other meats in deference to the story of Ibrahim.

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Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 336-373-7049 and follow @nmclaughlinNR on Twitter.

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