Cotayba Al-Saigh and Jamal Ibraheem, both 7, stepped carefully around prayer rugs and worshipers in a makeshift mosque, a former elementary school cafeteria in Falls Church.
It was the closest they would come to school last Monday. By afternoon, they would be on a farm near Gaithersburg, helping with the slaughter of five lambs, but that morning, they passed around the collection boxes, sidestepping toddlers frolicking on the sides near long rows of their parents' shoes.
Cotayba and Jamal, along with family and friends and other Moslems throughout the world, were observing Eid Al-Adha, the sacrifice holiday. Tradition calls for prayer services in the morning, followed by the ritual slaughter of at least one lamb, to be shared with friends and the poor.
The rite commemorates the story of Abraham, asked by God to sacrifice his son, then stopped just before compliance and allowed to substitute a ram.
The story was repeated at Monday's service, sponsored by the Islamic Community Center of Northern Virginia, which temporarily uses the former school's facilities until a separate building can be bought. And the several hundred Moslems gathered there in prayer committed themselves to obeying God and His ways.
Mostly immigrants, they came from Egypt, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Palestine, Lebanon and more than a half dozen other countries.
After the 10 a.m. service, they mingled and embraced, extending holiday wishes before departing for smaller, family-centered gatherings and feasts that afternoon. Not all the faithful would be slaughtering lambs that day, an activity recommended for those who can afford it.
For Cotayba and Jamal, the ritual was a familiar one, but it was their first visit to the Maryland farm. They helped select this year's batch of lambs to be slaughtered the "Islamic way," primarily by Mohammed Nafia Al-Saigh, Cotayba's father, assisted by friends Abdo Ahmed, his wife Hikmet and their 10-year-old daughter Aysha.
Al-Saigh learned the technique on his father's farm in Iraq. Each lamb was first turned to face east toward Mecca, birthplace of the prophet Mohammed. According to Moslem belief, it was there that Mohammed received the first revelations of the Koran.
Al-Saigh and Ahmed then said a brief prayer, asking God to make the animal "patient for the slaughter." While Ahmed covered the lamb's eyes, Al-Saigh slit its throat.
A very sharp knife is essential because "one stroke is supposed to kill," said Al-Saigh. "It's more humane" and provides healthier meat to eat than traditional slaughterhouse methods like stunning or shooting the animals, he said.
After skinning and dismembering the lambs, they would keep one third of the meat, give a third away as gifts, and donate a third to the poor. Besides calling to mind Abraham's obedience to God, the holiday serves as a reminder to be detached from worldly things.
For the Al-Saigh family, the day had added significance. That morning, Al-Saigh's wife had given birth to a girl, their sixth child. "It's a blessing," said Al-Saigh. "It's really wonderful to have it today."