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In the heart of KL, just around the corner from it’s most famous stretch of bars, there’s a small surau run by Bangladeshi migrants. It’s a partitioned corner of a Bangladeshi restaurant, barely larger than a closet. The founder of the surau started it in the early 90s as a place for himself to pray. His colleagues started joining. Then his neighbours. There was only room for a dozen in the surau, so they started laying prayer mats outside. Today, the congregation occupies half of the street during Solat Isyak.

But during Eid al-Adha, the congregation swells. Migrants from all over KL gather here to perform Eid prayers and observe the ritual sacrifice of livestock.

By ELROI YEE

WARNING: This photo series contains GRAPHIC IMAGES of animal slaughter

Finest clothes

Muslims usually dress in their finest clothes for Eid al-Adha celebrations. For the Bangladeshi community in Malaysia, most of whom are hard labourers in construction sites and plantations, that can mean a simple, clean set of clothes. Here a group of them line up to perform ablution ahead of Eid al-Adha prayers.

Preparation

A volunteer at the surau lays out tarpaulin sheets for believers to pray on. In addition to the prayer mats the surau stocks for everyday prayers, long tarpaulin sheets are used just for today. The experience of previous years tells them that there will be a sizeable crowd.

Crowded

Dressed in his Eid best, a migrant worker observes the gathering crowd from his rented flat. According to residents here, 90% of these units are rented by Bangladeshi migrant workers, most of whom work in large-scale construction projects in the city. Each unit has three rooms, where workers live seven to a room, sleeping shoulder to shoulder.

National Pride

It was only a day after Merdeka, so the flags were still up – along the streets leading to the city centre, on billboards, and on the balconies of these low-cost flats just next to a community surau run by the Bangladeshi migrant community. Even in their cramped rooms, I spot small Malaysian flags pinned to the walls. Do you know about Merdeka Day? I ask one. “Yes, I know Merdeka Day. We respect and we celebrate Merdeka Day too.” Do you want to be Malaysian someday? There is a pause, and a stare into the distance. “No, I think I will stay Bangladeshi.”

Congregate

As the time for Eid prayers approaches, the workers stream down in their best clothes and prayer caps.

Spilled streets

An imam delivers a sermon to a congregation of Bangladeshi migrants at a community surau in the heart of KL, during Eid al-Adha. The crowd was so large in spilled out onto the streets, occupying an entire back alley just a block away from KL’s most popular stretch of bars.

Reflect

Distractions are set aside, as the imam’s prayers reverberate through the back alley. It feels like the city stops for a moment.

As One

Though the surau is in the middle of one of the busiest parts of KL, the silence during Eid al-Adha prayers is palpable, amplified by the rustling of an estimated 700 believers bowing as one, foreheads touching the ground.

The Sacrifice

After prayers, the sacrifice. The community pooled their resources and bought three bulls. Each bull costs between RM5,000 and RM7,000. Subduing the bull for the sacrifice is a team effort. One or two men keep the bull’s head – and horns – facing away from danger. Rope is tied to its legs and looped over its back. When the crowd pulls, the bull falls and everyone piles on top of it to keep it down. This bull is particularly strong. It takes them four tries.

Swift

With the bull lying prone, rope is used to keep its legs from kicking and its neck is stretched out for the knife. The surau’s imam slits the throat. When done right, death is swift.

To Be Shared

Immediately after the sacrifice, the bulls are skinned and portioned. According to Muslim scriptures, a third of the meat is to be distributed to friends and family, another third given to the needy, while only the final third is kept for the owner’s own consumption.

Cooked to Perfection

The pot of beef curry is kept simmering for over two hours, from seven in the evening all the way through Maghrib prayers. This community surau run by Bangladeshi migrants is barely larger than a closet, but around a hundred believers gather here regularly to pray, the congregation so large it often spills over onto the streets.

Meal

On the night of Eid al-Adha, over 300 brave a slight drizzle to gather for prayers and a free meal of beef curry, spicy salad, and lots of rice.

Eating Together

The meal is served in large platters, each platter is shared by seven.

Waste Not

They insisted we put our cameras away and sit with them for the meal. The experience – a steaming plate of rice and beef curry eaten in the slightest of drizzle, with the warmth of new friends – was transcendent. We are told not to waste the food. Every last drop of curry is gathered up with the back of your hand and licked clean.

Back Home

A migrant worker makes his nightly phone call to his family in Bangladesh. Though he stays just upstairs of the surau, he and his housemates preferred to cook their own meal. “We already prepared the food for today, so better not to waste it,” one of them says. Is Eid al-Adha different in Bangladesh, I ask another. “It’s the same. Maybe there are more people celebrating back home, but otherwise it’s the same.”

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