About 100 Iraqi men gathered at the Imam Ali Islamic Center in Grand Prairie yesterday. Some crowded beneath a big white party tent, grilling meat and eating, or relaxed inside the mosque; others were inside the big blue Carter BloodCare van, doing what they'd all come to do -- give blood. Donating blood is their way of honoring religious martyr Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who lost his life on the 10th day of the holy month of Muharram. Which was Monday.
The memorial blood drive is common in Iraq, but this was the first in North Texas.
"They want to feel the pain of the man who lost his life along with many of his friends and family members to fight for peace and justice," said Amira Matsuda, president of the Iraqi American Association of North Texas. "They try to feel the pain of their hero."
Matsuda explained that a blood drive honoring a martyr who fought for freedom and justice is especially poignant since many of the donors are refugees. "Several of them, they fled out of Iraq because there was a threat to their life or their children's life," she said.
"We came all together here to commemorate the tragedy of our beloved hero Imam Hussain," said Mazin Al-Sahlani, a Muslim religious leader who came from Erie, Pennsylvania, to lecture at this week's memorial celebrations for Imam Hussain. "We are here to condemn all the oppression," he said.
It's a sad holiday, to be sure, but the mood was upbeat as young men cooked a lunch of pita, grilled meat, tomatoes and onions -- a superior bounty to the goldfish crackers and OJ that usually accompanies a blood drive.
"They donate a lot in Iraq, but nobody does it here," said Haider Abed, who helped organize the event.
Abed said he hopes the event will be even bigger next year. He expects they'll reserve at least two blood donation vans, one for men and one for women. This year only men donated because the event was organized quickly. Conservative Muslim women who keep their skin covered would not be able to donate in the same facility as men.
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Long ago, Matsuda said, Iraqis would lash their own backs with sharp chains to make themselves bleed in memorial of Hussain's death. Now, the modern custom of donating blood is much less brutal and more charitable.
Furat Altufaili, who was born in Iraq and moved here when he was six years old, said he felt like he'd accomplished a selfless act. He called today a chance to "be appreciative of what you have" and give to others.
"They're very healthy," said Marty Stone, the donor recruiter who organizes the mobile blood drives. "We supply over 300 hospitals in 56 counties, so there's a tremendous need."
Early-on yesterday, she estimated that the mobile donation center can accommodate around 50 people, which means the demand to donate is higher than the facility's capacity to accept -- a welcome problem, to be sure. But by the end of the day, Stone managed to accept nearly 70 donations.