Sunday, December 14, 2008

Muslim Feast of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha)



I had never gone to such a feast before, but when Levent invited my family and me to join his Muslim community and interfaith friends to their Feast Day at the end of the holy season of Eid, in commemoration of father Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son (Ishmael), I responded with enthusiasm.

Levent Koç, Ph.D. is Executive Director of the Interfaith Dialog Center in New Jersey, and his organization has sponsored interfaith events at Drew and elsewhere, and takes people on cross-cultural trips to Turkey. In so doing, this progressive Muslim community helps us find common ground among the three Abrahamic religions in the spirit of shalom/salaam/peace.

About 75 people of good faith gathered in Carlstadt for the Feast of Sacrifice. Together, we shared in a common meal and gave thanks for the Lord’s provision of a ‘ram in the thicket’ as a substitutionary sacrifice instead of Abraham’s son—the sacred story of how the ancient people of God learned that human sacrifice is not required, but rather faithfulness to the will of God.

The guest speaker for the Feast was a United Methodist minister--Rev. Pat Bruger, a former student of mine from Drew and Executive Director, CUMAC Food Program in Paterson (originally a shalom zone). Pat shared about how thousands of low-income families in northern New Jersey count on this regional Food Pantry for supplemental food from time to time; and how they were forced to close their doors in during the current economic crisis; until the Interfaith Dialog Center community heard about the need and decided to share their food and funds with her organization. It was an inspiring story of how Muslims and Christians not only can get along, but collaborate on feeding the hungry in the name of peace.

After we enjoyed a delicious, traditional Turkish meat dish, dessert, raffle and dancing, Levent shared about the deeper meaning of the Feast:

“One of the two main festivals of the Muslim calendar is the Feast of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha), which marks the end of the Hajj (the holy pilgrimage). It is a festival with many social aspects: the pilgrimage, the sacrifice of an animal, remembering and helping the poor, and the reunion of visiting relatives, friends, and neighbors. In the tradition of Abraham's great act of faith many centuries ago, millions of Muslims prepare to demonstrate their own submission to God by sacrificing an animal. Muslims commemorate Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son after God's order, as well as God's mercy in sparing his son and replacing him with a ram.

At the end of the pilgrimage, each Muslim sacrifices an animal. The meat is then distributed to those in need all over the world. The feast is a time for thanking God for His blessings and for giving to the less fortunate, regardless of their religion, race and color. The Qur'an describes Abraham (peace be upon him) as follows:

"Surely Abraham was an example, obedient to God, by nature upright, and he was not of the polytheists. He was grateful for Our bounties. We chose him and guided him unto a right path. We gave him good in this world, and in the next he will most surely be among the righteous." (Qur'an 16:120-121)

And "We made him (Abraham) pure in this world and in the hereafter; he is most surely among the righteous. When his Lord said to him: 'Submit,' he said: 'I submit myself to the Lord of the Worlds.” (Qur'an 2:130-131)

It is very important to understand that the sacrifice itself, as practiced by Muslims, has nothing to do with atoning for our sins or using the blood to wash ourselves from sin. This is a misunderstanding by those of previous generations: "It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches God; it is your piety that reaches Him" (Qur'an 22:37)

The symbolism is in the attitude: a willingness to make sacrifices in our lives in order to stay on the Straight Path. Each of us makes small sacrifices by giving up things that are fun or important to us. A true Muslim, one who submits his or herself completely to the Lord, is willing to follow God's commands completely and obediently. It is this strength of heart, purity in faith, and willing obedience that our Lord desires from us.

Next year, the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice will coincide with Thanksgiving. So let us join together next year for an even bigger Feast."