Today is Eid al-Adha! The Feast of the Sacrifice!
Today Muslims who are involved in the Hajj are celebrating the symbolic stoning of the Devil in Mecca which is the midpoint of the annual Hajj or Pilgrimage. But more importantly, Eid al-Adha is called the Festival of the Sacrifice because of Muslims all over the world offer an animal for sacrifice to commemorate the act of Abraham offering his son Ishmael up as a sacrifice to God. The meat from the animal of choice, livestock such as goats and sheep, or if you are affluent, a cow, camel or in the case of Khazakhstan, a horse*, is distributed to family, neighbors and the poor.
When I was young, I remember my Mom and Dad would take us kids to Devon Avenue in the city a day or two after Eid and would get the meat from the animal that was sacrificed for us. We lived in a neighborhood that had a great many Muslim families and when we would get home, my Mom would send me and my younger brother and sister out with packages of meat for our Muslim neighbors. In return, we would be given bundles to take home and for the next two months, we would eat what we got from Eid.
My real memory of Eid al-Adha and what it means was in 1988 when my parents left me in Pakistan for the summer, which is a story in and of itself for another day. When I was there, my Grandmother purchased a cow for our family. The cow was cute and innocent in a way only a bovine can be. She lived in the alley behind our house for a couple of days. Long enough for a homesick little girl to grow attached.
The day of Eid started out peacefully but soon became a horror that I still try and block out. Here in the States, because of the small number of Muslims, women went to the mosque on Eid, but in Pakistan , only the men went to the mosques to pray in the morning while women and children prayed at home. Already I was looking down at the cow from over the wall. My aunt had to drag me away when the cow’s time came. The normal city noises faded into the background because soon all you could hear was the animals crying. The animals were slaughtered and the meat handed over to the people who owned the animal. And the alley ran red with the blood. It was 18 days before I turned 12 years old.
Even now, as a grown woman, I can remember the horror and disgust I felt that day. I couldn’t eat meat without feeling sick for several months afterwards. After a while of parental edicts that stated I had to eat what they said I had to eat, I grew desensitized to it. But for a long while after seeing what I did in Pakistan, I had trouble with it.
Yet that is not what the spirit of Eid was about. The idea was that like Abraham, we sacrifice something that is dear to us. It is to teach the concept of sacrifice for love. In modern times it has become twisted in my humble opinion. It has become about the food, the celebration and showing off your worldly wealth. For me, that Eid in 1988 was truly significant. I loved that cow. And it was sacrificed. I shed tears while I heard her crying. Sacrifice sounds so noble but is truly not as easy as modern times have made it. True sacrifice is not something money can buy.
So this Eid, I will consider the sacrifices I have made and will continue to make that are not living breathing things, but rather the less tangible sacrifices and hope that God accepts them and forgives me. Because its the best I can do.
*Horses are not considered by the majority of Muslims to be allowable for eating and sacrificing. But there is one school of Muslim thought that allows it and my sister Sabreen learned this firsthand in Khazakhstan when they fed it to her. Rest in peace Mr. Ed.