Beginning at sunset November 6th and all through November 7th, Eid Al Adha is being celebrated by Muslims world-wide. Eid Al Adha is the second of two feasts that occur after Ramadan. This feast is the biggest and most important holiday of the Muslim year and concludes the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and one of the five pillars of Islam.
Significant to Eid Al Adha is the sacrifice of an animal. A goat, sheep, camel and sometimes even a cow, is sacrificed and cooked to perfection, a feast for family and friends.
While living in Egypt our children had yearly experiences with Eid Al Adha that included a deep and lasting attachment to sheep. Every year a sheep was purchased by our neighbors and made it’s home in our stairwell. In the absence of a household pet, our children bonded with the sheep, delighted with the friendly “baa” that greeted us every time we came and went from our apartment. All the while my husband and I knew that this sheep was being held and fattened in anticipation of the Feast of Sacrifice. The leftover vegetables on our stairwell were indicative that this would be one fat sheep to slaughter. And so the day would inevitably arrive. The stairwell was silent as our children trooped downstairs. “Where’s the sheep? What happened to the sheep”. Every year the questions were the same.
As parents we were in a predicament. Not only did we know that the “pet” sheep had been sacrificed, we knew that we would be offered tasty meat from our neighbor’s kitchen later in the day. What do you tell your kids? Well, you tell them the truth. That it was never their pet, and that our family would be invited to share a feast with people who have graciously invited us to witness and celebrate something that means a great deal to them, and includes the sheep.
When you are raising children in a country where you are graciously received as a guest, you learn valuable lessons of what is important. As guests in the country of Egypt, we were treated kindly despite our frequent mistakes and gaffes in both language and culture. My own parents had modeled well respect and love for their adopted country of Pakistan so it was not difficult to remember what the bottom line was — and that is relationships and loving your neighbor as yourself. Growing up in Pakistan I don’t remember big religious debates, but I do remember a lot of tea being served, a lot of laughter, and some wonderful talks. It was this that was important as we celebrated Eid Al Adha with our neighbors and friends. Sheep were going to come and go but our neighbors and friends? They would be staying.
A common theme of this blog is communicating beyond difference. Celebrating the religious feast of another can be a tremendous act of bridge building. I have been grateful for those who have wished me a Merry Christmas or a “Blessed Big Day” even though they do not hold to those truth claims. Today, if you have Muslims in your world, remember this important celebration and wish them well. Bridges aren’t built in a day, but one days actions can bring about huge steps toward understanding.