Second Eid

The morning after the Eid celebration at the convention center, I had another to attend—this one with my new friend, Raj.

I was supposed to meet Raj and his family at their mosque. The first stop on this Dallas leg of my religious journey, their mosque was the one whose walls were a blank canvas for its security cameras; the second time around, it felt familiar and not at all daunting. I knew the ropes: what door to enter and which direction to face. When I arrived, many women were present but Raj’s wife didn’t appear to be among them. I took a seat and waited.

My thoughts kept going back to the Eid celebration at the convention center. How had I felt being a part of such a large gathering? For that hour or so, I was united, if only symbolically, not just with everyone in the room but with others engaged in the same activity across the world. When I first saw photos of Hajj, I remember being amazed that all those tiny dots around the Kaaba were people. From the vantage of the photographer’s lens, they looked like little bits of something bigger, maybe a single piece of cloth with just minor variations of color and texture. It got me thinking about the irony of unity: you can see it so much more clearly from the outside. At the convention center, I had stitched myself in to the fabric of Muslims, an extension of the cloth around the Kaaba, but it didn’t necessarily feel how it looked: like we were all the same, like we were one monolithic hunk of humanity. I had blended in and gone through the motions but I hadn’t spoken in depth with anyone. If I had, I doubt we would have agreed on all key issues or found that we see the world in the same way. Can we have differences—perhaps even some that are very big—and still be “one”?

Raj’s wife appeared and greeted me with a smile and a loving hug. She introduced me to her middle-aged daughter and her granddaughter, who was in her early twenties. They planted kisses on either of my cheeks. I wasn’t sure I deserved such warmth, but I was happy to receive it. We settled in for the sermon—Raj’s wife in her chair and the rest of us at her feet like she would be giving us a bedtime story. The flat screens showed the orange-bearded imam and the backs of the men’s heads in the main sanctuary.

The imam’s talk was dedicated to an aspect of this holiday I had yet to focus on: the slaughter of animals. It is customary on this day to acknowledge Allah’s willingness to allow Abraham to sacrifice a ram in place of his son by killing an animal. The meat is to be shared with the needy. For Muslims who are unable to perform the slaughter personally, services located in the U.S. or other countries will do the deed on their behalf and ensure its distribution to the appropriate parties. This explained the flyers I had been seeing at various mosques over the last few weeks that said check a box—goat, sheep, or cow—and mail a check.

The imam did not spare us the grisly details. He spoke about the importance of seeing the knife slit the throat, not turning away, coming face-to-face with the reality of this sacrifice. It reminded me of the more gory details from Jesus’ story: the focus on the bloodshed, his wounds and the lashings. It also shares obvious similarities with the Jewish custom of sacrificing animals. I started to worry about what was in store once I went home with Raj’s family. Just a few nights earlier, over dinner with my grandmother and me, my great aunt told us about some old neighbors of hers, recent transplants from Greece, who kept a “pet” goat in their back yard. Every Easter, the goat would vanish, replaced by the smell of smoking meat.

After the service, I followed Raj’s van, filled with his family members, back to his daughter’s house. They seemed lovely, but I had no idea what to expect.

For all I knew, I would be the day’s ceremonial sacrifice…

5 thoughts on “Second Eid

  1. Boy, have you hit a deep theological subject. Thousands of pages fill seminary libraries about the subject of Christ’s cross, which, btw, has a relationship to the Jewish sacrifices. Jews haven’t sacrificed for nearly 2,000 years–since the temple was destroyed in AD70. Why do Muslims offer animal sacrifices?

    You are brave! There’s no way I could watch an animal sacrifice! Looking forward to the rest of the story.

  2. Corinna, I was profoundly moved by this post, and it took me back to our time living in a small (pop 100 +) village in Senegal. Villages consisted of a cluster of compounds–each a different family. But there was a lot of intermarriage, and, because so few people had lived and worked the fields together and done everything together, there was a deep sense of community that is just not our modern experience.

    In that place, a man’s wealth was measured by the amount of cattle (cows, sheep, goats) that he had. Killing an animal was very infrequent–each was a real sacrifice on the owner’s part. But, whenever it was done (whether for a wedding, for a sacrifice to ancestors or to Allah, or killing it because it had gotten seriously hurt), they slit the throat–which for the animal is kind of like fainting. While Americans are typically grossed out or repulsed by this “cruelty” to animals, the villagers see it as something they share. The animal is shared with everyone in the village, however small each portion might be. Since there is no refrigeration, everything must be cooked speedily and eaten.

    Your story reminded me of all this–particularly the sense of community shared by such a large group. I read Frank’s link, and it reminded me that the mass (which as a non-Catholic, I disagree with theologically because it seems to teach that Christ is sacrificed again each time) is this same sort of community sharing. We protestants consider taking communion as simply “remembering the Lord’s death”–but I fear that we’ve missed something important about human community that God intended for us to share.

    • Hi Walt, Wow, I loved reading about your recollections of Africa and the significance of some of the customs. It is remarkable how actions that seem small can have such a deep meaning. Thank you for sharing.

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