In Egypt, Eid celebrations mark the start of national week-long vacations. Most work grinds to a halt, many stores are shuttered, streets have far less traffic, and fireworks sporadically light up the night skies. More weddings are scheduled for the festive time of eid than any other time of the year, as well.
Every year during Eid al Adha in Egypt and all over the world, Muslims practice “Qurbani.” This is the ritual sacrifice of animals, in commemoration of Prophet Abraham’s willingness to obey God’s command. To non-muslims, it may seem strange to learn that this ritual is a rich and beautiful expression of God’s mercy. Can the ritual sacrifice of animals in the streets generate an environment of peace? Yet, this is exactly the case during the Muslim Eid al Adha. Whole communities become visibly enveloped in a unified outpouring of celebration and generosity.
In something of a mystical paradox, the ritual of Eid al Adha encompasses both sacrifice and generosity. Although God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his firstborn son, immediately He provided Abraham with an animal substitute, after confirming Abraham’s dutiful submission. Abraham and his son, God’s blessings be upon them, sacrificed the animal together and returned home to celebrate God’s mercy with a delicious feast for their community.
In the Muslim’s annual celebration of this sacrifice and feast, they are likewise obeying God’s command. The sacrificial animal is carefully butchered, and the meat is divided into three portions. One third is for the immediate family of the person(s) who purchased the animal. Another third is distributed to the purchaser’s extended family, and the last third is distributed to non-family members from among the poor and needy in the community.
when they are down on their sides (after slaughter), eat ye thereof,
and feed such as live in contentment, and such as beg with due humility.
Thus have We made animals subject to you, that ye may be grateful.
It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah,
it is your piety that reaches Him. [Quran 22:36-37]
Eid al Adha occurs at the end of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, a journey Muslims are required to make at least once in their lives. The Quran specifies the ritual sacrifice performed by those on Hajj, and it is observed by those at home on this same day, as well.
If not on Hajj, most Muslims gather in the first morning of the eid at mosques for a special congregational prayer and sermon. Afterwards, many Muslims in western countries seek out a farm where an animal sacrifice can be performed, or meat is sacrificed at the farm and delivered to the mosques.
Here in Egypt, though, blood flows freely in the streets. It’s exciting for the whole neighborhood to watch the spectacle, and people crowd the narrow city streets trying to get a good view. Although the sight of a neighborhood butcher slaughtering an animal is very commonplace all over the country, the Eid al Adha celebration has a more intimate feel to it. Everyone knows that they will get to eat some of that meat, and most will recieve it for free!
After the streets are hosed down, feasts are prepared and everyone wears new clothes. Children are presented with gifts, and families spend most of their time visiting one another and presenting meat to everyone. In Egypt, as in many muslim countries, Eid al Adha is a time of great appreciation for God’s mercy. Muslim, Christian and all other members of the community share equally in the festivities that overtake the neighborhood. Carnival rides are set up, decorations enliven the whole environment, and everyone shares together in the lively atmosphere of fun and pleasure.
Instilling such a happy environment of selfless generosity within communities where poverty and hunger often ordinarily abides is truly a mystical mercy. What a great opportunity to both celebrate and give thanks to God!
(Image source: http://www.theholidayspot.com/eid_ul_fitr/images/eid-egypt.jpg)