Tonight begins the celebration of Eid-al-adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. There are lots of good places to learn about Eid-al-adha on-line and off. During this holiday the story is told of Abraham's willingness to obey Allah and sacrifice his son Ishmael. Rather than require Abraham to take his son's life, Allah provides a ram for the sacrifice. The hajj itself is a sacrifice of worship, so it makes sense that Abraham's story is recalled at this time.
Jews and Christians tell a similar story, but instead of Ishmael, Isaac is the son bound to the altar. This festival, then, and this story, illustrates both our unity and our divisions as "people of the book." Ishmael is the forebear of Muslims while Isaac is the forebear of Jews and eventually Christians. The grief of the division within Abraham's family between Isaac and Ishmael is visited upon their children centuries later who are still divided.
Perhaps a way out of this division (while respecting our differences) is through the story of the sacrifice itself. The point of both versions is that Abraham is obedient to God even to the point of killing his own son. While not a model of healthy family relationships, it is a lesson in humility, love, and trust. Whatever Abraham's own convictions toward his child, he stands under the authority of God, obedient but also trusting God in whatever may come. And then God shows Abraham that he does not require human sacrifice - a common practice among other religions of the time. He is not a bloodthirsty God, but a merciful one. Loving the people of God above all else.
If any of us are to truly follow God we too must be willing to sacrifice whatever God asks, but because of this story of Abraham, we can trust that God does not require blood, but love. We're asked to pour ourselves out, whether in pilgrimage to Mecca, or in generous love during Christmas or in trust of God's faithfulness during Hanukkah and throughout the year. These values unite us across our real differences.
Blessings to all who celebrate Eid this week and all who look forward to time with loved ones this season.