Yesterday was Eid-al-Adha (“Festival of the Sacrifice”), one of two major Muslim holidays during the year. It is meant to commemorate the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham – the same Abraham of the Bible!) to sacrifice his son for God’s sake. Of course, it was merely his willingness that was being tested, for his son Ismail, as Muslims believe, was never intended to die that day. Eid-al-Adha is also the day that the yearly Hajj pilgrimage comes to its end.
Muslims all over the world celebrate this holiday, whether on the pilgrimage themselves or not, and are asked to make a sacrifice of their own. Ritually, it is usually a livestock animal, a portion of which is distributed among the poor. Yes, livestock includes cows, I know. Ours was a goat, I made sure. I asked my husband twice just to be safe.
For many, including myself, the sacrifice ends at that.
When I went to prayer yesterday, sitting at the back, I witnessed just how disconnected we are from Prophet Ibrahim’s story. We are reminded each year of his sacrifice and his level of faith moves us… for a time. But what do we do after the end of the sermon?
Some of us can’t even listen attentively to the entire sermon! The women to my left were busy taking Eid selfies and laughing. I was in the middle of making my own bi-annual “Eid Moobarak” status update when I realized: What am I doing? I am guilty of this disconnect as well. As soon as I remembered, I put my phone away. But it wasn’t an easy task. Theoretically, I knew my status update could wait, but I felt an internal struggle in putting my phone away. Seek instant gratification or listen to the speaker remind me of a story I’ve heard countless times before?
This situation later got me thinking about the meaning of sacrifice for us living today. This applies to Muslims specifically, but I think more generally to anyone who considers him or herself a devoted servant of God.
I used to think that sacrifice meant I had to give up something as precious as a son. But because I am clearly unable to do that, whatever I did do wasn’t a sacrifice at all. What this way of thinking resulted in was a whole lot of guilt and a pervading feeling that I am not a “good” Muslim.
After prayer, over tea and donuts, I asked Mr. Rafia this question, “What does sacrifice mean in the 21st century?” After he facetiously answered, “I think it means the same thing it always did,” to which I rolled my eyes, he told me that I was being too grandiose with my definition. “Just waking up for the morning dawn prayer is a sacrifice,” he said. “Is it really?” I asked. “It’s an obligation! That’s not a sacrifice,” I told him.
Is a religious obligation a sacrifice? Perhaps it is. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t wake up at 5 AM to pray if I didn’t have to.
I think a large reason why Muslims are so disconnected to our history is because the messages we’re hearing aren’t presented in a way that have salience in our lives. We could never sacrifice our children or even think of doing it. So how do we find inspiration in Prophet Ibrahim’s story? It’s not so easy. We need guideposts. Otherwise, we risk our history remaining just that – a bunch of facts that don’t have much meaning today. A part of me feels that because such a grandiose message is being relayed, it’s falling on deaf ears. It’s not enough for our scholars and religious leaders to know our history, they also have to know how to relay it to us, their students.
We haven’t reached this point yet in my opinion, based on my experience. The evidence is in the fact that taking selfies while our religious leaders are speaking is not only happening, it seems like a better use of our time.
P.S. I may have posted this prematurely, by not giving myself more time to properly compose my thoughts. I am by no means suggesting that social media addiction is not a problem. But this disconnect is not a result of solely that alone. There was a time when I had no social media presence whatsoever, but the disconnect was still there. Human beings need guided direction given the quagmires we have gotten ourselves into. Grandiose messages full of platitudes that are more disheartening than inspiring is not the answer.