Celebrating Eid, Celebrating Forgiveness

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Blood has been shed, a sacrifice has been offered and accepted. Sin has been conquered and death destroyed. There is, therefore, now no condemnation. There is no greater cause for celebration, gratitude and feasting.

In Djibouti I see more sheep parts on a morning jog the day after Eid than through the entire year combined. Hooves and ears and leg bones and jaw bones, innards and patches of hide with crows and cats furiously fighting for every bite.

Eid al-Adha, the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice, is probably the bloodiest holiday of any modern celebration. It marks the end of the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, and it commemorates Abraham’s devotion to God, even to the point of being willing to sacrifice his own son.

After ten years in east Africa, the sounds of Eid capture the day for me. The morning call to prayer from the neighborhood mosque, especially loud and especially early. Neighbors greeting one another with kisses and “Blessed Eids!’ The bleating of sheep from behind walls and tied to posts and knotted to the tree in our backyard. Little boys aiming battery-operated plastic guns with musical tones at everyone they see. Children laughing as they chase in circles around and around the duplex we share with a Somali family. Sizzling oil and onion, bubbling tubs of water and sheep heads, cooked over open flame.

And the drip of grease, the smack of lips, the clinking of glass bottles of Fanta at feasting time.

I asked my Djiboutian friend why sheep are sacrificed en masse.

“Because God provided a sheep in place of the prophet Abraham’s son,” she said.

“But why do people still do it today?”

“For forgiveness. Without a sacrifice, there wouldn’t be any forgiveness of sins.” She went on to explain that people also do it out of obedience and as an opportunity to give to the poor.

Without a sacrifice there would be no forgiveness. There would be no feast or Eid or celebration.

On Eid people are generous, we received three entire sheep thighs and plates piled high with ambabuur and yogurt, the traditional flat bread eaten for breakfast but fried in oil only on Eid. At our neighbor’s house, my daughter drank two Fantas before ten o’clock a.m. and had handfuls of candy-coated almonds stuffed into her pockets. Every family who could afford to sacrifice a sheep gave most of the meat to those in need.

On Eid people throw open their doors and welcome in relatives and friends and foreigners like me. There is laughter and reminiscing of past holidays and discussion about the hajj. Children snap photos of their grandparents and everyone laughs at how grandma refuses to smile because she is embarrassed about her rotten tooth.

The days before Eid are filled with shopping and scrubbing. On the holiday, everyone wears brand new clothes, as bright and sparkling as affordable, and houses are cleaned of all dust, all old mothballs, all piles of accumulated junk. The home and the body is made fresh and clean and new, ready to face another year of getting dirty again.

A highlight for many Djiboutians on Eid is the time of corporate prayer. Thousands gather in an open field near the stadium and form straight-lines facing Mecca. The men wear long white shamiish, or dress-like robes, and stand in front. The women are swathed in gold, hot pink, violet, yellow, scarves of every color. All around, the earth is brown and dusty and desert, but in front there is pure white and behind there is vibrancy and brightness. They pray in complete unison, a waving sea of color and devotion.

Generosity, welcome, laughter, clean freshness, humble devotion. This is Eid. And without the sacrifice of a sheep, without the spilling of blood, there would be none of it.

The stunning thing about Eid, the vivid reminder that I receive every year on this holiday, is that this is how I should live every day. The blood and body parts, the smoke and smell of boiling meat, the reminder of sins. The joy and newness, the communal worship, the confident expectation of forgiveness.

Without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness.

A thousand years after Abraham sacrificed a sheep in place of his son there was another sacrifice, another replacement offering, the purchased removal of sins. Blood has been shed, a sacrifice has been offered and accepted. Sin has been conquered and death destroyed. There is, therefore, now no condemnation. There is no greater cause for celebration, gratitude, and feasting.

By the mercy and grace of God, we can live the celebration of the Feast of Sacrifice every day.

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Image credit: Blue

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