Some concerns about Eid

Uploaded by ZJemptv on 17.11.2010

The Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, or the "festival of sacrifice", is a major event
within the religion of Islam. It's sometimes been described as the Muslim equivalent of
Christmas -- not in content, but in terms of its relative importance and cultural significance.
But the religious roots of this tradition are actually rather disturbing. The celebration
of Eid focuses on a notable event in the history of the Islamic faith. As the story goes, the
patriarch Abraham had a recurring dream about sacrificing his son, Ishmael. Since he considered
himself a prophet, Abraham believed that these visions were a message from God, and so God
must want him to sacrifice Ishmael. He accepted this apparent command, and was prepared to
do it, but to his credit, he did at least consult Ishmael first. When he told his son
about this, he immediately agreed to be sacrificed if that was what God wanted. Meanwhile, Satan
was trying to tempt them and dissuade them from going through with this, but they drove
him away by throwing stones at him. Finally, as Abraham was about to sacrifice Ishmael,
God spoke to him and told him to stop, and gave him a ram to sacrifice instead. Essentially,
God was testing their loyalty, and they apparently did the right thing. The holiday of Eid is
thus meant to celebrate Abraham's willingness to obey God, even if it meant sacrificing
his own son. It almost goes without saying that there are some pretty serious issues
with upholding this story as a model of exemplary behavior. Even if Ishmael ultimately survived,
the point is that Abraham was ready to sacrifice him, and this degree of obedience to God is
what's being celebrated here. If people think that God wants them to kill someone, and they
believe this so strongly that they're willing to actually do it, this can cause problems.
It's certainly not very safe that there are people who might gladly commit murder, or
suicide, for no reason other than the belief that God told them to. Beliefs can be wrong,
after all. It's entirely within the realm of possibility that they're mistaken about
this. But the story of Abraham explicitly rules this out. Indeed, any hesitance or doubt
about actually going through with this is attributed to the personification of evil
itself. And conversely, the faithful and unquestioning fulfillment of this belief is treated as a
triumph of ultimate good. This attitude is dangerous, because it's designed to suppress
any skepticism or careful consideration about what's literally a life-or-death decision.
Don't stop to think about it, just do what you believe God wants -- no matter what that
is. But a belief is just a belief, nothing more. And when you get down to it, there's
simply no proof that God actually exists, be it this god or any god. It's just not something
that's verifiable, and neither are the alleged orders that people claim to receive from him.
In light of this, any such "obedience" to God, even to the death of oneself or others,
is nothing more than an act of faith. And faith alone, without any kind of confirmation,
is not a solid basis upon which to kill or die. This really isn't something that should
be treated as admirable, to say the least. Such a mindset, if genuinely adopted, is nothing
short of a recipe for disaster. And I certainly don't mean to single out Muslims here. I would
be concerned about any religion or philosophy that upholds this as a virtue or something
for us to emulate. And I'm sure there are a good number of Christians and Jews who would
agree with the message of the parable, as expressed in the similar story of the binding
of Isaac. No matter what religion you follow, it's still extraordinarily reckless to be
willing to carry out what you believe to be God's orders, based on nothing but your own
faith. To be clear, the holiday of Eid isn't something that I've personally participated
in, so it's quite possible that I don't have a sense of how it's actually viewed within
contemporary Islam. It may very well be quite detached from its origins by now, and only
tenuously connected to the story that inspired it, without the moral aspects being taken
too seriously. But the question remains: Is this really something to base a holiday on?
Is that really something to celebrate?