Eid al-Adha – The Festival of the Sacrifice
Hours before sunrise Mr. Ma, his father, grandfather, and 4-year-old son, Ibrahim, all rise and get dressed. Winter has almost arrived so they pull on their warmest long underwear before slipping into their finest clothes. Mr. Ma slips on black dress pants, a new white shirt and a nice grey sports coat. His son has received new clothes for this special day. He has a new white outfit that resembles traditional Muslim clothing with a colorful prayer cap (skull cap).
The Ma men leave their mud brick home and walk down to the local village mosque where they find a tour bus waiting. Since today is such a special holiday all the men decided to go into the big city to worship at the Grand Old Mosque. The men and boys climb on board the bus and begin the two-hour journey through the mountains into the city. About sunrise, they arrive. The bus is parked on an alley behind the mosque, and they walk slowly to the street in front of the mosque. Thousands of men are coming today to pray at this mosque. At sunrise they find that the mosque is already full, so they find a place on the road, lay out their prayer mats, take off their shoes, sit and wait.
It is still two hours before prayer time. Ibrahim is tired and hungry, but he watches as men and boys like himself walk up and lay down their prayer mats and prepare to pray. As far as his eyes can see in every direction, he sees men with white prayer caps walking towards the mosque. His grandfather tells him that probably 100,000 men and boys will worship together today in front of this old mosque that dates back hundreds of years.
Ibrahim waits silently wondering about the importance of today. He sees many men taking pictures of all the men lining up across the street to pray. He watches as his father greets other faithful worshippers that he has met on past trips to the big city to celebrate Guerbang (Eid al-Adha). This is Ibrahim’s first trip, and first time to see how important Guerbang is to Chinese Muslims like himself. Today is the Festival of the Sacrifice, the day when Muslims around the world remember Ibrahim’s (Abraham) faithfulness to offer his oldest son as a sacrifice to Allah.
Being named after the prophet Ibrahim, the young boy has heard many stories about Ibrahim’s faithfulness. He knows the sacrifice story well, and he is excited that today he gets to join the men in his family is celebrating this great festival.
As the time of prayer draws near, Ibrahim sees a group of students marching in parade formation behind an imam. They are chanting something, but he cannot quite make it out. As they come closer he hears:Allāhu akbar, Allāhu akbar, Allāhu akbar lā ilāha illā Allāh Allāhu akbar, Allāhu akbar wa li-illāhil-hamd
Ibrahim leans over and asks his dad what they are chanting. He dad responds, “They are chanting the Takbir.”Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest, There is no deity but Allah Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest and to Allah goes all praise
Ibrahim tries to mimic their chant as he hears a voice over the loudspeaker. The imam is beginning the sermon. At first he tries to listen intently with great excitement as the moment as finally arrived. However, he quickly realizes he does not understand most of what the imam is saying. The sermon is also long as the imam preaches for over 30 minutes.
As he tries to patiently wait and not fidget, he looks to his right and left. From one sidewalk to the other, men are lined up in rows kneeling on mats preparing to worship. He looks forward and then turns and looks backwards. As far as he can see in both directions, there are men and boys in white prayer caps kneeling. He figures that his grandfather is right. There must be close to 100,000 men up and down this street and in the mosque preparing to pray together. He has never seen so many Chinese Muslims together.
Finally, the sermon is over, and as the sun breaks through the haze everyone begins to pray and worship in unison. Ibrahim kneels close to his father and mimics his every move. He wants to do everything correctly. He watches other young boys like himself struggle to keep up. After about 10 minutes of standing, kneeling and bowing while citing the Muslim prayers, it is over.
Mr. Ma and Ibrahim put their shoes on, fold up their prayer rug and walk slowly back towards the bus. Along the way, they see trucks full of sheep and cows. Men are looking the animals over as they search for the perfect sheep or cow to sacrifice for their family.
Ibrahim watches as teenage boys drag a sheep down the street towards their apartment. He sees men wrestle cows to the ground before tying their legs up and throwing them up onto carts to take off to their homes. He watches another family prepare to slaughter their sheep right on the side of the road. His dad mentions that in the city some people do not know how to slaughter, skin and clean a sheep so they do it on the street and pay a butcher to help them.
Ibrahim walks up closer to take a look. A sheep tied up by his feet is leaning against a tree. A man the age of his father holds the sheep’s horns while another man his grandfather’s age takes the knife and slits the sheep’s throat. A young boy and girl watch as the blood flows out onto the sidewalk and as the sheep’s breathing gets more and more difficult until finally it dies. The butcher comes over and begins to skin the sheep.
Ibrahim walks back over to his father, and they get back on the bus. Mr. Ma reminds Ibrahim that when they get home they will go out in the pasture and pick the best sheep and kill it. His father reminds him of Ibrahim’s story, “He takes his oldest son to sacrifice, but as he prepares to kill his son God provides a lamb. Today, we remember the Ibrahim sacrifice story by killing a lamb or cow and celebrating with a great feast.” Ibrahim knows the story well but dreads picking the lamb to kill. Unlike city kids, Ibrahim has helped raise the lamb that his grandfather will slaughter. He has named all the lambs in their pasture, and he fears he will cry when one of the lambs is killed.
The bus pulls out of the alley onto one of the main roads as it turns back towards home. Ibrahim looks out the window and ponders all he has seen, but quickly he is asleep. It has already been a long day for this young boy and the festival is only beginning.
- Pray that Chinese Muslims will hear Jesus’ story and see the connection to Abraham’s story. May they see and believe Jesus came to offer himself as a sacrifice for their sins.
Pray for God to send harvesters to proclaim the Gospel to the thousands of Chinese Muslims who gather together in big cities on Islamic holidays to worship.
Pray for the many young boys who participate in The Festival of the Sacrifice. May they hear the Gospel as children and turn to follow Jesus.