A little about Abraham and the origin of Judaism, about Ibrahim in Islam and the festival of sacrifice Eid al-Adha
It felt a little strange driving into Casablanca on our last day in Morocco.
The streets were EMPTY of people and cars.
On our arrival in Casablanca, six weeks ago, the traffic was so dense and so chaotic, that I was a bit nervous when we left the relative quiet of El Jadida and drove north into Casablanca.
But instead of the usual cacophony of traffic, we saw only carts drawn by horses or donkeys, loaded with sheep skins, freshly slaughtered.
It got even stranger, when I looked to my right and to my left, and saw men grilling heads of sheep on large metal grills, propped up over coals that were placed right on the asphalt in the streets of the city.
Beside these men grilling whole sheep heads on these makeshift street grills, NOBODY was walking on the streets and almost ALL businesses were closed…
It was a Monday…. No special day…. So what was going on?……. Why were all the streets of Casablanca, a major city, so empty?…
And then it all connected in my mind.
Two days ago, we saw what we thought were livestock markets, all over the roads in towns and villages.
People were selling and buying sheep or goats, and almost everyone we saw, was in possession of a sheep.
It MUST be a holiday.
An important holiday, if I were to be judging by what we saw, and it must involve animal sacrifice.
Our friendly boutique hotel receptionist at the Hotel Le Doge, told me that it was Eid Al – Adha.
Now it all made sense….
It is indeed a MAJOR Islamic annual festival.
At the end of the Hajj (the annual pilgrimage to Mecca), Muslims around the world celebrate the holiday of Eid Al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice).
During the Hajj, and the subsequent celebration of Eid Al-Adha, Muslims commemorate the trials, tribulations and spiritual triumphs of the Prophet Abraham.
The festival commemorates Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) willingness to sacrifice his eldest son Ishmael, in obedience to a command from Allah.
During Eid Al-Adha, people sacrifice their best domestic animals (usually a sheep, but it can also be a cow, a camel, a goat, or a ram) as a symbol of Abraham’s willingness to trust God.
The sacrificed animals have to meet certain age requirements, or else the animal is considered an unacceptable sacrifice.
The slaughter has to be done while the butcher pronounces Allah’s name, at the moment of killing.
Muslims slaughter animals in this same way throughout the year.
By saying the name of Allah at the time of slaughter, they believe that they are reminded that all life is sacred.
This tradition of slaughtering sacrificial animals for the festival of Eid Al-Adha, accounts for more than 100 million slaughtered animals in just the 2 days of the Festival yearly. (costing way over US$ 3 billion.)
The meat from the sacrificed animal is divided into three parts.
The family retains one third for their own festive celebration.
Another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors.
And the other third is given to the poor and needy.
The festival is marked by praying at the Mosque, by festive celebrations of meals, by eating sweet foods, wearing the best and new clothes, giving gifts or money to the needy and to small children.
Abraham, which the festival is commemorating, is a central figure in the closely linked trio of Bible based religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
In fact, to take it a step further, and to enlighten those of you who could not care less about religion: Abraham was the originator of Judaism, which was the first religion among the three.
I will give you the gist of the story as it is told in Judaism:
Abraham was born under the name Abram (Or Avram, with the letter H added to his name after his divine mission, as the H stands for Heloim, which is the Hebrew word for God.)
Abraham was born in the city of Ur in Babylonia in the year 1948 from Creation (circa 1800 BC and roughly 3811 years ago.)
He was the son of Terach, a merchant who was selling clay sculptures of gods, or idols, which were worshiped by almost everyone at that time.
Much like Hinduism, and a little like in ancient Greece, at that time there were gods to worship for the rain, the moon, the sun, the god of prosperity, the god of love, of fertility and many many more.
Symbolically, Abraham father’s name, Terach, is a modern Hebrew slang word for someone with outdated ideas and ideologies… Someone who is stuck in prehistoric thinking and is not keeping up with the times….
Anyway…. from his early childhood, Abraham questioned the faith of his father and found it lacking in reason and truth.
He became a seeker and student of the Truth, and he came to believe in the existence of Oneness…..and that the entire universe was the work of a single Creator that conceived it all, and so he went around sharing his beliefs with others.
Abraham tried hard to convince his father, Terach, of the senselessness of worshiping idols and many separate gods.
One day, when Abraham was left by himself to watch his father’s store, he took a hammer and smashed all of the clay idols except the largest of them all.
He then placed the hammer in the hand of the largest idol.
When his father returned, he looked around at the destruction and with a concerned voice he asked Abraham what happened……
Abraham said: “Yo, you’re never going to believe this shit….The idols… They all got really angry….. they got into a serious fight, and the big one right there in the corner…..he smashed all the other ones.”
His father said: “Are you fucking with me?….Don’t be ridiculous.
These idols have no life nor any power.
They cannot do anything like this…
What really happened here?”
To this Abraham replied: “If you truly believe the words you just uttered, that these gods have no life and no power, then why do you worship them?”
As time went by, God spoke to Abraham and made him an offer: Abraham must leave his home and his family, and follow God to wherever the teaching will take him.
In return God would make him into a great nation and bless him beyond all measure.
Abraham accepted this offer, and the b’rit (covenant) between God and the originator of the Jewish people was established.
This was the first sign that the idea of SACRIFICE FOR GOD, was erroneously established in the mind of Abraham.
It would take almost a century, and the bitter test of almost sacrificing his son, to try to uproot the idea of sacrifice from Abraham’s mind.
The idea of this B’rit is still carried in the Jewish tradition and in Islam to this very day, (it is commemorated by clipping off the tips of all boy’s penises in these tribes).
God later tried to correct the wrong concept of SACRIFICE in Abraham’s mind, by asking him to sacrifice his beloved son and later replacing it with a sheep, which is the origin of this Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Adha, but I am running ahead of myself here…
Before Abraham received the teaching, he was subjected to ten tests of faith, and needed to demonstrate his trust in God (or Allah in Islam, since the story is very similar, and the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is done to commemorate the tests that Ibrahim had to pass to prove his trust and faith in God.)
Leaving his home was one of these trials that Abraham had to “pass.”
Abraham, who was raised in a city surrounded with his loving family, had to become a nomad, traveling through what is now the land of Israel and beyond.
Abraham was nicknamed “The Hebrew (Ivri),” possibly because he had roots in Eber, or possibly because he came from the “other side of the river” (Me’ever Lanahar), referring to the Euphrates River.
The Tigris-Euphrates river runs all the way from Turkey, and it passes and is fed by tributaries from Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, and Babylonia, and in Kuwait, it empties into the Persian Gulf.
It was historically a very important river that runs through a region that was nicknamed the “Cradle of Civilization”.
OK… So back to Abraham.
Abraham was happily married to his beloved wife, Sara, but they had no children and they were both growing old,….(Abraham was 87 and Sara was way past child-bearing years at 77).
To make Abraham happy so he can have a son, Sara offered her maidservant, Hagar, as a wife to Abraham.
For a man to have more than one wife was a common practice in that region at those times.
According to the story, Hagar was a daughter of Pharaoh, who was given to Abraham as a sign or respect, during his travels in Egypt.
Hagar bore Abraham a son, and they named him Ishmael, who, according to both Muslim and Jewish stories, was the original father of the Arab (Ismaili) world.
Abraham was a life long student of truth, and when he was 100 and Sara was 90, God tried to transcend their ideas of biological limitations and their beliefs in aging, and so God promised Abraham a son by his wife Sara.
Sarah bore Abraham a son, and they named him Isaac (in Hebrew, Yitzchak).
The name Isaac is derived from the word “laughter,” and there were several possible explanations for why they chose this name.
It was either meant to signify Abraham’s joy at having a son from his beloved original wife, a miracle child……or it was the joke of having a son at such an old age.
It is indeed laughable to believe in the limitations of the world, instead of putting your faith in the powers of Spirit / God.
It is possible to transcend all concepts of limitations for the beloved and all powerful children of God, who were created in the image and likeness of God, and are not bound by ANY earthly ideas, including old age.
During the course of seeking for the Truth and raising his children, Abraham went for a walk in the mountains, where he heard God’s voice asking him to bind his beloved son and sacrifice him to God.
This is where the two religious stories differ.
In the Islamic story, Ibrahim was asked to sacrifice his ONLY son, which depending on WHEN this happened in Abraham’s chronological life, must have been Ishmael, Abraham’s only son for 13 years before Isaac was born.
In Judaism, it was Isaac who was the son that Abraham was asked to sacrifice, when God told him: “Go gather your only son.”
Abraham said “I have two sons”
God: “The one you love the MOST…”
Abraham said: “I love them both dearly…”
God: “Go get Isaac.”
In both Judaism and in Islam, after Abraham bound his son for sacrifice, God sent an angel to intervene and He provided a sheep instead, telling Abraham that he does not need to sacrifice his beloved son.
In the Islamic story, God did NOT name the son that Abraham was to bind and sacrifice, but it was believed to be Ishmael.
In Islam, the story says that when Ishmael was about 13, and his father Ibrahim was 99, Allah (God) decided to test his faith.
Abraham had a recurring dream, in which he thought that God was commanding him to offer his son as a sacrifice.
In those times, people made sacrifices to God very often, but they mostly sacrificed animals, so to sacrifice your only son was an unimaginable act.
Abraham believed that dreams were prophetic and were divinely inspired, and that dreams were one of the ways in which God communicated with his prophets.
Abraham decided to fulfill God’s command and to offer Ishmael for sacrifice.
Abraham also decided to ask Ishmael for his consent.
Ishmael had to agree to give up his life.
Ishmael did not show any hesitation or reservation.
He said, “Father, do what you have been commanded.
You will find me, Insha’Allah (God willing), to be very patient.”
His humble and trusting response, and his faith in his father’s dreams, were seen as signs of his devotion to Allah, and ultimately his trust in a higher power that guides all things.
Abraham was standing above his son on the sacrificial stone, holding a knife while Ishmael was lying willingly under the knife, when Allah sent an angel who called out to them saying that the test was completed, and that Ibrahim does not need to carry out the killing of Ishmael.
Instead, Abraham was told to replace his son with a ram to sacrifice.
In both stories the moral of the story was NOT really about obeying God’s command blindly, as it is mistakenly understood when taken at face value.
Instead, the moral of the story was to demonstrate that SACRIFICE was NOT necessary…
That God does NOT require sacrifice of ANY KIND.
Spiritually speaking, the idea of sacrifice is wrong at its core.
God does not need the tips of the penises of your sons, NOR does he require the killing of a goat or a sheep.
No sacrifice is ever needed of you to advance in your spiritual life, nor to show your love to the Creator.
To begin with, you have so little, and you give yourself so little from what LIFE has to offer…
You only collect crumbs of what is rightfully yours by YOUR Divine heritage.
YOU, WHO ARE GOD’S GREATER TREASURE, HAVE NO IDEA WHO YOU TRULY ARE!
What you treasure, your family, your loved ones, your little earthly possessions, your bag of treasures, your good health, your small pleasures, your little loves, and the things you are passionate about, NONE of this are you asked to sacrifice.
Keep it all and allow the Truth of who you are to ADD to your little collection of things that you love and value…. These little treasures of what you imagine can bring you happiness….
You joy is your compass to God.
What makes you come alive and fills your heart with love and excitement, is what you need to cultivate in you, for that is your path to God… To LIFE.
You may think that you do not believe in the concept of sacrifice, but even though you may not believe in the killing of animals as a sacrifice, chances are that you believe in other sorts of personal sacrifice.
You may believe that abundance requires HARD work…
You may believe that you have to sacrifice your freedom for a love relationship…
That you need to sacrifice your desire for comfort and money, if you choose a career as an artist or a poet…
You may believe that being kind and loving require sacrifices of you… Sacrifice of your time, of effort…. Of money…
You may think that you have to sacrifice youth for wisdom,
Sacrifice yourself to help others….
Do things that do not delight you for the greater good…
The idea of sacrifice, which is celebrated here in Morocco, as it is in all the Muslim countries around the world, is what the story of the Bible and the Koran were meant to actually UPROOT.
People believe that much sacrifice is needed of them to align themselves with the wishes of God (Allah).
It is believed that sacrifice is a symbolic attitude of devotion to God – a willingness to make sacrifices in one’s life in order to stay on the straight Path.
A willingness to give up things that are fun or important, in order to please or to reach a righteous and judgmental God.
But even in the Koran it is explained that sacrifice is NOT really required at all.
That Neither the blood nor the flesh of the animal can reach God, who is in the realm of spirit and not matter.
The Koran says: “It is NOT their meat NOR their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him.”
But people only learn small chunks of truth at a time… It may take thousands more years for them to understand that sacrifice is NOT a symbol of love NOR devotion.
So for now, they were only able to learn that devotion to God and having faith in His Word, and in His good intentions for us, was the moral of the story of Abraham.
So what happened to Ismail, his mother Hagar, Sara and Abraham?
In Judaism, it is told that Sarah asked Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away from their home.
Although, in the Koran, it is Allah who told Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael into the desert.
Ishmael is highly regarded in Islam for his goodness and wisdom.
After wandering in the desert with his mother, they settled in Mecca.
There it is believed that Ishmael built the Ka’aba with Abraham.
Abraham and Ishmael constructed a stone and mortar structure —known as the Ka’aba, which was to become known as the gathering place for all who wished to strengthen their faith in God.
It is still the stone structure that all Muslims pray towards.
As the years passed, Ishmael was blessed with Prophethood and gave the nomads of the desert his message of trust in the ONE God that his father Abraham believed in.
After many centuries, Mecca became a thriving desert city and a major center for trade, thanks to its reliable water source, the well of Zamzam, which is believed to have been created by an angel answering Ishmael’s mother Hagar’s prayers for water on her journey through the desert.
Meantime, Isaac, his brother, married Rebecca (Rivka), who bore him fraternal twin sons: Jacob (Ya’akov) and Esav.
Then the story grows complicated and very much like a TV soap opera, with a plot that twists and turns, and involves trickery, betrayal, multiple wives, favoritism and all the sort of crap that constitutes the human drama that is life on earth among people.
The Jewish Bible tells that Jacob, who was his mother’s favorite son, tried to steal his now old and blind father Isaac’s blessings.
The story tells how Esav sold his birthright of spiritual leadership to his brother Jacob, for a bowl of lentil stew because he was momentarily hungry.
Then Esav got angry about all this, and so Jacob fled and fell in love with Rachel.
But Jacob was tricked into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah, and only later was he also able to marry Rachel.
Jacob ALSO married the two sisters’ maidservants, Bilhah and Zilphah.
Between these four women, Jacob fathered 12 sons and one daughter.
Jacob’s 12 sons – Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph and Benjamin – were the ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel.
After many years of living away from his family, Jacob was hoping to reconcile with his brother Esav.
One night, before his return to meet his brother Esav, Jacob dreamt that he wrestled with a man until the break of day.
Maybe he was haunted by the past conflict with his brother…
As the dawn broke, Jacob demanded a blessing from the man, and the “man” revealed himself to be an angel.
He blessed Jacob and gave him the name “Israel.”
The next day, Jacob met his brother Esav, and was welcomed by him.
The conflict between the brothers was over.
And so the story goes….
But this is getting too long for me.
I celebrated the Eid Al-Adha in our most lovely boutique hotel, where the only sacrifice I made was to sacrifice my bathing suit and to soak totally naked in the Jacuzzi while drinking herbal tea.
I was alone in the amazingly luxurious spa, and the attendant locked the doors behind me and put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doors.
I used the swedish sauna, and finished in the steaming elegant Hammam, where the attendant laid a copper tray for me with bathroom goodies.
The tray had on it two kinds of shampoo, a rose scented one and one with Argan oil, a black olive Gommage soap, a bottle of mineral water, a comb, rose soaps and a natural clay mask for my face.
I luxuriated a long time and later I met Jules in our wonderful room.
We dressed up for dinner in our lovely hotel, and had a fabulous meal to celebrate the end our journey in Morocco.
Happy Eid Al-Adha to those who celebrate it!
May one day the idea of sacrifice be uprooted from their minds!
May the children of Light and Love know the LOVE that created them all…
May they rise above all concepts of fear and limitation to know that there is nothing but LOVE and that it was never any different…. Except in misunderstood stories being told that got organized into limiting religions….
May you know who you truly ARE….
May you know and remember that you ARE ONE with all of LIFE…
One with God…
One with all power, and glory and love…