What a hectic week this has been, between moving families, getting sick, and then Eid Al-Adha this weekend. In Islam, there are two major holiday/feasts, called Eid, throughout the year–the first following Ramadan, and the second, Eid Al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), a few months later. It was this second one that Moroccans celebrated this past Friday.
The holiday commemorates Abraham’s sacrifice. When God commands Abraham to sacrifice his own son as a gesture of his devotion and thankfulness, Abraham and his son Ishmael agree–before God intervenes with a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead. On Friday, Moroccans and other Muslims throughout the world woke up, prayed, and then gathered together to sacrifice a ram, camel, or cow in commemoration of Abraham’s sacrifice and as a gesture of their own devotion to God.
Four days after moving in with my new (wonderful) host family, still taking my medication for that random bout of terrible vomiting on Wednesday, I trekked upstairs to the terrace with my two brothers, my host sister, my host mother, two men who may or may not have been related to us, and our dog.The ram was brought out, blessed, sacrificed, and then promptly skinned and cleaned. Twenty minutes later, a lamb followed.
At this point, I’m wary of writing about the sacrifice, because I’m wary of the connotation the word “sacrifice” has in English–something primitive, something wild, something uncivilized. Between the word and the negative connotation “Muslim” also often has in America, I’m struggling to figure out how to address the subject here.
Frankly, I loved being here in Morocco for Eid. I thought it was a remarkably direct connection into Moroccan culture and a means of observing expressions of Islam when, as a non-Muslim foreigner, I have sometimes felt held at an arm’s length from religious events. Now, instead of wistfully glancing at the doors of mosques each time I pass by, I was welcomed eagerly into the space of the ritual, given a smoothie as I watched the ram get cleaned out, and invited to participate in the day’s festivities.
How to explain what the day felt like? My first thought is that there was something of Thanksgiving in the air, particularly in the massive amounts of good food that were eagerly handed to me. I felt it too, a little bit, in the strangely empty streets over the weekend as everyone remained at home and with their families.
But to compare it so simply to an American experience is also not fair to Eid, or to Muslims, or to Moroccans. There are thousands of years of different history and tradition in the day, and there are also each family’s traditions and each individual’s thoughts and levels of piety to consider. Even more than that–I’ve experienced one Eid in one family one year. I couldn’t even hope to give a good representation to Eid here, because I still don’t know it.
But I do feel protective of it, and I felt that strongly on Sunday. In preparation for my Independent Study Project at the end of the semester, I have been attending a non-denominational Christian church in the past few weeks. I’m hoping to study the community that sub-Saharan Christians form through church, especially in relation to the overwhelmingly Muslim-Arab or Muslim-Amazigh population and government, and have been attending service to get a foot in the door. I was struck with the manner in which the current interim pastor addressed Eid–with a dismissiveness about the religious and cultural meaning of it.
I was immediately offended–offended by the lack of sympathy shown towards another religion that also promotes love and forgiveness, and offended that another foreigner could come into this land and dismiss the majority’s religion so thoughtlessly, and offended that he made me feel guilty about being in a church, where I believe I should feel welcomed, loved, and appreciated, no matter my personal spiritual beliefs. And then, promptly following that reaction, I realized that it almost felt familiar–as though I were prepared and even expecting it.
But that, too, is not fair to the Christians who are welcoming, and loving, and caring–and I feel just as worried about my own reaction against Christianity as I did about the pastor’s words about Islam. Why am I more prepared to accept a negative perception of one religion over the other?
Unfortunately, I do not have a neat conclusion to this post. I have a weird sense of being pulled in multiple directions–the familiarity of my own religious traditions and backgrounds, the appeal that Christianity has for me academically, the instinct to protect the good experiences I have had with Islam here, and the struggle of figuring out my own spiritual beliefs.
So maybe that will be my conclusion–that once again, I’ve found the endless pressure study abroad has placed upon me. At this point, the pressure has been so consistent, and I’ve been so intent of tracking it, that I’ve realized it isn’t even that I feel like I’ve changed as a result of it. As I start preparing for my Independent Study Project and delving into the matters that most interest and concern me, I feel like I’m just getting closer to finding the me that is uncluttered by extraneous doubts and confusions and worries. It has been unbelievably cool to feel myself coming closer and closer to a sense of contentment as I feel more honest with myself, and, at least once, it has been scary.
So for now I’m taking Eid as a chance to bond with my family, to experience Morocco and Islam, and to continue questioning. It’s a good place to start.