When my school extended an invitation to celebrate one of the holiest Islamic holidays, I was petrified. I’d never witnessed a live animal sacrifice—much less the sacrifice of five cows. But if a community could so warmly open their arms to a religious outsider, then I could open my mind. If I could chow down on In-N-Out burgers, then I could partake in the practice of Eid al-Adha, or “Festival of Sacrifice.”
The commemoration, which falls on the tenth day of the holy month of Dhu al-Hijjah, honors the prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to obey God’s command to slit his son’s throat. Just before he could perform the act of faith, God provided a lamb to sacrifice in Ibrahim’s son’s stead.
In reverence to the story, the men roped the first cow’s ankles, hummed prayers over her big belly, and brandished a blade to her throat. The cow’s pupils dilated with fear; one of the men scratched that soft spot behind her ears to calm her. She gave one final fight, shuddering impossibly before surrendering. As she bled to death and her eyes glossed a milky, faraway blue, I was overwhelmed by the import of taking life. That sense of profundity only heightened with each sacrificial offering, until there was a bloody heap of five carcasses. If a measure of love is the readiness to sacrifice one’s most valuable possessions, then perhaps no gift is holier or more sacred (or harder to part with) than life itself.
Following the sacrifices, the community sprang into action. The children skipped through the mosque, while the men hacked at the tender meat from the cows’ bones. The women then sliced the meat into cubes before weighing and packing them into bags. Per tradition, the sacrificed animals were divided into thirds: a portion of the meat would go to the impoverished and needy, another to relatives and friends, and the remaining would be kept by the family.
As I rolled up my sleeves and outfitted cubes of meat onto sticks, I mused on how quickly I’d resorted to fear when a tradition practiced by an unfamiliar culture didn’t neatly resemble any schema from my existing, limited worldview. Maybe it’s this fear of the unknown that leads to misunderstandings and misguided policies that dehumanize entire communities. As the smell of barbecued satay wafted through the schoolyard, I vowed to feed my hunger, not my fear.
Currently reading: Essays in Love by Alain de Botton.