“it’s like a Muslim Thanksgiving and Christmas all wrapped up into one…”,
Writes our friend Mary Grace writes in her Eid al-Adha blog “How many sheep did you have? A food approach to holy days.” She writes of the “gathering of families, traditions of ritual food, and closing of most businesses for the specific days at minimum and possibly for the full week.”  That was our experience back in 2011 when we were introduced to the holiday by an exchange student we hosted from Pakistan for a year.
Eid al-Adha, or simply Eid, celebrates the obedience of Abraham when God commanded him to sacrifice his greatest possession, his son. Muslims believe it was Ishmael; Christians, Isaac, but either way, it is a holiday to remember Abraham’s obedience, and how God provided a substitute, a ram.
Rituals adapt to their context, and being so far and few from home, our Ashesi Muslim students come together from their different traditions to create a truly multicultural event. That is what we saw with our Pakistani exchange students years ago when they served up a chicken Biryani, and we all danced to Pakistani folk music. Last year for Eid, I “helped” the Gambian boys sacrifice a goat in the garden outside our back door. This year we helped in a different way, it was fried chicken and fried Irish potatoes.
According to tradition, the “meat from the sacrificed animal is divided into three parts. The family retains one-third of the share; another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors; and the remaining third is given to the poor and needy.” I am not sure where our students draw the line between family and friends, or even the needy but what I do know is they make a tradition of inviting Christian students to join them.
Inviting Christians seems to be part of an unwritten tradition of Eid, or at least a part of the tradition I have experienced. In the early days of the faith, when Arab pagans were persecuting the Prophet Muhammad’s followers, Ethiopia’s King Armah (a Christian) gave audience to the family of the Prophet in his palace , and welcomed them saying “go, for you are safe in my country.” Muslims I know have never forgotten that kindness, and are eager to repay that debt to me.
“Go, for you are safe in my country”
The night before Eid, I FB messaged one of our Gambian students asking if they would be using my garden for the sacrifice, and learned had nothing planned and they had no funds, so I said come over after prayers and we would figure something out. For Americans, it would be like not having a turkey at Thanksgiving and no family to spend it with.
Atomic Down Goat Market (photo credit: Steve Buchele)
So late in the afternoon, we drove to the goat market, but the selection was pretty much picked over. The goats were literally walking skin and bones which would not have been much of a celebration. Kind of like a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree, but with goats; and they were sad, and nobody likes to eat sad goat meat. So I asked about chickens since the idea is to sacrifice something and next to the goat market was a large cage with live chickens. Chickens would be acceptable, but since we’re getting chicken, my student asked, could we not get the frozen ones, since it was late in the afternoon (he was thinking the frozen birds from Brazil).
So off we go to the proper supermarket (of which there are 13 in the whole of Accra, a city of three million). Surprise! They had fresh chickens at the meat counter that were plump and local, and since it would take hours to defrost the frozen birds, he asked if we could get the fresh ones instead? It was starting to feel like if you give a mouse a cookie story, and I half expected him to then ask, “if we’re getting fresh chicken, could we not stop at KFC for the already cooked ones?” But he didn’t.
We were back on campus by 5, and by 9pm I was getting texts of fried chicken and fried potatoes, thanking us for the celebration.
TxtMsg: This was great Rev. Steve, we all had nice time together and with few other folks…you made it Rev. Steve! We truly do appreciate you…Thank you very much! Allah bless you
This I learned this from my sister Beth, that even when you can’t solve someone’s problems, you can lend them $100, and sometimes, that will make all the difference. I was thankful Suzanne and I were in a position to do something because everybody needs a home at Thanksgiving, even if they call it Eid.
Thanks for reading.
PS: For a different perspective on Eid, I really encourage you to read Mary Grace Neville’s beautifully written “How many sheep did you have? A food approach to holy days.” on her blog about teaching in Morocco.