Monday, November 8, 2010

The Silence of the Lambs

Well, this should be quite a week! Assuming that he has both passports in hand with the appropriate visas, Steph should arrive here in Alexandria via Meymaneh, Kabul, Dubai and Cairo on Wednesday midnight. And he will be here to continue my birthday celebrations (low key, but plentiful!) and, perhaps more importantly, to witness the most holy of holy celebrations in Islam, the Eid ul Adha or the festival of sacrifice. (OK, kids, time to get out either your Koran or your Bible, because for this holiday, either will work, although you may get somewhat conflicting accounts of the main players!)

If you are Muslim, this is the story of Abraham and his faith in Allah. You may recall that Abraham was married to Sarah, and while they were both faithful servants of the Lord, He had not yet seen fit to bless them with a child. Enter Hagar, the Egyptian slave who was encouraged by Allah and his fixer, the angel Gabriel, to hook up with Abraham to provide him with an heir. Hagar, seeing an opportunity to rise in status, did her duty without a second thought. And she, unlike Sarah, was fruitful, and produced Abraham's firstborn son, Ishmael.

(Now, if you are a woman, you will really get this next part!) While Abraham was strutting around Canaan like a proud rooster, Sarah was none too pleased that Hagar had managed to pop out male progeny for her husband so quickly and easily. She was pretty nasty to Hagar and generally made the handmaiden's life a living hell, so Hagar split to the desert with baby Ishmael in tow. Mama and babe stay out there and nearly starve/dehydrate to death, until Allah cuts Hagar a break and a spring ("Zamzam Well" or "Hagar's Well") pops up and not only saves their lives, but provides them with a commodity to sell to merchants traipsing across the sands on their camels. Both Hagar and Ishmael seem to do just fine for the next dozen or so years. Perhaps in a moment of compassion for the slighted and aging Sarah, God takes pity on her up to that moment barren womb and Sarah finds herself pregnant with Abraham's second son, Isaac.

(So here is where you need to choose your book because the stories diverge). If you stay with the Koran, Abraham's faith is challenged by Allah in a series of night-sweat producing dreams that tell Abraham that he must sacrifice his son to prove his faith. Abraham goes out to the desert and finds Ishmael, and, wanting to avoid a scene, asks the boy if he would willingly stick his neck out (literally) and die at his father's hand. Whether by a faith that was unflinching or having been out in the sun too long, Ishmael agrees. Just when Abraham is about to lop off his son's head, Allah issues a last second reprieve and tells him to substitute a lamb instead. Relieved, both Abraham and Ishmael go off and let loose the blood of one of their herd.

But wait, isn't that the same story that you find in Genesis 22:2-12??? Except there it is his son Isaac...yes, the legitimate one born to Sarah! Perhaps a typo?? Apparently the rift has to do with which holy text is the most legit...the Bible or the Koran. It also probably goes back to the split between the Ishmaelites and the Israelites--to whom did God/Allah promise land to and which land belongs to which get the picture. Since none of us were there, I don't think this will be easy to sort out..nor necessary for the rest of my story since I am telling about the Islamic version of this story!

Anyway, the celebration of Abraham and Ishmael's faith is held on the 10th day of the 12th and the last month of the Islamic calendar, this year on November 16. The holiday is marked by the ritual slaughter of the lambs and apparently here in Alexandria, that is done with great relish. On a positive note, the meat is to be divided equally between the owner, his family and the act of charity being the main reason for the kill. By all accounts the streets will be flowing with blood from the slaughter and the poor things are being penned in the open alleys all around our school. I include a picture taken by my friend, Bob Medina, of the animals silently waiting to prove their faith in Allah. But, whichever version of the story you choose to believe, the families were eating leg of lamb with mint sauce in the end which, from my point of view, is a very happy ending.


  1. As a mother of a son, both versions of the story are equally horrifying. I can guarantee you, had God/Allah bothered to speak to either Sarah or Hagar, neither boy would have been permitted to leave the house on the appointed day, thereby derailing the ensuing bloody history!

    Happy Birthday! Have fun with Steph--don't do anything I wouldn't do.



  2. And what is it that you wouldn't do, my dear???

  3. If you have to ask.....
    I could have said what I say to the kids when they're heading out the door: "Don't do anything I've done..."

  4. I absolutely love the way you describe this holiday. It's refreshing, enlightening and funny. Thanks