Thursday, February 10, 2005

Love Is All Around

The reactions from people who hear it for the first time range from morbid curiosity to outright disgust. The stories start out with teller asking questions like "You mean no one's told you what they do? You really have no idea?"

I'm talking about the Korban, the ceremony performed during the holiest of Islamic holidays, the Eid'l Adha or Hari Raya Haj.

The ritual involves an animal, traditionally a sheep, but goats and cows are fine. A few guys hold the animal steady. Another guy goes up to it, gives it a drink of water, and then slits its throat.

This is the point where the storyteller would get reactions like "Really?", "Wow!", "Sick!" And the narration would go on because, as the teller might say, "Wait, there's more."

The scope of this ritual can be quite amazing. This ritual isn't just one animal sacrificed in a mosque for all the attending worshipers. Each fellow, or each family, as much as possible, should perform the ritual. In predominantly Muslim communities, in the days prior to the holiday, it wouldn't be unusual to find virtually herds of goats tied or penned around apartment buildings or houses. Communities with more stringent regulations on storing livestock, such as Singapore, import the animals just in time for the holiday instead.

On the day of the ritual itself, in the right neighborhood, you could see the streets darkened and dimmed with blood. Butchers would be going around, cutting up the freshly-slain carcasses. The skins are hung up on lines or walls to dry.


Not an uncommon reaction, one might imagine. What holy festival must be celebrated with such evident and widespread death? What enlightenment can be found here?

The story can stop at this point. The deepest reactions have been drawn out from the audience. What else does one need to know about such a religion?

What needs to be known is that the ritual is to commemorate a story of self-sacrifice.

“Really? Sounds like that story of Abraham about to sacrifice his son.” This is what the ritual is all about.

The flesh from the animal is to be given away to the needy. The butchers go around and neatly and properly apportion the meat.

In places where Islam is less dominant, such as the US, an acceptable practice is to go to a slaughterhouse and buy some fresh meat. That gets to be given away as well.

Even with these details, it may not be easy to get past the gore. The blood can leave too black a mark. But perhaps that is the intention. Such stark portrayal of sacrificing a part of ourselves for something greater, and to give a part of ourselves to those who need it, is not meant to be forgotten.