This weekend, Muslims around the world are celebrating the feast of Eid al-Adha, or the “festival of sacrifice” which is (at least as I understand it) their most significant religious festival. “Big Eid” as the children in my class used to call it, celebrates both Ibrahim/Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail, and, perhaps more significantly, God’s intervention to prevent the death of that treasured child. The biblical version has Isaac in the place of Ismail, but tells the same story of God’s intervention.
This festival seems an appropriate time for me, as well as my Muslim friends, to reflect on its significance. To me, at least, the message of the story seems very clear. God does not choose, ever, acts of violence as a way to honour him. When we think we hear God asking us to carry out acts of violence; he whispers into our heart, no, that is not what I desire. God does not desire suffering, death or violence. Abraham, even if only at the last moment, heard that message and understood it. For me, it is perhaps this as much as anything else about his story that marks him out as a man of God and father of faith.
As Wilfred Owen wrote, far more eloquently than I could express, too often, humanity, including the many who profess to believe in the God of Abraham/Ibrahim, have forgotten to listen to this message. Almost 100 years on from these words being written, sadly, we too often continue to forget, and the words remain hauntingly relevant.