I admit that I am relieved the holidays are over, not for the usual reasons of being exhausted from shopping and celebrating, but rather relieved I survived missing my family, my friends, and our usual traditions. The sergeants, specialists, and captains I pass messages to during the night shift seem relieved, too. The yearning for life at home has returned to a pre-holiday level. We are intact, ready to continue business as usual. But Christmas wasn’t the only holiday that passed last week.
Eid al-Adha, the second most important Muslim holiday, occurred December 19 – 21 almost coinciding with Christmas. I learned about Eid al-Adha when I lived in Algeria in 2005. While being driven to and from the university where I was teaching, I noticed that sheep were accumulating in the boulevards in Algiers, the capital. At first I naively attributed this to liberal zoning regulations. Then my driver, Kamel, starting enthusiastically telling me about an important figure in the Islam faith. He was fluent in French, Arabic, and knew a little English. With my English, minimal French, and a lot of hand motions, I figured out he was telling me about Abraham.
I tried to convince him that Christians know about Abraham’s test of faith when God asked him to sacrifice his son and God’s grace by providing a sheep for sacrifice instead. Kamel insisted that Abraham was part of the Islam faith and we found ourselves competing to claim Abraham! Eventually we stopped debating and started laughing, realizing that Christians and Muslims share this great testament to faith and grace, it is a tenant of common ground.
During Eid al-Adha, sheep are gathered in Muslim neighborhoods, like pine trees accumulate on neighborhood corners in the Unites States before Christmas, so every family can easily buy one. The sheep are then slaughtered by representatives of the local mosque, as a tribute to the ram God substituted for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son. Families share a feast and then give away two-thirds of the animal to those more needy.
Ever since, I have tried to focus on the similarities between different cultures rather than the differences. It seems that we only hear about the differences. I am honored to have celebrated Christmas on this little piece of land, COB Speicher, while outside the gates — beyond the wire — a Muslim country was celebrating Eid Al-Adha. Perhaps there won’t be a heavily armed gate, a wire, next year, or maybe the year after.