Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on Abraham's Sacrifice

Arabic original here.

Human Sacrifice and Animal Sacrifice

Eid el-Adha, the commemoration of Abraham's offering his son as a sacrifice, is coming. May it cause us, like every year, to examine the symbolism of this event. We will not delve here into the question of the event's historicity or the question of determining the identity of the child (Isaac according to the Torah and Ishmael according to Islamic tradition) that Abraham intended to sacrifice as an offering to God. The only thing we are concerned with here is answering the question, what does this event mean for us today?

Before Abraham, whom religious researchers estimate to have lived in the fourteenth century before Christ, some Middle Eastern societies, like many societies all over the world, practiced human sacrifice in their worship. The Torah's account of the "child sacrifice" and his replacement with a lamb came, by divine command, in order to put a stop to human sacrifices and to replace them with animal sacrifice. The story of Abraham and his son, then, regardless of the historicity of the event, is a story with clear pedagogical aims, the most important of which is the revocation of human sacrifices and their being regarded as a crime against both God and man.

In the story of Abraham and his son, we also find a call for fathers to refrain from killing their children, not only in the physical sense, but also in the symbolic sense. In our societies, fathers still proceed to kill their children by giving them an inheritance of servitude instead of raising them on freedom and creativity. Fathers cause their children to grow up in inauthentic religious traditions and shopworn societal customs, sectarianism and prejudice.

We likewise find in the story of Abraham and his son a call for fathers to refrain from sacrificing their children, since they have authority over them and decide their fates. Right now, fathers continue to kill their children with this inheritance full of hatred, rancor and the rejection and lack of respect for the other...

The story of Abraham intends to show us the God calls all people to liberation from everything hideous in religious and social history, especially killing. Nevertheless, some still raise in the name of God, may He be exalted, hordes of extremists, fanatics, killers, criminals and thugs. Added to this is the failure of religious institutions to raise generations that are free and capable of openness and of facing the challenges of the age. These institutions have failed because they have estranged their children from reason, this reason that must always strive to discover what is appropriate for each generation. This is because they regard their inheritance, its strengths and its weaknesses, to be sufficient for them. No wonder, then, that we are witnessing a return to barbarity and random killing. Those doing the slaughtering, no doubt, are the products of our societies that are filled with fanaticism, hatred and revenge. They are the products of pursuing whims, passions and lusts. They are the products of the religious backwardness that has led them away from the most weighty thing that God has called us to-- mercy.

With the old Abraham, the Friend of God who listened to God's voice, human sacrifices were abrogated. With the new Abraham, Ibrahim al-Badri, known as "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi" who most certainly does not listen to God's voice, and those like him who justify his actions, the beastliness of sacrifice has returned, the sacrifice of those of whom God said, "We have honored the children of Adam" (Surat al-Isra 70).

We hope in the coming feast that sacrifice [al-adha] will return to its proper meaning and that man will regain his dignity.

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