Happy Eid el Adha — to everyone! عيد الاضحى مبارك للجميع

Today is Eid el Adha, the most significant holiday in the Muslim calendar, traditionally marked by the slaughter of a sheep in honor of God’s first ordering the sacrifice of Ishmael and then sparing him and substituting a sheep. (Yes, that is correct. The Jewish/Christian version of the story in Genesis 22 refers to Isaac; the variation in the Qur’an refers to Ishmael.) It is also known as Eid el Kbir — the big holiday.

It is common, and I suppose customary, to wish a happy Eid to all Muslims, and I do wish a happy Eid to all those celebrating the holiday. One thing I noticed while I was in Morocco, however, is how inclusive the holiday was. I was always made to feel that I was part of the feast (outsider though I was) and pressed to eat more mutton than I could possibly consume, from the head to the hooves. In that spirit, I would like to wish a happy Eid to everyone, Muslim or not, meaning no disrespect.

I realize, of course, that the Eid is not without its critics, whether because of concerns for animal welfare or the financial burden that purchasing an animal to sacrifice places on the poor, who are nevertheless faced with enormous social pressure to participate in Muslim countries such as Morocco. And yet, and yet, it is hard to deny the fellow-feeling I experienced while I was there. We should always be mindful of the less fortunate — and come to their aid in their time of need — and yet it seems it would be a shame to abandon every festive occasion on account of its cost. (It is hard to imagine a more wasteful holiday than Christmas!) Or as Shakespeare put it, “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”

Happy Eid, every one.

Islam and Politics

I just attended a very interesting lecture at the D.C. Rotary Club by Dr. Shadi Hamid, an author and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, on the interplay between Islam and politics.  His thesis is that Islam is “exceptional” owing to a fusion of religious and political consciousness.   He attributes this in part to the fact that the Prophet was not only a religious leader but an early head of state. In addition, he posits that Muslims subscribe to the belief that the Qu’ran is the words of God transmitted directly without human authorship or mediation, and that this gives the scripture unique moral and political authority. 

Dr. Hamid thinks that it is a mistake to overlook the religious motivation of Islamist organizations from the Muslim Brotherhood to even the Islamic State on the supposition that religion is simply a pretext for power politics.  He also suggests that Islamist organizations do not distinguish between religion and politics; a split between them is not cognizable within their religious worldview, since the aim of both is salvation.   

Dr. Hamid believes that, for good or ill, those who believe that Islam will go through “Reformation” and secularization analogous to the Reformation in the West are mistaken.  However, he does believe that Islamist and secular parties can advance their diametrically opposed agendas through peaceful political means in a state such as Tunisia’s fragile democracy, although he worries that corruption and lack of Western economic support may yet undermine the Tunisian experiment. He is also not optimistic that the monarchy in Morocco will be willling to relinquish power in order to promote constitutional government.

Dr. Hamid acknowledges the role that Western power politics play in the discrediting and undermining of democratic institutions in the Middle East,  but he also argues that the role of the West in shaping the Middle East should not obscure the role that religion plays in Muslim states.

For those interested, Dr. Hamid’s latest book is Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World.