Today is the first day of the Eid al adha, or Feast of Sacrifice. Celebrated by Muslims worldwide, it’s a major holiday like Christmas or Hanukkah, commemorating the willingness of the Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael to God. In Islam, God stopped Abraham just before he killed Ishmael by giving him a lamb to sacrifice instead of his son. Muslims who can afford to do so sacrifice domestic animals, usually sheep, as a symbol of Abraham’s sacrifice. Today, thousands of sacrifices will be made across the Muslim world to celebrate Eid.
Jews and Christians also believe that God spared Abraham from sacrificing his son, Isaac. Muslims believe that they are descended from Ishmael, and Jews believe they are descended from Isaac.
The Eid al ahda also marks the end of the Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca made by millions of Muslims each year. Every Muslim who can afford to do so is obligated to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their life. After several days of rituals in the towns of Mecca and Mina, and a visit to Mount Arafat, the Feast of Sacrifice arrives. Traditionally, the pilgrim killed the animal himself, or at least oversaw the killing. These days, an animal may be killed in the pilgrim’s name without the pilgrim being physically present.
Today, all Muslims are thinking about the Feast of Sacrifice. Astonishingly, the first sacrificial lamb was none other than Saddam Hussein, the ousted President of Iraq. He was executed at about 6:00 this morning, just days after an Iraqi appellate court affirmed his conviction for murder, and this was only three days after the appeal was filed. The President and other members of his government were convicted for the execution of about 140 persons from the Iraqi town of Dujail, found guilty of treason in 1982. After two years of interrogation, many had confessed to collaborating with Iran during its war with Iraq, and of trying to kill their own President. A trial of some sort was held, and 140 people were found guilty.
Details of the 1982 proceedings are sketchy and were not permitted into evidence in Saddam’s own trial. This is the irony of the trial of Saddam Hussein – he was just executed for approving the executions of others, 24 years before, without affording them fair trials, yet was not able to use transcripts of those trials in his own defense.
Irony upon irony. Ishmael was the son of a prophet, and the story of Eid al ahda is a religious one. To sacrifice one’s own son for the salvation of all of humanity. The Iraqi people have today sacrificed Saddam Hussein to God. Not unlike the symbol of Jesus, said to have given his own life and died for our sins. Yet like Saddam, Jesus had little choice in the matter. The timing of Saddam’s death suggests more than martyrdom – it suggests he may someday be viewed as a prophet.
Blasphemy? Of course it is, but don’t blame it on me. I didn’t pick the execution day, and only explain how this event may be viewed by many Muslims, today and in the future. Has this occured by accident? By an odd twist of fate? According to Iraqi national security adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie, “We wanted him to be executed on a special day.”
It seems more likely, however, that the timing was actually set by U.S. President George Bush, who’d expressed his hope that the Iraqi President would be executed by the end of the year. Bush reportedly keeps Saddam’s own pistol, recovered when he was captured in an underground hideout in 2003, in the oval office, no doubt violating DC gun laws. It’s doubtful George Bush has ever even heard of the Eid festivals. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
PAUL WOLF is an attorney in Washington DC who has worked on the defense of Saddam Hussein. Documents from the case can be found at www.international-lawyers.org and at http://www.law.case.edu/saddamtrial.