THE GREAT FEAST

by Shirley W. Madany


With every flick of the dial we were in a different part of the Arab world. Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Tunisia were all coming in clearly on our short-wave radio. And all the programs were geared towards one single event--Eed el Adha, the great feast following the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, the "hadj." A feast which celebrates the sacrifice of Ishmael (not Isaac).

From Saudi Arabia came the oft-told story of how Abraham saw in a dream that he must cut the throat of Ishmael. The dreams of a nabi or prophet are more important than the dreams of ordinary mortals. They are considered to be revelations from God. When Abraham told Ishmael about his dream, his son immediately urged him to obey God. The story goes on. Ishmael pleaded with his father not to waver when the time came. He suggested that he be placed face down so that the father would not be looking into his son's eyes and thus find it impossible to be obedient to Allah.

We were monitoring on a Panasonic computerized radio while on a visit to the Trans World Radio offices in Monte Carlo, Monaco. By means of shortwave the Middle East entered and enlarged our room. As part of a Saudi broadcast, we heard a sheikh chanting praises to God. He was responded to in an antiphonal way by a group of men. It was very impressive to hear this litany of praise. The theme was the great mercy which God had showed to Abraham in providing a sacrifice in the place of Ishmael.

From Libya we heard the voice of their leader Omar Gadhaffi going on with his usual harangue of the populace. He seemed to always have an appreciative audience.

But it was the broadcast from Kuwait which really caught my attention. It was a woman talking about faith and the transitoriness of life. She was urging all women to be content with their life, since happiness and sadness don't last. We should rise above ourselves and our lower instincts. Believers must take the initiative and do good works. Be prepared to live life as if you were in the presence of God. This was a high-level spiritual message urging the exercise of acceptance and love. We should accept everything and transcend wordliness as we approach perfection. Religion should mean everything and should be the power which keeps a person on the straight path in this life. Certainly the quality of such broadcasts which deal with the Islamic faith was very high. They represent an example of a high form of non-Christian theistic faith. Too bad that some Christian broadcasts fall short of this and land more in the category of "entertainment" rather than proclamation of the Good News.

Later that evening we heard the Saudi station again. They talked about printing 30 million copies of the Quran per year in different languages--as diglots with the official Arabic text. Eighty million have already been printed since a special complex had been built in Saudi Arabia for that purpose. This piece of news came from the Ministry of Information and "Da'wah" (the Muslim word for missions, literally meaning the Call to Islam).

A few days later, we had to spend five hours in the International terminal of British Airways at London Heathrow. We found a seat which gave us a clear view of passengers entering the transit area. All of us had had to weave our way through a serpentine queue and go through another set of X-rays and search, even though we had just come off a plane from Europe. As we glanced from time to time in that direction, we suddenly noticed that a plane-load of "hajjis" had disembarked and we watched with mixed emotions as we saw both men and women still in their special garments file past the inspection point. Obviously many of them were not Arabs, but were converts. The men would doubtless be off to work the next day in western garb. The women had a variety of attractive flowing white robes which covered them completely. For that hallowed trip they had declared loudly their faith in the one God, Allah, and Mohammed as his prophet.

Later as we flew the Atlantic, I chatted with a British lady sitting next to me. We talked about the growing Muslim population in Britain and she said: "You have to admire them. It would appear that their religion means more to them than anything else." She turned to me and asked: "Is it the same with you?" I was glad I could say "yes, indeed." Like so many secular westerners she expressed the opinion that just leading a good life was surely all that could be expected of one!


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