People were streaming in, late-comers running to find a place in the sea of people, men at the front and women at the back. As the Islamic call to prayer began, my heart cried out in silent anguish, “Jesus is Lord!”
If only they knew.
After two years of dreaming, I was finally visiting North Africa, and my visit happened to coincide with one of the two most important festivals celebrated in Islam, Eid al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice. The family that I was staying with had brought me, along with my Christian friends living in this region, to join in the festivities. It was fast becoming one of the most intense cultural experiences of my life.
That morning, I had woken up early with the call to prayer sounding out across the city. My morning devotions had been in Romans 5:1-11, a beautiful passage talking about the sacrifice of Jesus for sinners and the reconciliation with God that was accomplished on the cross. For me, it was a poignant contrast with the sacrifice that was about to take place, making the call to prayer feel like a shout against the divinity of Jesus. In prostrating themselves and seeking the one true God, were these people unknowingly denying him, rejecting him?
As the corporate prayers ended, a neighbor arrived who had come to make sure that the sacrifice was done properly. Our host explains to me that he doesn’t feel close enough to God to perform the sacrifice: “I don’t do all the prayers or keep all the rules.”
We made our way up to the roof where the sheep was being kept. Quickly, they took hold of the animal and held it down with its neck facing east toward Mecca. A prayer was said, and the throat was slit.
As the blood poured out, I was conscious that my Muslim hosts were remembering the sacrifices offered by Abraham. In turn, I thought of the Passover in Egypt and of Jesus, the new Passover lamb. If only this family could know what was already done for them, they could be free from the law, free from guilt. The sheep was cleaned and gutted, with the inner parts saved as a delicacy, and soon the fire was roasting our lunch, savory with a hint of cumin. Desiring to honor their culture by tasting everything, I managed to eat all that was put in front of me, washing down the difficult parts with apple-flavored soda and mint tea. Our hosts seemed to enjoy every morsel.
After the meal, I listened to the family talk about the Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca – which they had not yet done. Many spend thousands of dollars to go, as a way to remove sins which, ironically, begin again to accumulate the moment they finish the journey.
If only they knew that their sins were already forgiven, and that God himself – through Christ – has already paid the price to win their freedom. Later, as we lounged together, the dessert was served – stewed intestines, stomach lining and lungs. I swallowed, much to the appreciative smiles of my hosts. As we ate, we talked about faith and life and their intersection. One man was very vocal about how Christians were wrong, but our host family spoke of their love and respect for their Christian friends, admiring a faith that seemed to make a practical difference.
Then I listened, chewing determinedly, as my friend boldly shared the Good News in fluent Arabic. I was determined to receive and digest what had been offered to me, and in turn I prayed that my hosts would receive and eat of the Bread of Life, a meal that would satisfy them in ways that sacrificial mutton never could. By the end of the day, I was tired. But my heart was full of excitement for my host and for my friends who would continue to invest in this family, sharing the hope that can be found in Jesus.
It was time they knew.
Please pray for Muslims worldwide as they perform acts of worship and sacrifice, that God would give them new understanding of the atoning sacrifice that he made for them in Christ.