Syria and the Festival of Sacrifice

There was, therefore, much relief when UN-brokered ‘ceasefire’ – led by the international envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, who took over from Kofi Annan – came into force on Friday. But it was soon shattered by fighting and a car bomb explosion in Damascus.

Nearly 150 people died on the first day of the truce, according to activists.

So, where is the truce? Where is the peace? Where is the festival, in Syria?

The daily death toll reported by activist groups has been regularly exceeding 150 in recent weeks. And the first day of Eid seemed like just another ‘ordinary’ day of killings, in the land boiling with tension.

At least 35,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad’s government began 19 months ago, according to some reports.

So, the truce was expected to give relief to the people, during the festival.

But, this is now the second Eid Al Adha that the Syrians are celebrating (or are unable to celebrate) amidst large scale unrest with terrible killings all around.

Eid Al Adha, or the ‘festival of sacrifice’, is the second most important Muslim festival – after Eid Al Fitr, the ‘festival of breaking the fast’ – and there seems to have been a real sacrifice of real lives, by both sides in Syria now.

Eid Al Adha marks the end of Hajj, or the visit to Mecca, where, according to Saudi officials, this year, about 3.4 million Muslims from all corners of the world, including from Saudi Arabia itself, have made the pilgrimage. And newspapers reported that many pilgrims had said they were specifically praying for the end of the civil war in Syria. Will there prayers be answered?

The festival mainly commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismail to Allah, showing his great faith and unquestioning obedience to God. And during this festival, there are also ritual slaughters of sheep, symbolising the ram that Allah allowed Ibrahim to kill, rather than his own son.

Ironically, like that ram, hundreds of innocent civilians are being slaughtered, in the crossfire between the armed rebels and the Syrian armed forces; the festival time slaughtering included. And the deaths are mounting each day.

Though Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, made a rare public appearance, attending prayers to mark the beginning of the Eid Al Adha holiday at a mosque in central Damascus, and though he was shown on state television chatting with other worshippers peacefully, everyone knows that all is not at peace in his country.

What we really need is a sacrifice of time, by the leaders of both sides. What we need is a sacrifice of time, away from the shellings and bombings, for them to think and act in the interest of Syrians at large.

What could then result is not just a cease fire solution that does not last, but a government of stability that will last.