First, I would like to wish all Muslims ‘Eid Mubarak’ as the feast begins the day after in Pakistan. I would also extend the same greeting to all who live with or in closeness to Muslims, belonging to other religions in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world, and to everyone else.

The story of Eid-ul-Azha is narrated in the Bible’s Old Testament in Genesis 22. It is therefore part of the three Abrahamic faiths of the Jews, Christians and Muslims. That means that about half of all people on earth actually know the story of Eid-ul-Azha, which is also known by other names, such as Al Eid Al Kabeer, the Grand Eid or the Greater Eid, and other names. In Egypt, it is often known as Eid-al-Lahma, the ‘meat Eid’, reflecting the tradition of charity in the form of giving food, clothes and money to the poor and needy. The festival, the Feast of Sacrifice, falls on the tenth day of the twelfth and last month of the Muslim calendar, Dhu-al-Hijjah. Eid-ul-Azha is considered the holiest feasts of the Muslim calendar. Every year, the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is performed by millions of Muslims. This year, though, due to the corona pandemic, only a small number could travel to Mecca for Hajj, and precautionary measures had to be observed.

In order to draw attention to some further traditions in the Abrahamic religions, I would like to mention that Eid-ul-Fitr is better known to non-Muslims than Eid-ul-Azha. Eid-ul-Fitr falls at the end of the holy month of Ramzan, the 30 days of fasting, which is observed by most Muslims worldwide. It is reported about in the media the same way as Christian events. We should know that in our time, few Christians, except mostly for believers in Eastern Orthodox tradition, concretely observe any of Christianity’s various forms of fasting, called Lent. It ends with Easter in March or April, decided by the exact day of the full moon after the spring equinox.

Christians observe Easter in memory of Jesus/Issa’s death and resurrection; Muslims believe he was spared and did not die. In both religions, Jesus ascended to heaven and the Second Coming of Jesus is foreseen. Jews are still awaiting the First Coming of Messiah. Yet, we should note that the denying of Jesus/Issa and his teachings are not key issues among Jews.

I mention these aspects of the Abrahamic religions to show how closely their traditions are related. Muslims know that very well, and Islam is a continuation and of the two other religions, and Muhammad (PBUH) is considered the last Prophet. When I speak and write about the similarities and shared traditions in the three religions, many Christians in my home country Norway, don’t like that fact, and they are often ignorant about it, especially about Islam’s history. Muslims are obviously more aware of the history of Islam, and that it is built on both Jewish and Christian traditions.

In our time of interfaith dialogue, it is important to be open to knowledge about other religions and denominations within one’s own religion. That doesn’t mean advocating change in dogma and doctrine in one’s own or other religions. At best, it would lead to greater wisdom and respect for others, within and beyond the Abrahamic religions, and the many traditions, branches and sub-groups. Learning about others often means that we can see clearer aspects of our own religion, and we should reflect on that at each other’s feasts.

As we celebrate Eid-ul-Azha this year, we realise that many religious concepts are common to most religions, not only our close sister religions. The term of sacrifice is indeed a key concept in the Abrahamic religions, and most if not all other religions. Also, in all religions, there is a desire for seeing God, for worship and doing God’s will. It is a constant journey to understand more about our own religion, yes, to learn to see more of God and how to do more and better his will. Included in that is love and mercy, the underlying part of Eid-ul-Azha. We should love God and show that through sacrifice, as the story in the Old Testament teaches us.

Eid-ul-Azha is with us this weekend, with the emphasis of sacrifice in showing our love for God and our love for fellow human beings. To give to charity is a concrete and visible manifestation of the love for God and one another. It is said that we can give without loving. But we cannot love without giving. That is the essence and deeper meaning of Eid-ul-Azha.

When we read the story about Ibrahim/Abraham in the Bible’s Old Testament, that he was willing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac/Ishmael, we must understand that as Ibrahim wanted to show God that he loved God more than anything or anyone else. In the Old Testament, the importance of what human beings can do to be loved by God was given more emphasis than in the Bible’s New Testament. A merciful God always loves us, and faith is not a matter of our achievement. It is God’s gift.

I believe that Christians can learn from Islam’s messages about Eid-ul-Azha and Eid-ul-Fitr, and the feasts are certainly essential for Muslims. The feasts so clearly spell out the key issues of love for God and one another. What is important is not as much the symbolic actions on a day or two every year, although still important, too. More important, though, is that we every day do what we can to create a better world for all, not just for ourselves and some close relatives and friends, but for everyone. Then each event becomes religiously, politically and socially important every day. Besides, in doing good, we feel good, and we fulfil more of God’s will. By showing mercy, compassion and love, we receive the same. Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) said: “For it is in giving we receive.”

Dear reader, I wish you Eid-ul-Azha Mubarak once again.