The word sacrifice has many meanings. If we’re using the noun, we could mean that sort of hand-wavy, metaphysical idea of something given up. Or we could be referring to the original meaning, an actual object that is sacrificed the old fashioned-way, knife, altar, and all. And then there’s the verb, similar to the noun except that it could mean “giving something up” or it could mean “slitting something’s throat.” Mild semantic distinction.
But we’re going to talk about the actual verb, to sacrifice. Yes, I mean the knife-and-altar business.
Eid al-Adha (one of the biggest Islamic celebrations) serendipitously landed on the Friday before we all left for our school trip to Spain. I admit that I was mildly uncomfortable. It wasn’t because of the hordes of sheep being herded through the Medina, or because of the grating sound of the whetstone-stations that suddenly cropped up on every street corner to sharpen the city’s knife collection. It wasn’t even because there were three sheep tethered on our roof (dangerously near my drying laundry). It was mostly because of Indiana Jones.
You remember The Temple of Doom. Scarlet-lit scenes of subterranean dungeons filled with zombies and some dude trying to rip hearts out and calling it “sacrifice.” Despite my better judgment, this was the perception I had of honest-to-goodness sacrifices. Having grown up in a farm-setting, I am familiar with the process of slaughtering and butchering an animal and have no particular problem with eating it afterward. But the mystery and “bloodiness” of an actual religious sacrifice wrapped the whole idea in a shroud of uneasiness.
Who knew, maybe my kind, elderly host mother would suddenly transform into a raging maniac, don necklaces of human teeth, and start slashing as the light of day magically transformed into red stage-light and harpsichords blared in the background!
Ok, reality check: Indiana Jones isn’t real.
The morning of Eid donned slightly cloudy. My host mother greeted me warmly (no tooth-necklaces in sight) and served pancakes and honey for breakfast. Relatives came dressed in old clothes and cheerfully talked and drank tea in the salon. Then they moved outside and quickly, efficiently, slit the sheep’s throats and proceeded to skin and butcher them. It rained slightly as the women carefully washed away the blood and began to clean the offal (sheep are expensive and nothing is wasted).
They worked hard and long and finally rested as skewers of liver and heart roasted on the fire. Lunch was festive, eaten outside with tea and the freshest lamb you will ever eat. Relatives and friends visited and people talked and ate just a bit too much.
And that was the bloody horrendous mysterious sacrifice.
One of the biggest reasons that people of one culture think of another culture as “savage” or “strange” is because they picture The Temple of Doom when they should picture Thanksgiving. So what did I learn on my day off from school? Hollywood lies, lamb liver is awesome, lamb intestine… not so much.