Once again this year Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for Jews, will coincide with the Muslim Eid al Adha, which celebrates the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Ishmael, with both starting in the evening of September 22nd. There are a number of ways this occurrence can be used for interfaith purposes. One way is to have a discussion of the different practices for each day and what they mean for each group. As both are Abrahamic faiths that trace their foundings to him, both hold Abraham in the highest regard. Discussing the different but related ways that he is present in these holidays, such as the Jewish liturgical use of the merit of Abraham to beseech God for forgiveness, and the display of faith shown when God commanded him to sacrifice Ishmael for the Muslims, is a way to show how both use this same figure.
For me, I have always found that when the holidays of any of the Abrahamic religions coincide, it makes me think about how even though the reasons and symbolic language for the holidays are different, they are all based on the same need to connect to God. The story of Ishmael and Abraham is almost exactly the same as the biblical story except that it is Ishmael, and not Isaac, being sacrificed, which is a point of contention between the two religious traditions, as this story is a founding idea in both as well as in Christianity. Whichever son it was, the example of Abraham is used as a way to convey the idea of complete willingness to do whatever God requires of us. As Yom Kippur is about atoning for wrongdoing, either knowingly or not, through the flouting of what God wants us to do, the fact that Eid al-Adha falls during the same time reinforces to me this idea that the point of Yom Kippur is to recommit to following what God wants. The different Jewish denominations have different understandings of what is required, but all of them understand that one should be committed to one’s own form of practice.
The day of Yom Kippur is meant to show where Jews need to improve, and this includes how we treat other people. Trying to find commonalities between the religions on their holidays is a great way to spark discussion. Increasing dialogue around the holidays would lead to greater discussion in general about what is shared and what is different among the Abrahamic faiths that bind us together.
This discussion also brings to mind lyrics from a song by Orphaned Land, a heavy metal band from Israel whose lyrics focus on understanding and interfaith coexistence. In their song “Brother,” they sing
“The lord blessed us both, but we still fight and claim, that kid on the mountain, what was his name?”
Other songs from that album deal with how all three religions share common stories. That can be a point of contact among them as a way to reach peaceful solutions to interfaith as well as political issues in the region.
Image Source: Karl432 via Wikimedia Commons