CAIRO – As Muslims worldwide unified to celebrate the Eid al-Adha holiday, internal cleavages, national differences and sectarian rhetoric reverberated throughout the Middle East over the celebration.
The Eid, or “Feast of the Sacrifice,” commemorates God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son, Ishmael.
At the epicenter of the fiveday festival in Saudi Arabia are officials who took pride hosting 1,325,372 “guests of Allah” – the term used for Muslims who come from outside the kingdom for the haj – the pilgrimage Muslims are required to make at least once in their lifetime.
Meanwhile, Saudi media accused Iran of attempting to set up an alternative haj directing pilgrims toward Shiite shrines in southern Iraq.
Tehran barred Iranian nationals from participating this year after talks on safety and logistical issues broke down in May.
Last Monday, Ayatollah Khamenei said the Saudi royal family “murdered” more than 2,000 pilgrims killed in last year’s stampede at the site of the three jamarat, the stone walls where believers throw stones to reenact the Muslim religious account of Abraham’s encounter with the devil.
Some 400 of the trampled victims were Iranian.
“When the faithful are focusing on their spiritual journey to please God, Iran is trying to start a sectarian war by sending its pilgrims to Karbala and Najaf,” Ghazi bin al-Mutairi, a theology professor at Madinah’s Islamic University, told the semiofficial Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat. “It’s as if they are competing for the greatest and the holiest places.”
The holiday season’s political demonization was aimed Israel as well as Iran, despite talk in regional security circles of a de facto alliance between Jerusalem and the Sunni Arab Gulf states.
The official Saudi News Agency reported Monday that King Salman facilitated the visit of a thousand “relatives of Palestine martyrs to perform haj at the expense of the monarch.”
“The body of the Arab nation is in pain because of what’s happening in Palestine, Syria and Iraq,” said Saleh Ben Mohamed al-Taleb, the Imam of Mecca’s Grand Mosque.
“There our enemies are gathered together to defeat us, and there is no help from the United Nations, which is deaf to the children’s screaming.”
“Muslims should unite together to help their brothers,” Taleb said in his Eid al-Adha sermon Monday, which included prayers for the “mujahedeen,” the Arabic plural noun for a jihadist.
Taleb concluded with a prayer calling on Allah “to release al-Aksa from the oppressive vanquishers.”
In Daraya, a Damascus suburb surrendered by rebels just weeks ago, Syrian President Bashar Assad, an Alawite, made a triumphal appearance at the Sunni Saad Ibn Muaz Mosque on Monday.
But even the cameras of Syrian state television could not obstruct views of the widely demolished neighborhood.
“We come here today to replace the false freedom they [the rebels] tried to market since the beginning of the crisis with real freedom,” Assad said. “This freedom starts with restoring security and safety, goes through reconstruction and ends with an independent national decision.”
Meanwhile, Syrian opposition sources say they have counted at least 10 violations of the holiday cease-fire negotiated by US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Friday.
“On Friday, more than 85 civilians were killed by Russian air strikes while buying food for the Eid,” Syrian Coalition spokeswoman Sarah Karkour told The Media Line.
“Yesterday, regime helicopters dropped barrel bombs on Barada village, just west of Damascus. The holiday ceasefires rarely mean anything.”
In Egypt, more than 700 prisoners received preholiday pardons from the Interior Ministry on Sunday, but no political activists were among those released from jail.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Monday attended a dawn service at the massive El-Mosheer Tantawy Mosque in the Nasser City neighborhood close to Cairo’s international airport, where 37-yearold Imam Osama Azhari delivered a measured, introspective sermon.
“Islam seeks the security of all believers and finds God’s truth in science,” said Azhari, likely selected for his embrace of Sisi’s call for a “new religious discourse. Ours is a religion of peace and blessings.”
In the crowded streets of the capital few residents had much to say about the religious messages from Mecca or Nasser City.
“Most people are focused on having the money to buy a sheep or at least new clothes for the children,” said Shireen al-Shaneety, a 34-year-old optician. “Egyptians are tired of speeches and sermons. We just want to see better opportunities for the next generation.”
(The Media Line)