Today is the most important national holiday in Senegal, Tabaski, the Wolof word for the Festival of the Sheep, known elsewhere in the Muslim world as Aïd-el-Kebir. It is a celebration of an event that is also important to Jews and Christians, that is, the sacrifice by Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic) of his eldest son. If you recall the story, Abraham, aged 80, was still childless, and so promised God/Allah that he would sacrifice his firstborn if He would grant him a child.
(Don’t interrupt. I know it doesn’t make sense.)
A single child is born, Ismael. Years later, God reminds Abraham of his promise. Abraham is a man of his word and so prepares to sacrifice his son to God. At the moment Abraham’s knifeblade touches Ismael’s throat, the Angel Gabriel does a quick switcheroo and in the place of the child, puts a ram, whose throat is promptly slit.
As a reminder of Abraham’s act of faith, Muslims reenact the sacrifice of the sheep each year. Every head of the family (male, of course), is obliged to provide a sheep for his family. The obligation is not enshrined in the Koran, rather it is a social pressure to “keep up with the Jones’”, or the Dioufs, perhaps, here in Senegal.
“Ah,” he sighed. “It’s not for us, the adults. It’s for the children. They can’t show their face at school if their father didn’t have a sheep for Tabaski.”
So 2000 years after the sacrifice of the son by the father over a point of honour, today’s fathers have to sacrifice themselves, often running themselves into debt for the rest of the year, in order to preserve their children’s honour. Sweet irony.
Of course, such subtleties are lost on the sheep. For him the story ends the same way.