Padre Robin Richardson is an Army Chaplain currently deployed to Afghanistan with 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (3 PARA). In his first post on the Official British Army Blog he reflects on the upcoming Islamic celebration of Eid-ul-Adha and the potential, possibilities and promise that a religious holiday can bring in Afghanistan.
I have noticed from the papers arriving here from home, that preparations for Christmas are well under way with retailers hoping for a ‘Good Christmas Season’ this year. By ‘good’ I think it would be right to assume they mean profitable rather than anything too high minded and after a difficult 12 months I can appreciate, though reluctantly, something of the sentiment.
In Afghanistan over the next few days people will start making preparations for one of the most important celebrations of the Islamic year, Eid-ul-Adha. It marks the end of the Hajj and also commemorates an event that spans and impacts the lives of Muslims, Jews and Christians. It however, has not suffered from the same level of commercialization as Christmas has in the West and retains at its centre an old story, the gathering of families and a great deal of celebration.
In the Book of Genesis, chapter 22 we can read of a time when God wanted to test Abraham. He told him that he needed to go to the land of Moriah and there on a mountain sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. Abraham, ever-faithful, obeyed. He and Isaac climbed the mountain and just at the moment that he was about to bring down the knife, an angel of the Lord spoke out and told him not to harm the boy. As Abraham lifted his eyes, there, caught in a thicket was a ram. Abraham sacrificed that instead and Isaac lived on to take his place in the unfolding history of God’s people.
There are a number of challenges within the account that I think radiate into all three religions. Firstly, Abraham’s faith, obedience and trust in God’s nature is a challenge to all. Secondly, his hope that God could and would act even in the most perilous of conditions is astounding. And finally his love for God, even at the very edge of his understanding, and with the life of his son on the line, marks him out as a great leader within all three faith groups.
A great deal of blood has been shed in Afghanistan for as long as people can remember, and generations of fathers have lost sons for one cause or another. But what we have seen from almost everyone in and around our locality, is a real desire to just quietly and safely get on with their religiously moderate and marvelously hospitable lives. The Afghan Army and the Police Force are growing in confidence, we have a committed and enthusiastic local Governor, and we are serving in a community that is thankful for improved security and wants a stable future. And so if ever there was a time for an alternative way ahead to be grasped then now is when faithful eyes should be cast towards the thicket.
It’s good to see the potential, the possibilities and the promise that a religious holiday can bring out here in Afghanistan and I hope that whilst we are still a month and half away from Christmas in the West we too can prepare to enjoy the deep truths of an old story, the gathering of families and a great deal of celebration and have a truly Good Christmas, for all the right reasons ourselves.