Muslims celebrate Feast of Sacrifice

Morrocan butchers display their wares ahead of Eid-al-Adha Keystone Archive

Switzerland's 200,000-strong Muslim community has been celebrating Islam's most important feast day, Eid-al-Adha. This Feast of Sacrifice was unaffected by Europe-wide concerns about foot and mouth disease.

This content was published on March 6, 2001 - 07:45

Eid-al-Adha is a time of celebration, of visiting family and friends and generally giving thanks. It marks the end of the Hajj, or Pilgrimage to Mecca and more specifically commemorates Abraham's willingness to obey God's order to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, considered by Arabs to be their forefather.

According to the Koran, a voice from heaven stopped Abraham from killing his son and allowed him to sacrifice a ram instead. The tradition of sacrificing a lamb continues to this day, to remind Muslims that all humans are instruments of Allah.

"At the time of Eid-al-Adha, virtually the entire Muslim world comes together in prayer," says Hafid Ouardiri, spokesman of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Geneva. "In commemorating Abraham's submission before the Creator, we remember our daily adhesion to the one true God."

Ouardiri says that as well as being an important religious festival, Eid-al-Adha allows Muslims to come together, be they Algerians, Kosovars, Nigerians or Indonesians.

"We have a whole range of activities linking our spiritual and secular lives. There is an important cultural and social element, which allows the Muslim community to remember its unity," he told swissinfo.

This year's Feast of the Sacrifice could not have come at a more problematic time for Muslims in Europe, given the concern over the foot and mouth epidemic in Britain, and the draconian measures being taken to prevent similar outbreaks in other countries.

The Belgian authorities decided to ban sacrifices altogether, while the mass-slaughter of animals in France and Germany has led to a shortage of sheep. There were no such problems in Geneva, although Muslims were advised that they could give the equivalent cost of the sacrifice to a charitable cause.

"If they have any doubts, they can give the cost of their sacrifice to Palestinians, Chechens, Kashmiris, or other Muslims who deserve our solidarity," explains Hafid Ouardiri.

But he says there has been no cause for concern in Geneva. The one abattoir in the canton which slaughters animals according to Islamic rites has guaranteed that none of the lambs sacrificed for Eid-al-Adha originated in Britain, nor came into contact with infected livestock.

"The Muslims of Geneva have been sacrificing their lambs without the slightest fear," Ouardiri says.

Of the estimated 6,000 people who worshipped at the mosque on Monday, around 300 went to the abattoir in the village of Genthod to take part in the sacrifice. Traditionally, one third of the slaughtered animal is eaten by the family, one third is given to friends and the remainder is donated to the poor.

Eid-al-Adha is considered important enough in Geneva for the United Nations to declare it a holiday, one of only two non-Christian festivals that are.

The three-day festival is usually held in the massive Palexpo exhibition centre. But this year, the International Motor Show took precedence, and the 6,000 worshippers were obliged to go the much smaller mosque in the district of Petit Saconnex.

"Geneva, with its international character, is like Mecca in miniature. We have Muslims from many different cultural backgrounds coming together," Ouardiri told swissinfo.

As in previous years, Geneva's Islamic Cultural Foundation traditionally sets aside one day of Eid-al-Adha to allow the non-Muslim people of the city to join in their celebrations: "It's important not only to emphasise the unity of Muslims, but also to show our openness to other faiths and cultures," Ouardiri says

"Islam has always taught that other religions should be respected. For us, celebrating our submission to God by opening our doors is the best way of recognising each other before God and serving his humanity," he adds.

Switzerland's Muslims, who make up around three per cent of the total population, are spread evenly throughout the country, and live mainly in the larger cities. The biggest communities are those from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia. In French-speaking Switzerland, there are sizeable number of North and West Africans.

Twenty years ago, there were just three mosques in Switzerland - two in Geneva and one in Zurich. Today there are nearly 90.

by Roy Probert

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