(Sept. 6, 2017, with reporting from Pastor Paul of Bibles for Mideast)
Just last week, about two million Muslims made the pilgrimage to Mecca called the Hajj. Central to their faith and one of the ‘five pillars of Islam’, every able-bodied follower of Islam is expected to do the Hajj once in his or her lifetime, if they can afford to. The promise is a cleansing of their souls and a deepening of their relationship with Allah.
The Hajj climaxes with Eid-al-Adha, the holiest time of the year for the world’s 1.8 billion (as of 2015) followers of Islam. Also known as the Festival of Sacrifice, Muslims from every part of the world are duty-bound to observe the annual celebration, usually lasting four days.
The Festival of Sacrifice commemorates Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son. Muslims consider the son to have been Ishmael, Abraham’s older son born to Sarah’s servant girl Hagar*. Christians and Jews of course consider the ‘son of promise’ to be Isaac, born to Abraham’s wife Sarah (Genesis 22). In both versions of the story, God provides a ram as a sacrificial offering instead, and considers Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his own son a supreme act of obedience.
As that annual Festival of Sacrifice wrapped up around the world last week, a Bibles for Mideast pastor living and working in central Asia experienced a dramatic encounter with some Muslim men getting ready for the time of animal sacrifice. Since minority Christians have been and are continuing to be brutally persecuted in this country, names have been changed.
Omar and Salahi, strong young men trained and working as butchers, were leading several cows to the slaughterhouse early last Thursday morning in preparation for the next day’s celebration. Pastor Masih and two other Bibles for Mideast evangelists ‘just happened’ to meet them along the road and joined them on their walk: a so-called chance encounter similar to Philip’s meeting the Ethiopian eunuch on a dusty road in Africa (Acts 8:26-40).
In the biblical story, the Ethiopian had been reading: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth. In (his) humiliation justice was denied him. Who will tell of his posterity? For his life is taken from the earth.” Philip, entirely led of the Lord, asked his fellow traveller just the right leading question. We can't help thinking Pastor Masih was similarly led!
“Why are you killing animals for the Eid al-Adha?” Pastor Masih inquired. As a former Muslim living in a Muslim-dominated country he well-knew the answer.
“It is cow qurbani, the sacrifice for Allah as our forefather Abraham taught us to do,” Omar replied. [Qurbani , as referred to in Islamic law, is the Arabic word for the sacrifice of an animal during Eid al-Adha. The word is related to the Hebrew קרבן corban, or offering.—Ed.]
“He tried to sacrifice his older son Ishmael, son of Hagar, as Allah told him to do,” Omar went on. “But later Allah did not allow him to kill his son, so he sacrificed an animal instead. We are doing the same thing with our cow qurbani.”
Pastor Masih was ready with his answer. “According to the word of God, we don’t need to sacrifice any animals or birds for our salvation,” he explained to the men. “That’s because Jesus Christ, the son of our Most High God alone, did this sacrifice once, to make all other sacrifices unnecessary. By his sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary and his resurrection from the dead, we are being redeemed and becoming God’s own children. Believe in Jesus and leave these hopeless qurbanis.” He pulled no punches, but Omar and Salahi were suddenly more than ready to.
“How dare you, you bastard and infidel, tell us this blasphemy against Allah!” they shouted, brandishing their butcher knives. “We will kill you now as well!” Pastor Masih and his evangelist friends managed to flee to safety.
The butchers continued on their journey to the slaughterhouse. Once there, they and their assistants began preparing an ox for sacrifice. Tying its front and back legs with strong rope, they pushed the animal down. Omar drew his knife and aimed for the beast’s neck. But the ox simultaneously shook its head, causing the blade to miss the neck and slice through the rope securing its front leg instead. With a limb suddenly freed, the ox kicked Omar solidly in the chest, throwing him to the ground. His chest collapsed and blood began spurting out.
His helpers rushed him to hospital. By the time he arrived he had lost most of his blood. Doctors declared him 95% dead, and told his friends they had no hope for him. All they could do was admit him to the critical care unit and provide him with some blood.
For three days Salahi sat outside the hospital and prayed to Allah for Omar. If he dies, he thought, it would certainly be considered a sacrificial death before Allah and he will go directly go to heaven. That had to be so, he tried to tell himself.
But he couldn’t sleep. Whenever he closed his eyes, he saw Omar’s collapsed chest, and the blood gushing out of him. As the fourth day dawned, he was doing the required purification ritual before the Islamic early morning prayer time. As he washed, he looked up to see an angel standing before him.
“Turn from these worthless things to the living God who created heaven and the earth,” the angel told him. “Worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. He sent His only Son to save the world. He is Jesus Christ, the son of Most High God and the seed of David who was raised from the dead. This is the Gospel.”
Salahi could barely believe what he was seeing and hearing. He knew the imam described the ablution practice as preparing for ‘an appointment before God’, but could it really be so?
The angel spoke again. “Come with me. I will lead you to the Lord’s prophets. They will guide you.”
The angel began walking away. Salahi abruptly ended his ritual washing and followed.
Salahi still isn’t sure whether he actually walked or if the angel carried him, but when he did become aware of his surroundings, he found himself standing before Pastor Masih and others at their underground ALG house church. They were in a prayer meeting, and the Lord had already let the pastor know of Salahi’s imminent arrival, and that they were to receive him. By then the angel had vanished, never seen by the pastor and not to be seen again by Salahi. Salahi explained what had happened. The pastor, a former Muslim, told his own story and explained more about Jesus Christ and the salvation possible only in Him.
It was Sunday morning, so the group prepared for the Sunday worship service. During the service, Salahi accepted the Lord Jesus as his personal savior and Lord, declaring before the church his newfound faith. Church members rejoiced and prayed for Omar..
That evening, Pastor Masih, Salahi, and a few other believers went to visit Omar in the hospital. The pastor could only pray silently for the injured man’s healing and salvation because of the dangers Christians face both in the hospital and the entire region. As the church members stood beside his bed, Omar opened his eyes but was unable to speak.
Salahi now stays with Pastor Masih. They church continues to pray and believe that not only Omar, but the whole nation will be saved. Several groups actively promote terrorism in this region of central Asia, and reports are that the government does nothing to stop them. Please join with us in praying for these people.
* God did promise Abraham he would make a ‘great nation’ out of Ishmael's descendants. He has tremendous plans for them; we must keep them in our prayers. Please read this excellent, insightful article by a leader and intercessor at the International House of Prayer, Samuel Whitefield: The Battle Over Ishmael’s Promises and the Coming Revival in the Middle East.