The Muslim religious holiday Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, is meant to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son on God’s orders.
But now the holiday could also be associated with something else: the execution of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
The Iraqi government’s push to hang Hussein this morning, when much of the Muslim world was celebrating Eid, drew criticism from Islamic leaders in the Middle East and America.
“Executing any individual during this holiday period indicates poor judgment and a lack of sensitivity,” the Muslim Public Affairs Council said in a statement.
As the Hussein drama played out Friday in Baghdad, millions of Muslims gathered in Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage, a pillar of the Islamic faith that every Muslim is required to perform at least once if able.
“Connecting this to a religious occasion will just widen the gap between the factions in Iraq,” said Muhammad Eissa, a University of Chicago professor of Arabic and an Islamic scholar. “This is a time when Muslims in particular are supposed to be forgiving, are supposed to be closer to God. Why are they using this occasion to take revenge? They couldn’t wait one more week?”
On Friday, pilgrims performed a daylong vigil of outdoor prayer on Mt. Arafat outside Mecca. Traditionally Eid is meant to begin the following day, but disagreements over the Islamic calendar have created a dual holiday. Saudi religious scholars declared Eid to be today, with much of the Sunni Muslim world following suit. However, most Shiite Muslims and some Sunni groups consider Sunday the true start of the four-day holiday.
Some view the execution’s timing as a deliberate slap by Iraq’s Shiite-led government at the country’s Sunnis, who benefited from the reign of Hussein, a Sunni, and who make up much of Iraq’s insurgency.
“The Sunnis are going to see this as an insult,” said Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. “The reaction is going to be very, very negative.”
Sabih Maryati, a Shiite and a board member of Ahlul-Beyt Mosque in Pomona, also criticized the timing. “This is supposed to be a time of reconciliation. But this timing is definitely going to make the situation much worse. All it’s going to do is increase the violence and make the country more unstable.”