This year Muslims at DePaul and around the world celebrated our most important holiday of the year, Eid-ul-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, on July 20.(1) This holiday comes at the end of the Hajj Pilgrimage season. It commemorates the sacrifices made by the Prophet Abraham and his family, especially his son Ishmael and Ishmael’s mother Hagar, recognized as the founders of the holy city of Mecca.(2)
An insight into our human experience found both in spiritual traditions and in human psychology is the value of sacrifice in nurturing love. It creates powerful relationships and builds real community. This can be seen in the relationship between the human and God, but also in relationships amongst people. During the Hajj Pilgrimage rituals and Eid celebrations, as Muslims we remind ourselves about how Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael drew closer to God through the sacrifices they made for God. We encourage ourselves to follow a similar path. In our Vincentian tradition, the importance of sacrifice is linked closely to the Vincentian virtue of mortification. It is sometimes described as giving up something we value for the sake of something more valuable.(3)
I was moved by a powerful conversation related to this theme between journalist Ezra Klein and child psychologist Alison Gopnik.(4) They discussed the question of why parents care and sacrifice so much for their children. A common answer might be that parents do so because they love them. Of course, this isn’t wrong, but Gopnik suggests that we look at it the other way around. It could be said that parents love their children because of all they have sacrificed and done to care for them. We see this not only in interpersonal relationships but in people’s relationships with projects or achievements. For example, we might feel that a DePaul degree is especially precious when it results from a great deal of sacrifice, not only by the student but by the family and their broader community. We also may feel that our DePaul community itself is most precious to those who have sacrificed and cared most for it, and not just to those who have concretely benefitted most from it.
Considered this way, the invitation to sacrifice for each other is a valuable opportunity to build community. In reflecting on our lives we realize that whenever we truly work for something we believe in or make the effort to care for others, that although we speak of sacrifice, in the end we gain much more than anything we give up. In fact, we often do not feel that whatever we sacrificed is “lost” to us at all. Those who have experienced this learn that a community created by shared sacrifice is not a burden on some but a gift to all. However, when based in an institution, the sacred potential of such community must be protected by those who have power or authority. This must be done to ensure that the community lives up to the hope and trust people are placing in it, and to make sure that none are oppressed or taken advantage of.
Does this idea of sacrifice making relationships more meaningful and communities stronger resonate with your experience? In this respect, are family or other personal relationships different from how you see the role of your workplace in your life?
Some people may have experienced personal disappointment or even abuse resulting from invitations to sacrifice. As alluded to above, the invitation to sacrifice undoubtedly involves vulnerability. How would you describe the difference between healthy, more meaningful sacrifices made for the sake of individuals, institutions, or communities from those which are unhealthy and can lead to abuse?
1) As the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, the days on which holidays are observed on the solar calendar shift from year to year.
2) See Guillermo Campuzano, C.M., “The Gift of DePaul’s Muslim Community,” 20 July 2021, at: DePaul University Newsline
3) See Tom Judge, “What Beautiful Opportunities…”, 27 January 2020, at: Mission Monday on mortification
4) See “This changed how I think about love,” Vox Conversations podcast, at: How I think about love
Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Muslim Chaplain and Assistant Director of Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care, Division of Mission & Ministry