Slaughtered Sheep and Saints of the Street


How’s this for the perfect Christmas getaway? You fly into a Middle Eastern desert a few hundred miles from war-torn Baghdad and spend time with millions of pilgrims in one massive sexless toga party. You get to run between two hills, circle a big black cube and get beaten by a few local police.

Does the Islamic Hajj (which is happening as I write) sound like fun to you? Do you reckon Catriona Rowntree would survive this kind of spiritual retreat? Or rather, aren’t you glad Mecca is closed to non-Muslims?

Anyway, it’s good to know holiday season is again upon us. Even better is that these days it isn’t just all you Christians hogging the celebration.

I can imagine my Jewish cousins in Albury and elsewhere are probably still getting over their Hanukkah hangovers. My Hindu uncles and aunts are getting their blood sugar levels checked after shoving too many Indian sweets down their throats for Divali (or Deepavali for all you Tamils).

And Muslims (including nominal ones like me who are too lazy to head off to Mecca) have been doing the annual slaughter-a-sheep thing.

I’ve been to a fair few Christmas parties lately. As usual, I haven’t imbibed much, although the fumes have left their mark on the brain cells. So in this semi-inebriated state, I’d like to offer an irreverent analysis of our all-Australian religious holidays.

Let’s start with Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. Jews first arrived in Australia on the First Fleet. Before then, they’d been interacting with (and frequently slapped around by) gentiles for well over two millennia. Perhaps the best way to describe Hanukkah is as the time Jews learned that golden historical lesson: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts!

The Hebrew word ‘Chanukah’ literally means ‘dedication’. According to the great sage Rabbi Wikipedia, it’s all related to the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple that happened two centuries before the Christian and Islamic Messiah was born. The story is told in the Old Testament books of Maccabees, although I recommend Protestants give up trying to find these books in their Bibles. Apparently, Jews at that time were quite happy with the material prosperity, peace, etc that Greek leaders offered them. The problem was that the Jews didn’t want to worship Zeus. The Greek cultural warriors of the time wanted Jews to integrate and adopt Greek values.

I can just imagine how pissed off Jews were in those days reading neo-Conservative Greek newspaper columnists of the time writing wrathfully about these nasty Jewish fanatics with their big beards threatening some freaky Jewish jihad to protect their faith.

I can also imagine Jews wanting to build a small school out in the countryside so that they wouldn’t have to put up with inbred locals sporting Greek flags threatening to anally rape the ‘raggers’. I can imagine some nasty Greek Priest-cum-Politician called Frederickus Nillus from the Hellenic Democratic Party lecturing them that this is a Zeus-ian nation. Is it any wonder the poor buggers revolted?

Actually, there were around seven jihads fought by various Jewish warriors. I hope Jewish readers aren’t offended by my use of the term ‘jihad’ to describe these battles. I use the term in its literal sense – a sacred and just struggle to defend the truth and the oppressed. I’m not using it in the wacky Osama bin Lad… I mean, Reagan, sense.

Now let’s go forward in history by two centuries. Three wise guys decided to follow a star in the sky, ending up in the occupied (in those days, by a bunch of Roman wogs) West Bank town of Beyt Lahm. There they left some valuables with a ‘ragger’ named Mary.

Nine months earlier, Mary had a rather profound discussion with an angel. I won’t bore you with too much detail. You can read all about it in the four Gospels. Here’s how the Koran (using the King James-esque language of Marmaduke Pickthall’s translation) puts it:

MARY: I seek refuge from thee to God Most Gracious: come not near if thou dost fear God.

MAN: Nay, I am only a messenger from the Lord, to announce to thee the gift of a holy son.

MARY: How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?

MAN: So it will be: Thy Lord saith: ‘that is easy for Me: and We wish to appoint him as a sign unto men and as a Mercy from Us’. It is a matter so decreed.

Anyway, Mary’s son was a terrorist-looking dude named Jesus. Don’t deny it – you’d be afraid if you saw him at the airport with his big beard, long curly hair, probably tanned skin and wearing a cap on his head. He was basically, the sort of bloke who would get bashed up if he attended a Camden public meeting.

But there was more to Jesus than just good looks. Jesus had two Marys in his life. One was his mum. And the other? Some say she was a prostitute. I’m not sure if she was, but the point is this: Christ didn’t waste time with wealthy Middle Eastern despots or the even wealthier neo-Conservative thinktanks of his day, seeking measly riyals or US dollars in return for loyalty. Christ spent time with fishermen and prostitutes. Real Islam, real Christianity – indeed real religion – wants to rid us of pomposity and self-righteousness. God’s prophets (including the Son of Man) made time for those whom society pushes away.

Christians often say that ‘God is love’. Muslims often repeat the words of the Koran where God declares ‘Remember Me and I will remember you’. And Rabbi Hillel once said: ‘If I care only for myself, what am I?’ But how much do we remember each other? And in particular, how much love do we show to those who really need it?

The vast majority of homeless people suffer from some kind of mental illness. In most religious and legal traditions, the mentally ill are regarded as without blame (or at least having diminished responsibility). In Islamic traditions, the mentally ill are not subject to strictures of the sacred law while affected by their illness. A person who lives and dies in a state of mental illness is a veritable saint.

Islamic tradition ascribes the highest spiritual states to the homeless. The spiritual tradition of Islam, known as Sufism, is named after the People of the ‘Suffah’, referring to a platform in the Prophet’s Mosque where the homeless were accommodated. These people were largely refugees and spent their days either in worship or seeking work.

Muhammad is reported to have spent much of his time with a woman suffering from schizophrenia. She would take him by the hand to an old ruined house she squatted in. He would sit and listen to her babbling. He would ask her to pray for him.

Why would a Prophet ask a schizophrenic to pray for him? Because he knew that her prayers would be answered.

I could go on and on boring you all with this esoteric stuff. Instead I recommend that at least once in your life you spend an Easter or Christmas at somewhere like Reverend Bill Crews’ Loaves & Fishes Restaurant. You don’t have to be Christian to join in. Buddhists, Jews, atheists, even manic Mossies like me have spent time sharing the company of the saints.

Because after you’ve spent time with the saints of the street, you’ll feel like all your prayers have been answered.

On that note, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Divali Mubarak, Eid Mubarak, Selamat Hari Natal, Selamat Hari Raya Haji and leave some turkey and cranberry sauce for me!


Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.