By Mahmood Jawaid
Muslims throughout the world will be celebrating the Feast of Sacrifice on Jan. 10 to commemorate the great sacrifice Prophet Abraham made.
The Holy Bible recounts this event as follows:
“And it came to pass after these things that God did tempt Abraham and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. ...
“And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
“And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
“And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son” (Genesis 22: 1, 2, 9-13).
The Holy Quran recounts the same event as follows:
“[Abraham said] ‘O my Lord! Grant me a righteous [son].’ So God gave him the good news of a boy ready to suffer and forbear. Then when [the son] reached [the age of] [serious] work with him he said: ‘O my son! I see in a vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: now see what is thy view!’ [The son] said: ‘O my father! do as thou art commanded: thou will find me if God so wills one practicing Patience and Constancy!’
“So when they had both submitted their wills [to God] and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead [for sacrifice], God called out to him ‘O Abraham! Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!’
“Thus indeed do God reward those who do right. For this was obviously a trial. And God ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice: And God left [this blessing] for him among generations [to come] in later times: ‘Peace and salutation to Abraham!’ Thus indeed does God reward those who do right. For he was one of God’s believing servants. And God gave him the good news of Isaac — a prophet — one of the righteous” (Holy Quran, Chapter 37:100-112).
Although the Holy Quran does not mention the son by name, based on the characteristic used in the text for the boy, a boy ready to suffer and forbear, which has been used in other places in the Holy Quran, such description indicates Prophet Ishmael. The Holy Quran uses the characteristic of a boy full of wisdom and knowledge for Prophet Isaac, and the good news of Prophet Isaac after the event, Muslims believe that Prophet Abraham offered Prophet Ishmael, his only son at the time.
In order to commemorate this event, those who can afford it sacrifice sheep, lamb, goat, calf or camel. The meat is shared with friends, relatives and the needy.
As readers of Genesis will remember, Sarah had no children, and she offered her maidservant to her husband, Abraham. Then Hagar gave birth to Abraham’s first child, Ismael. Arabs trace their roots to him. Later, Sarah had her first child by Abraham — Isaac.
The feast pays homage to a person who, though born in a society where worship of idols and astronomical objects was common, used his common sense and the scientific knowledge of the time to reach the conclusion that idols, stars, moon or sun are not worth worshipping.
The Holy Quran describes his journey to this enlightenment as follows:
“Lo! Abraham said to his father Azar: ‘Takest thou idols for gods? for I see thee and thy people in manifest error.’ So also did God show Abraham the power and the laws of the heavens and the earth that he might [with understanding] have certitude. When the night covered him over he saw a star: he said: ‘This is my Lord.’ But when it set he said: ‘I love not those that set.’ When he saw the moon rising in splendor he said: ‘This is my Lord.’ But when the moon set he said: ‘Unless my Lord guide me I shall surely be among those who go astray.’ When he saw the sun rising in splendor, he said: ‘This is my Lord; this is the greatest [of all].’ But when the sun set, he said: ‘O my people! I am [now] free from your [guilt] of giving partners to God. For me I have set my face firmly and truly toward him who created the heavens and the earth, and never shall I give partners to God’” (Holy Quran, Chapter 6:74-79).
Having made the commitment to worship only God, Abraham did his best to persuade his folks to give up the false worship. Instead, he was forced to leave his homeland. He settled in Palestine and grew old professing God’s message.
In his old age, when he had no hope of having children, God blessed him with a son. He raised him with the hope that his son will keep his mission alive. As quoted earlier, when his son reached the age of adolescence, God ordered him to sacrifice his only son, the apple of his eye.
Imagine how would you respond in that situation. You have spent your whole life professing God’s message. Now you have raised your son, your only son, to do the same. But the same God, for whose glory you have spent your whole life, tells you to sacrifice your son, the son whom you have groomed to continue spreading God’s message. Had I been in place of Prophet Abraham, I would have succumbed to making a case that if not for my sake, then for his own sake my son should live.
But not Prophet Abraham. He was totally committed to God. There was no way he would back off from this commitment, even if it meant sacrificing not only his son but also the mission of his lifetime. He knew very well that: “Truly my prayer and my service of sacrifice my life and my death are [all] for God the Cherisher of the Worlds. No partner hath he: this am I commanded and I am the first of those who bow to his will” (Holy Quran, Chapter 6:162-163). He did not hesitate for a minute.
The Holy Quran tells us to follow the example set by Prophet Abraham: “There is for you an excellent example [to follow] in Abraham and those with him” (Holy Quran, Chapter 60:4). Prophet Abraham taught us that we should use our common sense and scientific knowledge to understand the meaning of life.
A person of understanding will reach the conclusion that submitting oneself to the will of God is the ultimate purpose of life. We should be totally committed to the will of God, even if we have to sacrifice the thing we love the most.
When Muslims are going through the ritual of sacrifice, they are reminding themselves that they should not put anything above the will of God. If the situation demands, they should not hesitate for a moment to sacrifice their loved ones, even it requires their own self, for the will of God.
Jawaid is a writer who lives in Dunbar.