Celebrating a Sacrifice by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (September 24, 2015)
Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
I am returning to this column after a long while. But, better late than never. The occasion for writing this piece is the coming Eid al-Azha within the next few hours in our part of the world. This is the time to renew our commitment to Islam, which respects the Abrahamic tradition so much that it has adopted the day of Abraham’s (PBUH) intended sacrifice of his son Ismail (PBUH), also known as Ishmael in other Semitic religions, for celebration and remembrance of God.
Briefly, Abraham (PBUH), the Arch Prophet and Patriarch, had a son, Ismail (PBUH) in his old age and doted on him. However, he was commanded by God to take his wife Hajra (PBUH), also known as Hagar, along with his son Ismail hundreds of miles away to the “waterless, cropless” valley of Makkah and return home after leaving them there. Abraham (PBUH) did as he was commanded by God.
Next time God ordered Abraham (PBUH) to sacrifice Ismail (PBUH) in His Way. Both father and son proceeded willingly to carry God’s orders. Abraham (PBUH) blindfolded himself and his son so that they did not see each other. While Abraham (PBUH) was putting his knife to his son’s throat God replaced Ismail (PBUH) with a lamb. When Abraham (PBUH) took his blindfold away to look at his slaughtered son, he saw Ismail (PBUH) safe and unhurt and a lamb slaughtered in his place. The father and son (who also became a prophet later) thanked God.
The point made was that God wants purity of intent and pure devotion. It was a trial for the father and son, and both had come out well, carrying God’s orders. The celebration of Eid al-Azha by Muslims is a renewal of our commitment to Islam and our readiness to sacrifice our most prized possessions for God’s Pleasure. It is a symbolic gesture that has a great significance.
A particular point, that is most often not remembered, is that by not allowing Ismail’s sacrifice to be accomplished God had forbidden human sacrifice for all time to come. This is one of the greatest achievements of Islam as for centuries after that Divine ban on human sacrifice it continued in cultures other than Islam.
Human sacrifice is no longer common in non-Muslim societies also, but in India every now and then we read in newspapers reports of children’s sacrifice to propitiate deities, to ask for fertility, even to secure success of some small rice mill or some other business.
However, through Abraham’s (PBUH) example, Islam rejected human sacrifice from day one and Muslims never practised it. During the caliphate of Hazrat Umar (R) a time came when there was no flood in the Nile. That was a great disaster as agriculture in Egypt depended on flood in the Nile. To ensure that, the Egyptians used to offer a beautiful young virgin to the Nile god and drown her in it as a bride of the Nile god before every flood. When the flood came Egyptians thought the god was happy with his young wife (till next year, when he demanded another woman).
Under Muslim rule this practice was banned. When no flood came, an Egyptian delegation visited Madinah Munawarrah to ask the caliph to allow them to offer a new bride to the Nile god. The stern caliph forebade it firmly. Instead, he dictated a letter to the Nile under his seal. The letter said, “Nile, if you flood on your own, we are not bothered by you. But if you flood on God’s orders then it is fine with us.” Or, something to the effect. He asked the delegation from Egypt to take and drop the letter in the Nile, which heaved and rose in flood soon. Flood or no flood, no human sacrifice in Islam.
There are some chronic critics of Islam who criticise the Eid al-Azha, even if they are regular meat eaters or sacrifice animals in Durga Puja. Every day, 365 days a year, thousand of tonnes of animal meat is consumed worldwide. However, only those eat it who have got the money to buy it. That means worldwide the poor are deprived of meat even if they want it and need it as nutrition.
Only, and only, on the three days (in some subsects four days) meat is available to everyone for free who wants, Muslim or non-Muslim. Muslims are required to distribute a larger portion of the meat among the poor, relatives, friends and neighbours, irrespective of religion. This is also called Ziafat Allah (Feast from God). This is a reflection of Islam’s generosity and care for the underprivileged.
Finally, I would ask you to pray ardently during these days and hours as they are specially blessed by God. And, Happy Eid al-Azha.