Renewing a Pledge by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (October 03, 2014)
Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam
Islam stands for a complete surrender to God’s Will. The shahadah (There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is His Prophet) is a pledge to live by this covenant. The pledge to honour God’s will includes giving up the most loved things in our lives if we are commanded by the God to do so. This includes our readiness to lay down our lives in the way of Allah at any moment.
Eid-al-Azha, the Muslim festival that is coming later this week, is a time to renew that pledge in a long-established ritual of animal sacrifice and special prayers. The first ten days of this month (Hijrah Calendar) are imbued with great significance, to the extent that after Ramadan these ten days (ashra) are the holiest ten days in the year.
Besides other reasons, the most significant aspect of this ashra is that it contains Eid-al-azha and Hajj. The occasion that it celebrates is familiar to all the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The festival celebrates Abraham’s (peace be upon him) covenant with God to obey His Will.
In all these three religions, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son in His name. Abraham (p.b.u.h.) readily laid his dear son to slaughter, but when he put his knife to his son’s throat, God replaced him with a lamb and saved the son. There is a minor difference here between Islam and the other two religions. According to Islam, it was Abraham’s son Ismail (Ishmael in Judeo-Christian scripture) who was offered for sacrifice, while the other two say it was Ishaq (Issac in the Bible).
However, the point is a loving father’s readiness to offer even the life of a dear son if God orders it. That spirit of offering to God anything that He wants is a marker of our complete surrender before God’s will. That is the spirit we celebrate. That is the spirit that keeps our covenant with God alive.
A particular point to remember here is that human sacrifice to deities was common in those days, and in some regions and religions it is still practised. However, with that single gesture of Abraham (PBUH) God clearly forbade human sacrifice for ever. In Islam it is strictly forbidden as it is in the other two Abrahamic faiths.
In Islam, animal sacrifice is the most pious act on the three days of azha. (According to some schools of jurisprudence it is four days.) Everyone on whom zakat is mandatory has to offer sacrifice. There are small variations in different fiqh about how many can share a single large or small animal. Go by your own fiqh, but remember to renew this pledge by offering sacrifice if zakat is mandatory on you. Happy Eid-al-Azha.