Eid al - Adha

Festival of Sacrifice

A Commemoration of the Devotion of Ibraheem and Isma'el (AS)


By Ayub A. Hamid

Every year at the time of Eidal-Adhaa and Hajj, we recount the story of Ibraheem and Isma'el`alayhimussalaam. Their lives were permeated with the Love of Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta'aalaa and with dedication to His service and obedience.  They loved and obeyed Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala to such a level of perfection that Allah presented them as model Muslims, the way every Muslim should be. Their lifestyle is not only a perfect model of Submission to Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala but also a beautiful example of an ideal parent-child understanding without any generation gap.


There are many lessons we should learn from their story, but for the sake of brevity, we will concentrate only on the episode of sacrifice.


As you know, Ibraheem was born in a society where many false gods such as idols, stars, planets and moons were being worshipped and offerings were made to them. Animals and even humans were sacrificed to keep those false gods happy.


Ibraheem `alayhissalaam had dedicated his life to call people to abandon false gods and only believe in Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala, the One and Only Creator. The sole mission of his life was to bring the message of Islam (complete obedience to Allah in every aspect of one’s life) to all people around him. His objective, like every other prophet and messenger, was to call people to submit in obedience to Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala and to establish an Islamic society – a political entity where majority of people were dedicated Muslims and that society of Muslims was a model of peace, love, caring, sharing, fairness, justice, generosity, human equality, dignity, balance and moderation.


His people rejected his call completely and decided to kill him by throwing him into the burning fire from which Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala saved him. Now it was evident that he could not live among those people and carry out his mission. He did not know where to go, but he departed with faith and trust in Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala He had grown old working tirelessly for that purpose and felt a need for someone to carry on this mission of love – inviting people to true Islam and establishing a Muslim-majority Islamic state consisting of those who accept the invitation. This goal gave him a strong desire for a son who could continue his mission. After a lot of Du`aa (supplications), Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala granted him a son when he was extremely old (86 years according to the Bible).(1) He was named Isma'el (which meant: Allah has heard) because Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala had listened to the Du`aa of Ibraheem`alayhissalaam. This son, Isma'el, was Ibraheem`alayhissalaam’s dearest and most beloved asset in this world.


When Isma'el`alayhissalaam was about thirteen (Ibraheem being 99), Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala decided to test their faith in and submission to Allah in public (2). Both father and son were put through the most difficult test of their love for Allah. Ibraheem `alayhissalaam saw in a dream that he was sacrificing Isma'el – an unimaginable act – sacrificing the son he begot after so much Du`aa, the only one he had and the one who had been the centre of his affection and love for all these years. Ibraheem `alayhissalaam knew that the dreams of the prophets were inspired by Allah. They were one of the ways Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta'aaa communicated with his prophets. This must be what Allah wanted him to do. When the intent of the dream became clear to him, Ibraheem`alayhissalaam decided to offer his beloved son in sacrifice. Although it would be easier for him to give his own life rather than take his son’s, he willingly surrendered to the perceived commandment. To him, as to any Muslim, the love for Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala must always be supreme and strongest. Every other love must be subservient to the love of Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala, hence sacrificeable for His sake.


Although Ibraheem `alayhissalaam was ready to sacrifice his dearest for Allah’s sake, he could not just go and drag his son to the place of sacrifice without his consent. Isma'el had to be consulted as to whether he was willing to die for Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala. This consultation would be a test of Isma'el’s maturity in faith, love for Allah, Islamic commitment, willingness to sacrifice his life for the sake of Allah and parent’s obedience. It would also be a test of how well Ibraheem had been able to train his son in Islam and how close or apart were the two Muslims of different generations in their thinking, approach and attitude.


Ibraheem `alayhissalaam presented the matter to his son and asked for his opinion about the dreams of slaughtering him. Isma'el’s reaction was absolutely astounding. He did not show any hesitation or reservation even for a moment. He said, “Father, proceed ahead for what you have been commanded. You will find me, Inshaa Allah, very patient.” His mature response, his insight into the nature of dad’s dreams, his willingness to sacrifice his life for the sake of Allah and commitment to Allah’s submission were all unparalleled. The most amazing and noteworthy, however, was the perfect coherence and unity of thought, attitude and outlook between the father and the son. We do not see any generation gap between the two because both of them were looking at life through an Islamic paradigm – that a Muslim must submit to Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta'aala in any circumstances and that love for Allah is over and above any other love in the life of a Muslim.


When both father and son had shown their perfect obedience to Allah and they had practically demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice their most precious possessions for His sake -- Ibraheem `alayhissalaam by laying down his son for sacrifice and Isma'el by lying patiently under the knife – Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala saved Isma'el and replaced him with a ram. Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala also told them that they had passed the test with flying colours and that they had fulfilled what Ibraheem `alayhissalaam was shown in the dream.


This is mentioned in the Holy Qur-aan as follows:

They said, "Build him a furnace, and throw him into the blazing fire!" They sought a stratagem against him, but We made them the ones most humiliated!  And he said: Lo! I am going unto my Lord Who will guide me.  "O my Lord! Grant me a righteous (son)!"  So We gave him the good news of a boy, possessing forbearance. And when (his son) was old enough to walk and work with him, (Abraham) said: O my dear son, I see in vision that I offer you in sacrifice: Now see what is your view!" (The son) said: "O my father! Do what you are commanded; if Allah wills, you will find me one practising patience and steadfastness!" So when they both submitted and he threw him down upon his forehead, We called out to him saying: O Ibraheem! You have indeed fulfilled the vision; surely thus do We reward those who do good. Most surely this was a manifest trial. And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice. And We perpetuated (praise) to him among the later generations. "Peace and salutation to Abraham!" Thus indeed do We reward those who do right. Surely he was one of Our believing servants. (As-Saafaat 37:97-111)

It was as one of the reward for this sacrifice that Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala gave Ibraheem `alayhissalaam good news of the second son, Is-haaq (Isaac):

And We gave him the good news of Is-haaq, a prophet among the good ones. (As-Saafaat 37:112)

According to the Bible, the good news about Is-haaq was given when Ibraheem was 99 years old and Is-haaq (Isaac) was born when Ibraheem was 100 years old (3). However, the Bible omits the mention of the sacrifice at that time and only mentions circumcision of Ibraheem and Isma'el `alayhimussalam (4). The Holy Qur-aan clarifies the reality that it was a tremendous demonstration of submission to Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala in the form of sacrifice, not a small thing like circumcision that pleased Allah so much that He miraculously bestowed Ibraheem `alayhissalaam another son despite the fact that he and Sarah both had long passed their normal child bearing age and Sarah was barren all her life (5).

This was the greatest of the tests Ibraheem and Isma'el`alayhimussalaam went through. Its difficulty was compounded by the fact that Ibraheem`alayhissalaam had invested a lot of love and affection during 12-13 years of Isma'el’s life and Isma'el`alayhissalaam had grown up to cherish his own life. The test would have been easier for both the father and the son, if Isma'el were newborn where bonding between father and son had not taken place and where the son could not have grown up to enjoy his life.  But Allah selected the most difficult time for this test to demonstrate their true level of commitment to Allah’s pleasure. This test demonstrated to the world the following:


  • Ibraheem and Isma'el `alayhimussalaam are not just theorizing about Allah as the One and Only Creator, but He is a real entity in whom they truly and sincerely believe and to whom they happily and willingly submit;

  • Unlike false gods who neither know that they are being worshipped nor can react to the actions of their worshippers, the true God if fully aware of what His slaves do and He interacts with them;

  • The One True God does not expect people to offer ritual human sacrifices. People lose their life to ritual sacrifice only because of the falsehood created by those who promote false gods.

Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala loved their example of total dedication and devotion to His commandment so much that He made it incumbent on all Muslims until the Day of Judgment to commemorate Ibraheem’s and Isma'el’s `alayhimussalaam spirit of complete submission to Allah through a yearly celebration of their sacrifice. The major purpose is that the Muslims can refresh, understand and internalize the full implications of claiming to be ‘Muslims’ (i.e. obedience to Allah) by simulating the act of sacrifice devotedly performed by Ibraheem and Isma'el`alayhimussalaam.


Every year Eidal-Adhaa must remind us that:


  • A lifestyle of complete and total submission to Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala is the essence of being a Muslim;
  • A Muslim willingly sacrifices his/her most cherished belongings (things, ideas, habits, desires) in obedience to Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala;
  • A properly practicing Muslim family does not encounter a generation gap between different generations of Muslims. A gap between two generations is caused only by the presence of un-Islamic behaviours or attitudes in either of the generations or both.

Eidal-Adhaa is not merely an occasion of ritual celebrations, but an annual tune-up of one’s lifestyle so that it becomes a lifestyle that is totally submerged in submission to Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala. It is a celebration of simulating a Muslim’s readiness to sacrifice everything for the sake of Allah. May Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta'aala grant us the strength of spirit and will to perfectly emulate the examples of Ibraheem and Isma'el`alayhimussalaam in every facet of our daily struggle to become better Muslims, Inshaa Allah. 

Who was Offered for Sacrifice – Isma'el or Is-haaq? 

Ibraheem`alayhissalaam’s son who was offered for sacrifice and whose sacrifice was accepted without being killed was very special in terms of Allah’s promise of blessings on him and his descendents as well as in terms of honour and closeness to Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala. This special honour for the son and his descendents has created two differing claims as to the identity of the son who was offered for sacrifice. 


The Muslims believe that the son whom Ibraheem`alayhissalaam offered for sacrifice was Isma'el`alayhissalaam, while the Jewish traditions claim that it was Is-haaq.


As the sequence of events has demonstrated in the Festival of Sacrifice article, the Holy Qur-aan makes it abundantly clear that the son who was offered for sacrifice was the first-born, Isma'el (Ishmael)`alayhissalaam. The second son, Is-haaq (Isaac)`alayhissalaam, was born miraculously as a reward for the acceptance of the sacrifice from Ibraheem and Isma'el`alayhimussalaam.


In addition to the clear context and the sequence of the story, the Holy Qur-aan gives more clues in this regard. For example:


1.      An outstanding quality mentioned for Isma'el`alayhissalaam in the Holy Qur-aan is that he was true to his promise, because he willingly presented himself for sacrifice and promised to be patient and steadfast. He was true to his word and willingly lay down to be slaughtered.


And mention Isma'el in the book, he surely was true to his promise and was a messenger prophet. (Maryam 19:54)


2.      The son who was offered for sacrifice was born in answer to prayers (Isma'el) and his outstanding quality was forbearance (Hilm) and patience (Sabr) as indicated in the verses quoted in the Festival of Sacrifice article as well as the following:


And Isma'el, Idrees and Dzul-kifl, all of them were from those who practice patience and steadfastness (saabireen). (Al-Anbiyaa 21:85)


The son who was given because Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala was happy with Ibraheem `alayhissalaam’s submission and who brought happiness to Sarah was Is-haaq (derived from laughter) whose outstanding quality was knowledge:


And they (angels) gave him (Ibraheem) the good news of a knowledgeable son. (Adz-Dzaariyaat 51:28)


None of the distinguishing attributes of the son offered for sacrifice have been attributed to Is-haaq `alayhissalaam as his special qualities either in the Qur-aan or in the Bible. The Holy Qur-aan attributes them as distinguishing qualities only to Isma'el `alayhissalaam.


3.      After concluding the story of Ibraheem `alayhissalaam with verse 112, as quoted in the Festival of Sacrifice article, the Holy Qur-aan makes a concluding statement for both sons of Ibraheem`alayhissalaam. In doing so, it mentions the son who was offered for sacrifice without name and then mentions Is-haaq separately by name -- both being blessed by Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala:


And We blessed him (the one presented for sacrifice and mentioned in the verses (101-107) as well as Is-haaq, and from descendents of both, there are good and there are those who are clearly unjust to themselves. (As-Saafaat 37:113)


One may ask why the Holy Qur-aan has not clearly mentioned Isma'el`alayhissalaam’s name? The style of the Holy Qur-aan is that it does not mention anything that is clear from the text and is well known in the society. From the text and the order of the verses the fact was evident that the son who was offered for sacrifice was the first born and that the second son was born only after the sacrifice episode. Similarly, in Arabian society, the presentation of Isma'el `alayhissalaam for sacrifice was well known and accepted. So much so that every year without fail Arabs used to present sacrifices in remembrance of Isma'el’s sacrifice. Hence to mention something that obvious was against the concise style of the Qur-aan. Had it not been Isma'el, the first born who was given in answer to prayers, then the name would have definitely been mentioned. No mention of the name is evidence in itself that it was Isma'el`alayhissalaam.


Unfortunately, to discredit Arabs and the Prophet Muhammad Sall Allahu `alayhi wa sallam, the Jews manipulated their books and tried to hide the facts mentioned in the Bible about Ibraheem `alayhissalaam’s activities in Makkah, conceal his association with Holy Ka’bah, and Marwah and tried to attribute sacrifice and other good things about Isma'el to Is-haaq. The Holy Qur-aan has repeatedly pointed out their efforts in obfuscating and concealing the facts and encouraged to reform their behaviour. For example:


After giving a detail account of the achievements of Ibraheem and Isma'el i`alayhimussalaam including their construction of the Holy Ka’bah, the Qur-aan says:


And who is more unjust than he who conceals a testimony that he has from Allah? And Allah is not at all unaware of what you do. (Al-Baqarah 2:140)


After mentioning Qiblah, it says:


Those whom We have given the Book recognize it as they recognize their sons, but some of them most surely conceal the truth while they know (it). (Al-Baqarah 2:146)


After mentioning Safaa and Marwah, it says:


Surely those who conceal the clear proofs and the guidance that We revealed after We made it clear in the Book for people, it is they whom Allah shall curse, and those who curse shall curse them (too). Except those who repent and amend and make manifest (the truth), it is they to whom I turn (mercifully); and I am the Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful. (Al-Baqarah 2:159-160)


After mentioning the truth about Holy Ka’bah, Makkah and the Hajj, it says:


Say: O people with the Book! Why do you disbelieve in the revelations of Allah, while Allah is witness on what you do? Say: O people with the Book! Why do you hinder a believer from the way of Allah, seeking to make it crooked, while you are witnesses (to its truth)? And Allah is not unaware of what you are doing. (Aali-‘Imraan 3:96-99)


When many Jews and Christians became Muslims, some of them brought their knowledge and impressions about the previous Biblical personalities along with them and starting spreading those ideas among Muslims as well. When that kind of information started circulating among Muslims, it created confusions in the minds of some Muslims as well.


However, the Judaeo-Christian efforts to conceal the truth have not succeeded very well. A little careful study exposes what has transpired. Their manipulations of the text of their books have created many inconsistencies and improprieties (6). For example, they claim that the son who was offered for sacrifice was Is-haaq (Isaac). They base their claim on the following verse of the Bible:


“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.” (Genesis 22:2)


But, there is a slight problem with this statement in the Bible. According to the Bible itself when Isaac`alayhissalaam was born, Ibraheem `alayhissalaam already had a 14-year-old son, Isma'el `alayhissalaam. So, if the son who was offered for sacrifice was ‘the only son’, it cannot be Isaac because Isaac was never an only son even for one day. It has to be Isma'el who was ‘the only son’ for 14 years.


To this argument, their response is: ‘the only son’ actually means ‘the only son from his own wife’, ‘the only blessed son’, etc. Unfortunately, all of these explanations are fabricated because the words of the Bible ‘the only son’ do not include any of the qualifiers these people want to attach with the phrase. In addition, the Bible itself negates all of these claims. According to the Bible, Isma'el was Ibraheem `alayhissalaam’s, legitimate, beloved and blessed son as per the following examples:

 “And Sarah Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.”  (Genesis 16:3)


“And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son's name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael.” (An Nahl 16:15)


In the same day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son. (Al Israa' 17:26)


In fact, Isma'el was Ibraheem’s `alayhissalaam most beloved son. When Ibraheem`alayhissalaam was given the good news that he would father Is-haaq, instead of being excited about the second son, Ibraheem`alayhissalaam responded immediately with a du`aa for Isma'el `alayhissalaam:


 “And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!” (Genesis 17:19) (i.e., he lives under the kind, blessed and protective sight of Allah).


This indicates his passionate love for Isma'el. Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala responded:


“And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.” (Genesis 17:20)


Another reason that it could not have been Isaac `alayhissalaam is that before Isaac was born, Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala told Ibraheem `alayhissalaam that (7):


And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, [and] with his seed after him. (Genesis 17:19 KJV)


         Sarah your wife shall bear a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for

         his descendants after him. (Genesis 17:19 RSV) 


If Ibraheem`alayhissalaam was already told that Isaac `alayhissalaam’s descendents will have covenant with Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta'aala, how could Allah then test Ibraheem`alayhissalaam by asking for his sacrifice, considering also that episode of sacrifice happened long before the son offered for sacrifice could be married or have children?


In fact, the son who was offered for sacrifice was given the good news of many descendents only at the completion of the episode of sacrifice, and the good news of Isaac`alayhissalaam’s birth was also given at that time:


And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only [son]: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which [is] upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. (Genesis 22:16-18)


Also, the place where episode of sacrifice took place was Marwah – a hillock besides the house of Allah in Makkah, which in the Bible was misspelled and pronounced as Moriah, of which name there has been no place.


Even if, for the sake of argument, we set aside every other evidence, the strongest evidence comes from the history, practices and traditions of Jews and Arabs. It is a well-known fact that Jewish customs and practices have been largely determined by the lifestyle of their patriarchs. They circumcise their children because Ibraheem`alayhissalaam did; they do not eat the meat from the hind of an animal because of an incident that occurred when Jacob`alayhissalaam wrestled with God; they do not eat anything that Jacob did not eat for his own personal reasons, etc. Surprisingly, their whole history is devoid of any practice of sacrifice in remembrance of Ibraheem`alayhissalaam’s offering his son for sacrifice.


On the other hand, since the day Isma'el was offered as sacrifice, Arabs have been offering sacrifice of animals in commemoration of the sacrifice of their great grandfather, Isma'el, at the same place where and on the same day of the year when the original sacrifice happened. That had continued throughout their history every year without fail until the advent of Muhammad Sall Allahu`alayhi wa sallam and has continued since then among Muslims without any break.


It is reported that even the horns of the Ram that replaced Isma'el`alayhissalaam were preserved in the Holy Ka’bah but were lost when the building of Ka’bah collapsed during the army action by Hajjaaj bin Yousuf.


Every year, millions of Muslim continue offering their sacrifices on that day and place. In fact, people start their journey of Hajj with the same words that Ibraheem uttered when he realized that he has been called upon to sacrifice his son. Even the Bible records that:


After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." (Genesis 22:1)


The people going for Hajj say the same thing:


Labbayk, Allahumma Labbayk. Here I am, O Allah, here I am.


[1] Genesis 16:16

[2] And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I [am] the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.

    (Genesis 17:1)

[3] But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.17:2. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac

     was born to him (Genesis 21:5)

[4] And Abraham [was] ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, (Genesis 17:24) and Ishmael his son [was] thirteen years old, when

      he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. (Genesis 17:25)

[5]  And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be [a mother] of nations; kings of people shall be of her. Then Abraham fell

      upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, shall (a child) be born unto him that is a hundred years old? And shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bears?

      (Genesis 17:16-17)

[6]  One example of improper narration is that it gives the impression that Ibraheem deceived his son instead of becoming upfront about it.

        He took him along without telling him that he was to be sacrificed: "And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where [is] the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said,

        My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an

        altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. (22:7-9)

[7]  It is also mentioned in the Holy Qur-aan: And his wife was standing (by), so she laughed, then We gave her the good news of Is-haaq and, after Is-haaq, of Ya’qoob.

       (Hood 11:71)

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