Abrahamic Sacrifice Redux
Two years ago I wrote a short note about my thoughts on the Abrahamic sacrifice, and I'm revisiting it two years later.
Two years ago, I wrote a short note about my thoughts on the Abrahamic sacrifice, especially concerning what we went through in the pandemic. Two years later, I am reflecting on that same article and — hopefully — adding some depth to my thoughts on Abraham's devotional act as we just went through the days of Dhul Hijjah.
Every year around Dhul Hijjah leading up to Eid Al-Adha, it feels uncanny because I feel like I didn't truly earn the right to celebrate. Millions of people fulfill the rites of Hajj, and those who don't go, are cheering them on from the sidelines. Sure, we are told there are no better days in the year than the 10 days of Dhul-Hijjah. It's recommended to fast in those days and engage in as much good as possible. But when the dust of Arafat has settled, we all get to celebrate? Uncanny.
Though Eid Al-Adha is the "bigger" of the two Eids, it just feels like the smaller one. On the other hand, Eid Al-Fitr, the holiday that follows Ramadan, feels much more earnt to me. Perhaps because most of us are fasting, and — if you can't fast — there's a host of other things you can do to still feel the "Ramadan spirit." I'll be the first to take any excuse to celebrate, yet I feel like I'm missing out on a more profound experience with this holiday. So each year I take myself to task to think a little deeper about what I can take away from this, as I've discovered, beautiful and more relevant than you think holiday.
Eid Al-Adha commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael. The Qur'an unfolds the story like this:
100 "O my Lord! Grant me a righteous (son)!"
101 So We gave him the good news of a boy ready to suffer and forbear.
102 Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: "O my son! I see in 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 Allah so wills one practicing Patience and Constancy!"
103 So when they had both submitted their wills (to Allah), and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice),
104 We called out to him "O Ibraham!
105 "Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!" – thus indeed do We reward those who do right.
106 For this was obviously a trial–
107 And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice:
108 And We left (this blessing) for him among generations (to come) in later times:
109 "Peace and salutation to Abraham!"
110 Thus indeed do We reward those who do right.
111 For he was one of our believing Servants.
112 And We gave him the good news of Isaac – a prophet – one of the Righteous.
Abraham receives a spiritual vision (رئيا)1 commanding him to sacrifice his son, and it's crucial to consider the background of their relationship. Ishmael is a son that Abraham asked God for. After Ishmael is born, he's commanded to leave the mother of his child and the child in the desert. Years later, after reconnecting with his son, he's commanded to…sacrifice him? The magnitude of such an ask is utterly incomprehensible emotionally and rationally if one doesn't believe in God.
So what of a person who does?
Abraham asks Ishmael what he thinks of Abraham's vision. This is a key detail in the story because it shows that Abraham is contending with command. This is a Prophet who we previously know was thrown into a fire and, amid flames, instead experienced coolness. This is someone who has experienced miracles, has certainty and understanding of God in a way we do not, yet he still has to grapple with the weight of the task at hand.
I think of this turmoil that Abraham faces when given the command as the sacrifice before the sacrifice or the hidden sacrifice. There's no question that the sacrifice of another human, let alone your son, is great. And the sacrifice of another life is not akin to martyrdom because, while noble depending on the circumstance, a person actually deals with the consequences of their actions in the former. When placed in those shoes, any human would be questioning God's generosity, the fairness of God, their own sanity, and so on. To follow through on this sacrifice at a literal altar is to sacrifice one's own rational and emotional concerns at the altar of one's mind. By this sacrifice, Abraham is declaring, without words, that God is greater and thus knows better than himself.
Ok, but what does this profound sacrifice that we celebrate in perpetuity have anything to do with me?
We offer up a series of smaller sacrifices every day through rituals we are asked to do. Now while none of these sacrifices quite measure up to the sacrifice of Abraham, it's important to remember that his sacrifice was proportional to his spiritual journey. Verily,
…لَا يُكَلِّفُ ٱللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا
Allah does not require of any soul more than what it can afford…
— Quran, sura 2 (Al-Baqara), āyāt 286
This particular test arrives when Abraham's at a point in his journey that God decided, and only after he had witnessed other miracles of God and went through other tests. Even then, when Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, it wasn't immediately when Ishmael was born. There was divine timing and wisdom in its appointment much later. Likewise, we are all on our respective spiritual journeys where we come upon life challenges that require us to sacrifice something at the moment, knowing that God is greater than whatever it is that is at hand. We sacrifice our frustrations in favor of patience in the face of tribulation. Whether it's sacrificing time for prayer, food for fasts, or some sort of trial in life we're facing that's demanding of us — we understand that God is greater than the thing we're facing.
اللّهُ أكبر اللّهُ أكبر اللّهُ أكبر لا إلَهَ الا اللّه
اللّهُ أكبر اللّهُ اكبر
و لِلّه الحمدَ
Ru’ya (رئيا) https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D8%B1%D8%A4%D9%8A%D8%A7
For more information, with admittedly a western-leaning bias, see: https://www.bloomsburycollections.com/book/dreams-and-visions-in-the-world-of-islam-a-history-of-muslim-dreaming-and-foreknowing/introduction?from=search
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