Remembering Abraham amidst a Pandemic

Abraham to this day is unanimously revered across three faiths named the “Abrahamic faiths”— Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The narrative of Abraham also holds strong across all three of the faiths in that he was a noble servant of God who submitted upon command. As the day of the bigger Eid approaches, I find now to be the best time to revisit the legacy of Abraham in the context of a pandemic.

If one recalls the story of Abraham’s sacrifice, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Ishmael (Isaac in the Judeo-Christian narrative). Abraham explains to his son what he has been commanded to do, and his son agrees. As Abraham is to sacrifice his son, a lamb takes the place of Ishmael instead and is sacrificed. 

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.

— Quran, sura 37 (Aṣ-Ṣāffāt), āyāt 100–112[31]

Abraham’s act of obedience subverts the way we process reality. Just as a point of reference, some of us can’t part ways from our cell phones for a few hours, so it’s hard to conceive how we could accept a command to sacrifice our own child. We’d maybe try to plead or stall by asking whether a true moral authority would ask for such a deed? 

But therein is the difference between us and Abraham. Abraham is not different from us because of some blind devotion that overcame reason. In fact, as odd as it is to write, Abraham was empowered by something far clearer than rationality itself. Rationality is scoped, at the end of the day, to a human’s understanding of consequences based on a set of premises and axioms. Abraham had a spiritual vision allowing him to comprehend, to a compelling enough degree, the authority behind the command — the being in which all of reality is contingent upon. Because of this Abraham didn’t need empirical evidence or qualifiers to act on God’s command.  If God granted Abraham a son in the first place, it is God’s prerogative to take back what He gave in the manner that He so decides. Once again, to understand this is to understand the true nature of causality in that all things are contingent upon God’s will. 

2:117– He is the One Who has originated the heavens and the earth, and when He wills to (originate) a thing, He only says to it: 'Be', and it becomes. 

This pandemic has lasted far longer than any of us initially expected. It has rendered many of us feeling helpless, perhaps in a state of despair. To tack on even more, systems of inequality and injustice are growing stronger by the day. It feels the goalposts on the playing field of justice are moved by the length of the entire football field anytime we make the slightest bit of progress. The list of things that need to change in order to make the place more just, more equitable, grows exponentially. 

We come upon this Eid, the holier of two Eids, in a time where days have blurred and at times lost their meaning. But I call for all of us to strive to be like Abraham in that in the face of tremendous uncertainty. That we remember that to affect change God only says be and it is. Our God is greater than the systems of inequalities and is greater than this virus. This fills me with tremendous hope, and I hope it does for you too.

Our formula for affecting change in this world is simple. The keys to changing the circumstances around us are directly in our hands. We focus on submitting and earning the pleasure of God, and then place our trust in Him.

اللّهُ أكبر اللّهُ أكبر اللّهُ أكبر لا إلَهَ الا اللّه

اللّهُ أكبر اللّهُ اكبر

و لِلّه الحمدَ