M Rajaque Rahman
Eid-ul-Adha is round the corner and it’s time to commemorate the story of Prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his only and dear son for the sake of His love for God. Today the supreme trials of Ibrahim are remembered with the symbolism of sacrificing an animal such as a sheep, camel, cow or a goat.
More than a festival, it’s a time to learn and practise the value of devotion and dispassion that Ibrahim showed by sacrificing something very dear to him for the sake of God. Unlike the sacrifices of other faiths, no atoning or propitiatory value is ascribed to the sacrifice of Eid-ul-Adha. This bags the question whether we are really acting like Ibrahim when we give Qurbani on the day of Eid. Or are we just finding a scapegoat to hold on to our more loved possessions by just buying and sacrificing an animal?
The message to Ibrahim was clear. It wasn’t one of sacrificing an animal. It was to be ready to sacrifice something he liked the most. Most divine revelations come in the form of symbolism whose meanings need to be understood. But often the purpose and purport get lost in rituals and formalities.
Ibrahim got Ismail after long years of prayers and longing. So Ismail was not just a son, but a fruit of a whole life's expectation. And undoubtedly, he was the most loved procession of the old father. The charm of Ismail’s eyes was beginning to occupy Ibrahim’s mind which till then was only for the remembrance of God. Then the message came through a recurring dream. “Ibrahim, put the knife to the throat of your son and sacrifice him with your hands!"
Ibrahim was confronted with an internal conflict to choose between God and his only son. Something very similar to what King Dasaratha went through when sage Visvamitra asked for young Rama’s hands to fight the demons and usher righteousness in the world! Ibrahim had only two options: either to follow his heart and save Ismail or to follow the order of God and sacrifice him!
Ibrahim put all his trust in God and picked up the knife. As another symbolism of total acceptance of God’s will, Ismail remained totally relaxed and quiet, as if nothing was going to happen. And the moment Ibrahim overcame his attachment and selfish feelings, the God stopped him from sacrificing Ismail and sent a male sheep instead. And that marks the beginning of the tradition of animal sacrifice around Eid-ul-Adha!
Clearly, sacrificing an animal was and is just a physical symbolism. The essence is to attain the kind of devotion that powered Ibrahim to give up something so dear as his only son. In order to properly commemorate Ibrahim's sacrifice, it's important to ask ourselves if we are giving up something of intense value as Ibrahim did. His sacrifice had nothing to do with the physical act of blood-letting. That Ibrahim's act of submission was only a symbolism for genuine surrender to the will of God is clearly revealed in the Holy Quran (22:37). “It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him." This verse also testifies that God does not want anything from us than being pure, innocent, just and truthful.
So the essence and tradition of Qurbani is of sacrificing something we really love, of letting go off the most important thing in life. Sacrificing a purchased animal will do no good. More so, if causes pain to people around us. In this context, the practice of cow sacrifice must be revisited as it hurts the sentiments of a vast majority in India.
We need to identify our Ismail and sacrifice it. For Ibrahim, it was his son Ismail, but what is your and my Ismail? It could be anything that stops us from remaining God-conscious and pure. It could be our family, job, talent, power, position, pride, ego, etc. Anything we are attached and entangled with: our anger and arrogance, our greed and jealousy, our lust and obsession. Our cravings for sense pleasure! We ourselves have to find out what is our Ismail. Nobody else can tell us.
This Eid, let’s not take the easy way out by sacrificing a poor animal. Let’s identify and sacrifice something with which we have the same type of emotional and mental attachment that Ibrahim had with his son. If not, then we might just end up committing sins of cruelty and going against the Quaranic injunction of “thou shall not kill”. To quote revolutionary and ideologue of the Iranian Revolution Ali Shariati, “To offer a sheep instead of Ismail is a sacrifice, but to sacrifice a sheep just for the sake of sacrifice is butchery”.
May we all rise to ranks of Ibrahim! Aameen!