Lessons from the Muslim festival Eid al-Adha (1)
THE Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha offers an opportunity for both the Muslim and Christian communities all over the world in general and Nigeria in particular to learn a bit more about the religious duties (Ibadah) they share in common.
This article is specifically written in order to encourage these communities to give their support to our President, Muhammadu Buhari who has been given to us as a nation to rebuild our country morally, economically, socially and politically. Hopefully, those who will take interest and read through this piece will, in their own modest way, follow the example of Abraham (Ibrahim), and also follow the godly example of President Muhammadu Buhari and his Vice, Osinbanjo.
It is also expected that reading through this article with an open mind might lead to a better understanding of what our two major communities have in common and join hands in the promotion of the culture of respect for differences and religious harmony. This government must succeed and it will take every Nigerian: Muslim and Christian and even those who do not profess either of these two main religions but have good intentions to succeed.
What is Eid al-Adha?
So, what is this festival, what does it signify and what can both communities share from its significance?
According to Islamic sources, at the end of the Hajj (annual pilgrimage to Mecca), Muslims throughout the world celebrate Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice). What exactly is this festival as explained by our Muslim neighbours?
During the Hajj, Muslims commemorate the trials and triumphs of the Prophet Abraham. One of Abraham’s main trials was to face the command of God to kill his only son. When Ishmael was about 13 (Abraham being 99), God decided to test their faith in public. Abraham had a recurring dream, in which God was commanding him to offer his son as a sacrifice. This was the son God had granted him after many years of deep prayer. Abraham knew that the dreams of the prophets were divinely inspired and were one of the ways in which God communicated with his prophets. When the intent of the dreams became clear to him, Abraham decided to fulfil God’s command and offer Ishmael for sacrifice.
Although Abraham was ready to sacrifice his dearest for God’s sake, he could not just go and drag his son to the place of sacrifice without his consent. Ishmael had to be consulted as to whether he was willing to give up his life to fulfil God’s command. This consultation would be a major test of Ishmael’s maturity in faith, love and commitment for God, and his willingness to obey his father and sacrifice his own life for the sake of God.
Abraham presented the matter to his son and asked for Ismael’s opinion about the dreams commanding his sacrifice. Ishmael did not show any hesitation or reservation even for a moment. He said: “Father, do what you have been commanded. You will find me, Insha’Allah (God willing), to be very patient.” His mature response, deep insight into the nature of his father’s dreams, his commitment to God and, ultimately, his willingness to sacrifice his own life for the sake of God were all unprecedented.
When both father and son had shown their perfect obedience to God and had demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice their most precious possessions for His sake — Abraham by laying down his son for sacrifice and Ishmael by lying patiently under the knife – God called out to them stating that Abraham’s sincere intentions had been accepted, and that he needs not carry out the killing of Ishmael. Instead, Abraham was told to replace his son with a ram to be sacrificed. Allah also told them that they had passed the test imposed upon them by Abraham’s willingness to carry out God’s command. This is mentioned in the Qur’an as follows:
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-Saffat:100-111).
As a reward for this sacrifice, Allah then granted Abraham the good news of the birth of his second son, Is-haaq (Isaac):
And we gave him the good news of Is-haaq, a prophet from among the righteous”(As-Saffat:112-113). Abraham had shown that his love for God superseded all others: that he would lay down his own life or the lives of those dearest to him in submission to God’s command. Muslims commemorate this ultimate act of sacrifice every year during Eid al-Adha. (The Sunnah of Eid al-Adha). This generally is how Muslims explain this festival from both the Qur’an and Hadith.
Why do Muslims sacrifice an animal on this day?
During the celebration of Eid al-Adha, Muslims remember Abraham’s trials by themselves slaughtering an animal such as a ram, camel, or goat. Most of the meat from the sacrifice of Eid al-Adha is given away to others. One third is eaten by immediate family and relatives, one third is given away to friends, and one third is donated to the poor.
The act symbolises their willingness to give up things that are of benefit to them or close to their hearts, in order to follow God’s commands. It also represents their willingness to give up some of their own bounties, in order to strengthen ties of friendship and help those who are in need.
For the non-Muslim, therefore, it is very important to understand that the sacrifice itself, as practised by Muslims, has nothing to do with atoning for sins or using the blood to wash away sins. This is clear from the Qur’an where it is said: “It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him.” (Qur’an 22:37)
• To be continued tomorrow.
• Most Reverend Idowu-Fearon (Ph.D), Director, Kaduna Centre for the Study of Christian-Muslim Relations, Kaduna, is Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, St Andrew’s House, Tavistock Crescent, London.