Events and Holidays

What is the Significance of Eid al-Adha for Muslims?


Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra), Second Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community

Every year Muslims around the world celebrate the annual festival of Eid al-Adha. It is one of the major days in the Islamic calendar. What exactly is it and why is sacrifice pivotal to this Muslim celebration? As Eid-Ul-Adha will be celebrated in July, to help our readers understand these questions, we’ve brought to you an English translation of a sermon by the Second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) in 1914, who sheds light on what exactly Eid al-Adha is.* Hazrat Mahmud Ahmad was a phenomenal scholar, orator, theologian and writer. Here we present his sermon on Eid al-Adha: 

Translated by Shahzad Ahmed for the Review of Religions translation team.

The Review of Religions takes full responsibility for any errors in translation.

His Holiness (ra) began by reciting the following verse of the Holy Quran:

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ ٱدۡخُلُواْ فِي ٱلسِّلۡمِ كَآفَّةٗ وَلَا تَتَّبِعُواْ خُطُوَٰتِ ٱلشَّيۡطَٰنِ ۚ إِنَّهُۥ لَكُمۡ عَدُوّٞ مُّبِينٞ

‘[O ye who believe! Come into submission wholly and follow not the footsteps of Satan; surely, he is your open enemy.][1]’

His Holiness (ra) then said:

‘Today’s day is known as the Day of Sacrifice.[2] A huge number of sacrifices are offered by Muslims; millions of goats and thousands upon thousands of camels and cows are slaughtered in the name of God. 

What is sacrifice? And why do we need to offer sacrifice? The word “sacrifice” [i.e. Qurbani] in itself provides the answer to this question in that one does this in order to attain the nearness [i.e. Qurb] of Allah the Almighty. And indeed, one does attain the nearness of Allah the Almighty through these sacrifices. Many sacrifices have been offered in the world in the past and continue to be offered even now. Some people would offer sacrifices for their idols, some would offer them for their goddesses and gods whilst some did it in the name of their prophets. In fact, they would even sacrifice their sons. It is through the example of the Prophet Abraham (as) that Allah the Almighty informed the world that offering sacrifices for idols, goddesses and gods and prophets are meaningless. And if one wishes to offer the sacrifice of their sons, then God Himself explains the true manner in which this sacrifice ought to be offered. Observe how God commanded Abraham (as) to sacrifice his son [3]; God showed him a dream instructing him to slaughter his son, and in this way, God informed him that to sacrifice one’s son is, in fact, to raise him in such a manner whereby he would be ready to sacrifice himself for his faith and devote his entire life for the service of faith. 

Indeed, this is precisely what happened. In accordance with the command of Allah, the Prophet Abraham (as) left his son in an uncultivable valley where there was no water or food, nor any helper or assistance. This is what was meant by sacrificing his son, which he did [4], and this was a great sacrifice. To slaughter one’s son with one’s own hands is relatively easier than to leave a child in a barren and desolate land without any help or assistance and without any means of sustenance, which is indeed very difficult and trying. This is because a person slaughtering [his son] knows that his life will end instantly and no suffering will remain. However, to leave him in the wilderness means that his life would end only after enduring great pain and anguish and writhing in agony. However, this was the command of God Almighty and He declared that those progenies that are sacrificed accordance to His command shall never face ruin in this world. 

Thus, to this day, one can observe that there are so many countries in the world that have been inhabited wherein thousands of tribes claim to be from among the progeny of the Prophet Ismael (as). God Almighty taught the Prophet Abraham (as) the true manner of how one should sacrifice their progeny in His way. He also made it clear that those who physically slaughter their sons in the way of God Almighty are in fact foolish and unwise people. Such sacrifice is of no benefit, nor does it bring about any fruitful result for them. The true essence of sacrifice is to dedicate one’s progeny in the service of God. This sacrifice is like a seed from which thousands of other seeds are produced. Such a sacrifice never goes to ruin. Today, there are thousands of sacrifices being offered in Makkah in order to commemorate the memory of the Prophet Abraham (as) and the lasting legacy which he established.[5]

Ponder over the example of the Prophet Abraham (as) as to how he left his son in the wilderness, yet, God provided the means of water and nourishment for him from that very land. This indeed is a very heart-rending account. It is evident from the Ahadith [traditions] that when the Prophet Abraham (as) left Hagar (as) and their child in a barren land and was about to depart, Hagar (as) enquired, “Under whose care are you leaving us in a place where there is no water or food nor any helper or assistant?” The Prophet Abraham (as) replied, “I am leaving you in the trust of God” Upon this, Hagar (as) replied, “In that case you may leave. We do not need anyone else, our God is sufficient for us.” When the water-skin which the Prophet Abraham (as) had left for them became empty, Ismael (as) began to cry owing to thirst. Hagar (as) became greatly anxious, for there was not even any vegetation around them let alone any water. She could not bear to see her child crying and so she started running in every direction to search for water. However, water was nowhere to be found and thus, she returned to her child empty-handed. Upon looking at her child’s face she became worried once again and could not bear to see his agony and cries, so, once more, she began running [in search of water]. Eventually, she was informed through an angel that a water spring had emerged and so, she went towards it and found the spring, which is known as Aab-e-Zamzam [the Spring of Zamzam]. The Holy Prophet (sa) has stated that had Hagar (as) not contained the spring’s flow at the time, it would have spread far and wide.[6]

This indeed was a sacrifice and many sacrifices will be offered today as well. However, those who offer these sacrifices should ponder as to what connection their sacrifices have with the sacrifice of the Prophet Abraham (as). The sacrifice made by the Prophet Abraham (as) was that God Almighty commanded him to leave his child and the child’s mother in the wilderness. The Prophet Abraham (as) did not question as to the source of their food and water, nor did he question the danger of wild beasts attacking them, where they would stay or who would look after them. Without any question or excuse, he immediately left them in the wilderness and returned. This was the sacrifice offered by the Prophet Abraham (as) and this is the kind of sacrifice which Allah the Almighty desires from all Muslims.

It is an established fact that a person is willing to sacrifice everything for the object of their love. Take the present time as an example; many sacrifices are being made in the world; people are sacrificing their lives for the sake of their country, business, honour, self-respect or to repay a favour they are indebted for. Presently, an extremely dangerous war is taking place in the world.[7] People are being killed like goats and rams and human blood is flowing like streams of water. 100,000 to 200,000 people are being killed in just a single day, and others are happily willing to replace them and take up their position in combat. As one falls dead, the other happily stands in his position. In fact, there are some families that if they had eight sons or even four sons, all of them are taking part in the war. In other words, all of their offspring is engaged in battle. But are you aware of why they are doing so? They are sacrificing their lives for the sake of their dignity, country, business, honour and wealth, while there are others who are sacrificing their lives to repay a favour that was conferred upon them. On one side, the Germans claim that they cannot suffer defeat at the hands of anyone else. On the other side, the French claim that for the sake of their country, they are willing to sacrifice themselves and would not allow anyone to occupy their country as long as they are alive. The British claim that they have never been ruled by anyone else, nor can they ever live under the rule of another. Those living in Belgium claim that they will not violate their covenant. Thus, all of them are sacrificing their lives for these reasons. Thus, how shameful would it be if a Muslim does not offer any sacrifice for the sake of God? Those people are willing to sacrifice their own blood for the sake of their honour, self-respect, country and wealth, and take great pride in doing so, claiming that they are doing it for the sake of their dignity. Despite all of this, their objectives are purely materialistic and they are not concerned at all with religion and faith. Nevertheless, God Almighty desires a sacrifice from a Muslim because He is their Creator and the One Who Sustains them. In truth, however, we find that there are very few Muslims who make sacrifices for the sake of God. 

The reason why they do not offer sacrifices for the sake of God is because they do not have absolute conviction that they have a Lord, Who is their Creator and Provider. They consider worldly governments to be their creators and providers, hence they are willing to offer their lives for them, but they do nothing for the sake of God. Sacrifices [Qurbani] are offered to attain the nearness [Qurb] of Allah the Almighty.[8] For this reason, Allah the Almighty wants His servants to demonstrate this through their actions so that He can grant them His nearness in return. If one does not sacrifice their own self for the sake of Allah while claiming to have love for Him, then they are a liar. They do not possess any love for God, nor do they have any relationship with Him. 

Allah the Almighty states: “O ye who believe! Come into submission wholly and adhere to the religion of Islam” or “O Muslims! Fulfil every aspect of obedience and do not abandon even a single path of it.”  

This is the sacrifice which Allah the Almighty desires from every believer in that one sacrifices all of their aspirations, desires, ambitions and hopes for the sake of God. It should not be the case that one only does what they desire and refuse to do that which they do not desire. For example, if the Shariah [Islamic law] grants a particular right to a person, they claim that they will follow the Shariah and the verdict should be given in light of the Shariah, but if the Shariah demands for them to forfeit a right, then they seek a verdict from the secular legal system. [In that case, they choose this course of action] because the secular legal system does not require them to forfeit anything, hence they claim that nothing is due from them. 

Recently, there was a case of this nature. Something was demanded from a person, and he stated that he was not oblivious to the facts. He had thoroughly researched and according to the legal system, he was the lawful owner of that possession. In light of the Shariah, he had no right to retain the possession [in question], and so he sought to save himself by seeking protection from the secular legal system. However, this is akin to submission to one’s own inner desires for he sells his religion and faith for the sake of his desires and takes refuge in the secular legal system. What is the significance of secular laws? They are only applicable for the duration of one’s life, whereas the law of God, i.e. the Shariah, is eternal. One who usurps the rights of others – no matter what justification they come up with – they can never escape the chastisement of God. Such a person can never be considered faithful, because he does not make a sacrifice for the sake of God. Upon the resolution of a matter, the very first thought that should occur to a Muslim is “what does the Shariah decree? And does it grant me the right to something or not?” If it does not grant one the right to something, then even if the secular legal system grants them that particular right, they should not take it because it is not permissible in the sight of God. The conduct of a believer should be such that even if the secular legal system does not require one to owe anything but the Shariah does, then they should offer what is required immediately. One who does not possess this spirit is not a Muslim. A believer should be mindful of every aspect and condition of obedience.

In the [aforementioned] verse, Allah the Almighty states that one should not follow the footsteps of Satan for he is their open enemy. There is a very subtle point mentioned here. One who offers a sacrifice does it with the intention of attaining something greater in return. [For instance,] a student sacrifices their time so that they can acquire a bachelors or a masters and thereby obtain a good governmental position. All the religions in the world teach the concept of sacrifice, however the sacrifices offered by their adherents do not produce any virtuous results. Islam instructs that one should not offer the sacrifice which Satan commands them to offer for he is their enemy. From this, we can conclude that the sacrifice which God Almighty desires from us, and for which He commands us to carry out, is one that will certainly produce virtuous results. This is the difference between Islam and other religions in that they make one offer sacrifices, i.e. give something up, but grant nothing in return, whereas Islam enjoins us to offer a sacrifice whereby in return we reap immense benefit. Hence, God Almighty states one ought to fully adhere to the His commandments because one will only benefit from doing so. But, how dishonourable of an act would this be if one does not forsake their actions, wealth, ideas and expectations in order to accept the commandment of God Almighty? 

May God Almighty enable you all to offer sacrifices in its true sense.’  

(Delivered by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra), Second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community on 31st October 1914, in Maidan [courtyard] Dar al-Uloom, Qadian.

From Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol. 2, pp. 3-7.

Originally published in Al-Fazl, 3rd November 1914, pp. 7-8.)


[1] The Holy Qur’an, 2:209.

[2] Yaum al-NahrYaum al-AdhaSahih al-BukhariKitab al-EidainBab al-Akl Yaum Al-Nahr.

[3] The Holy Qur’an, 37:103.

[4] The Holy Qur’an, 37:108 & 14:38.

[5] Anwar Anbiya‘, p. 55, Lahore, 1959 – 22:27-29, 37:108, Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Adahi, Thawab al-Udhiyyah.

[6] Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Anbiya’, Bab Yazafuna al-Naslan fi al-Mashy.

[7] This is referring to the First World War (1914-1918) in which 10 million soldiers and 10 million civilians were killed and 20 million injured and 20 million people were affected drought and various other diseases. (Encyclopaedia Britannica, definition: WAR, 1972 Edition).

[8] Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 16, (Khutbah Ilhamiyyah), p. 33.

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