The Review of Religions
The tenth day of Dhul Hijjah, the final month in the Islamic calendar, is celebrated all over the Muslim world. It is a sacred day of the sacred month. It is the conclusion of the great pilgrimage. Standing in ‘Arafat the day before, pilgrims from all quarters of the world cry, “Labbaik Alllahuma Labbaik” (I am here at your service, O my Lord, I am here!) and spend the whole day together in the presence of their Lord and Master praying and worshipping Him to the best of their abilities. And this day, which is also called the “yaumun nahr,” they offer sacrifices at Mina (after Ramye Jimar), and then get their heads shaved to terminate the Ihram, and then proceed to Makkah for the performance of Tawaf (see feature article in this edition, ‘Hajj – Pilgrimage to the House of Allah,’ for a detailed overview of the Pilgrimage—Ed)
Those who cannot afford to go on the Pilgrimage, and those who have discharged this duty once, are required to celebrate this day at their respective places and thus demonstrate practically the oneness of their faith and devotion to the Creator of all of the worlds. Early in the morning alter sunrise, special ‘Eid prayers are offered in congregation and it is expected that the Muslims living in the city and the neighbouring villages should all gather together at this occasion.
The ‘Eid prayers differ from the other daily prayers in so far as the greatness of God is emphasised even more. Instead of saying the usual one Takbir at the beginning of the Prayer, we say “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is greatest) seven times in the first Rakat (unit of Prayer) and five times in the second. After the prayers those who can afford to should sacrifice an animal in the name of God. It should not be a lean or a lame one. The sacrifice may be divided among friends, neighbours, and the poor to eat. Whilst slaughtering it he must say, “Bismillahi Allahu Akbar”, i.e. in the name of God, God is great. This sacrifice commemorates the sacrifice of Ishmael(as), offered by his father Abraham(as), in obedience to the Will of God (Holy Quran, Ch.37:Vs.100-113).
The idea of sacrifice is coeval with the human race. From the earliest times we read of people offering sacrifices. Herodotus says that Cheops, the builder of the great Egyptian pyramid, B.C. 4000, “overthrew their temples, and was the first to put a stop to the sacrifice.” Offerings are mentioned on Assyrian monuments. In the Vedas we read: “May our oblations please the gods and bring us blessings.”
In Genesis 4:3-4 we read of Cain and Abel, the first sons of Adam(as), brining offerings unto the Lord. Noah(as) offered burnt offerings on the altar after the flood (Gen. 8:20). Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount (Gen. 31:54). The Jewish religion contained a complete system of sacrificial rites, and required their scrupulous observance. According to the law of Moses(as), sacrifices could not be offered upon the altar except by the priest, nor at any other place than in the court of God’s sanctuary (Deut. 12: 5-28). Animal sacrifices were of four general kinds, viz., burnt offerings; sin offerings, trespass offerings and peace-offerings. The Christian doctrine of Atonement is essentially based upon the meaning and spirit of sacrifice. It is believed that all the sacrifices mentioned in the Old Testament simply foreshadowed and painted to the great atoning sacrifice of the Son of God.
If there exists a Being, as we know there is, Who superintends the affairs of mortals, rewards the virtuous and chastises the vicious, it is man’s interest, as well as his duty, to endeavour, by every means in his power, to secure His favour and avert His displeasure. But how is such an effect to be secured? Is it not by the presentation of sacrifice? Or why has this rite farmed so prominent a part of every religion?
In short, the origin of sacrifice may be human or divine. There is no denying the fact that the practice is universal and common to the whole human race. The idea of sacrifice in one form or another has played a prominent part in every state of society, savage or civilised. It has formed a basic principle of every system of ethics, religion, and philosophy. Self-sacrifice, self-denial, self-abnegation, self-control, and self-annihilation, the most difficult problems of human life, have always been looked upon as very worthy ideals. Salvation, success, happiness, or summum bonum, nay self-satisfaction and self-knowledge, all depend for their realisation upon a right conception of this fundamental principle of sacrifice.
Islam is pre-eminently a religion of self-sacrifice. It means the sacrificing of oneself to God—perfect obedience. It also means peace, meaning thereby that perfect peace can be attained only by a true spirit of self-sacrifice and obedience. It is a practical proof of our love and devotion towards God. In emphasising the importance of form in sacrifice the Jews have, as should have been the natural result, lost sight of its spirit by restricting it to particular places and persons. They have got a very elaborate and complicated system of its ritual. And the Christians have gone to the other extreme. In emphasising its spirit they have practically disconnected themselves from its formal expression and symbol by regarding Jesus Christ(as) as a great and final sacrifice altered on behalf of all mankind; a mere belief in Atonement is sufficient for the attainment of human salvation. But Islam, being the golden mean, keeps due regard of both form and spirit. A mere form is as lifeless as a body without a soul, and a mere spirit is too abstract to have any practical effect on the regulation of human life. So to preserve the form as a symbol and an index to the spirit of sacrifice, it has been laid down that everyone who can afford must offer a sacrifice on this historical day. But, as pointed out by the Holy Qur’an, it is not the outward act the mere form of which is the real object. It says:
There does not reach Allah their flesh nor their blood, but to Him is acceptable the guarding against evil on your part (Ch.22:V.37).
It signifies the one who sacrifices himself. Anything material is not needed by nor is acceptable to God. It is only a symbol of his readiness to lay down his life and all in the cause of truth. It is for this reason that the one who offers the sacrifice, while slaying the animal, is required to say: “In the name of Allah, Allah is Great.” Thus, it stands distinct from the old idea of appeasing an offended deity or of atoning sins. ‘Eid-ul-Adha, in fact, is the Muslim Good Friday, with the difference that here every Muslim is required to sacrifice himself completely and voluntarily for the sake of God.
Sacrifices are regarded as the riding beasts that drawn man near to God. They are said to resemble lightening in their speed and brightness. And it is for this reason that the animals to be sacrifices are called Qurbani, from Qurb, meaning nearness, as it has been said that all those who perform it sincerely and devotedly and faithfully see more of Allah and become nearer to him. And surely this is one of the greatest virtues (Nusuk) of Islam, and that is why it has been called ‘Nasikat’ (sacrifice). ‘Nusuk’ in the Arabic language means obedience and worship, and this word is also used in the sense of slaughtering these animals. So, this commonness of meaning proves conclusively that the true worshipper is he who kills his self and his powers, all his beloved things, simply to please his Lord, the Creator and Sustainer. It points to the fact that the worship which saves one from eternal loss is the killing of the Nafsi Ammarah (the uncontrollable spirit or the spirit prone to evil). In short, the sacrifices and immolations in Islam are meant only to remind us of this purpose. The Holy Qur’an explains the reality which underlies them in these words:
Say, certainly my prayers and my sacrifices, and my life and my death are all for the sake of Allah, the Creator, the Sustainer of all the worlds (Ch.6:V.163).
The Holy Prophet(saw) describes sacrifices as follows: “Verily, the sacrifices are those riding beasts which carry one to the Lord of the Universe. They efface sins and keep off calamities.”
“But it is a matter of extreme sorrow and grief that most of the people are not aware of these hidden points, and they do not follow this exhortation. To them ‘Eid means no more than the taking of a bath and the putting on of new clothes. This day they eat voraciously, along with their family, friends, and servants. Then they get out in a decorous manner for ‘Eid prayer like great princes. And you will find that their greatest pleasure this day lies in the best food, and that their greatest need is very costly clothes or dresses for the purpose of ostentation. They do not know what sacrifice is, and for what real purpose the animals are slaughtered. From the dawn of the day until late in the night their ‘Eid lies in eating and drinking, in easy enjoyment and fine clothes, in a swift horse and fresh meat. They peck off their prayers like a hen without attending to them at all, and their minds are overrun by disquietude and distraction. Then they get loose towards the various kinds of victuals and eatables. They fall to wantonness, sport and brutality, and they pasture themselves freely in the meadows of passions. They send presents of roasted meet to one another to exult with pride at the flesh of cows and goats. And there are enjoyments and merriments, gratification, passions and foolhardiness. The hearts of men have died. Sins have increased. Sorrows have deepened. Is it not time for Allah to be merciful to His creatures? Should He not remove the evil? Is the flood of evil not at its highest? Is not the whole earth corrupted? Most certainly it is.
Be ye then grateful to Allah who has remembered you. He has sent down a timely rain. He has raised His Messiah for the removal of evil, and His Mahdi for the good of the people. Blessed is he who believes in him.
O brothers, our age resembles this month in all respects. Ours is the last age, and this month is the last of our year [according to the Islamic calendar]. And both are near their end. There are sacrifices in the one, and sacrifices in the other. Know, therefore, ye wise men, that the sacrifice of the soul is real and the sacrifices of goats and animals are like shadows and symbols.
Misfortunes are many and great, and nothing but faith can save you. Blunders are egregious, and nothing can dissolve them but the melting of the heart. He who stands in awe of the majesty of his Creator shall have a twofold paradise. Sit ye not with the forgetful. Haste ye towards Allah. Cut off all ties that ye be granted nearness and union. And die, ye friends, that life be given unto you.”