Islam celebrates two great festivals annually - Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha. The first is the great festival that follows the month of Ramadan when the fast is broken. The second occurs about two months later during the month of Zil-Hajj when an animal is sacrificed in commemoration of Abraham`s sacrifice of his son. This festival is incorporated in the great pilgrimage to Mecca which should properly be made during this month but it is also observed all over the Muslim world at the same time. The underlying importance of this festival is the spirit of sacrifice (qurbani) in memory of Abraham`s great act of faith many centuries ago.
Eid-ul-Adha is, according to Islamic teaching, a time for Muslims to learn the value of self-denial by making a sacrifice of something living to God. It is stringently denied by most Muslim theologians that the sacrifice has any further significance and it is especially denied that religious sacrifice has any atoning or propitiatory value. Abraham`s great act of submission is thus regarded solely as an example of genuine surrender to the will of God and is to be followed as such.
In this booklet we shall examine in some detail this great event in Abraham`s life and will study all the circumstances around it to decide whether the Islamic negations of any propitiatory value or representation in the sacrifice of his son are justified, or whether there was not really some great underlying revelation in it.
We shall begin by making a study of Abraham`s faith for it is very rarely realised just how considerably God tested his belief in his faithfulness and trustworthiness.
1. THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM.
The story of Abraham and the sacrifice of his son is of profound significance and the best way of obtaining the deepest knowledge of its meaning is to go through the life of Abraham from the very time that this son was promised to him to the end when this son became the progenitor of a great nation.
When Abraham was seventy-five years old, God spoke to him and said:
"Go from your country and your kindred and your father`s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless them selves". (Genesis 12.1-3).
The Quran confirms that God gave this great promise toAbraham that he would be the father of many nations:
"Lo: I have appointed thee a leader for mankind". (Surah 2.124).
As Abraham left his country and was travelling through the land of Canaan (subsequently known as Palestine and Israel), God again spoke to him and said "To your descendants I will give this land" (Genesis 12.7). Later, when Abraham again came to the land of Canaan, God spoke to him and said:
"Lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see I will give to you and your descendants for ever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants also can be counted". (Genesis 13.14-16).
Abraham must have marvelled at these awesome promises. He must have wondered very deeply about the future generations and have pondered at great length as to why he should be the father of so many descendants and why they should be blessed through him. Presently, however, he was concerned about the fact that he had no offspring of his own. His nephew Lot had parted from him and his only heir at the time was a slave named Eliezer of Damascus. Therefore, when God spoke to him again, Abraham said:
"`0 Lord God, what wilt thou give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold, thou hast given me no offspring; and a slave born in my house will be my heir. " (Genesis 15.2-3).
Immediately, however, God answered him and spoke these comforting words to him:
"This man shall not be your heir, your own son shall be your heir". (Genesis 15.4).
After giving him the tidings that he would have a son, God made him come out of his house and said:
"Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them". (Genesis 15.5).
As Abraham stared in awe at the myriads of stars above him on a clear night, God said to him: "So shall your descendants be". (Genesis 15.5).
God had promised him that he would give him a son-even in his old age - and that through this son he would give him offspring as many as the stars he could see in the sky. Now Abraham knew that it was not naturally possible for him to have a son because his wife was barren and "it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women" (Genesis 18.11). Furthermore he himself was to all intents and pu