Vol. 5 Num 923 Sun. December 31, 2006  

The message of Eid-ul-Azha

EID-ul-Azha, one of the two canonical festivals in the Islamic calendar (the other being Eid-ul-Fitr), brings for the Muslims a divine blessing, a rare opportunity not only to enjoy an auspicious day of joy and happiness but also to receive Allah's Mercy and Reward through sacrifice and benevolence, patience and constancy. Celebrated concurrently with the slaughtering of the animals in Mina by the Hajis and the days of Tashriq in the auspicious month of Dhul-Hijja, Eid-ul-Azha is popularly known in this subcontinent as Bakrid. The glorious festival is also known as al-Eid al-Kabir or "the Great Festival." Some call it Eid-ul-Qurban or the "Sacrificial Feast." This sacred Day of Sacrifice is also hailed by many as Yaum an-Nahr.

Eid-ul-Azha is celebrated by the Muslims all over the world on the tenth of Dhul-Hijja through sacrifices and prayers in memory of the inimitable sacrifice of the Prophets Ibrahim Khalilullah and Ismail Zabiullah (peace be upon them). But it does not simply commemorate the unique sacrifice made by Hazrat Ibrahim and Ismail (pbut), it also testifies eloquently to the patient way in which both father and son cheerfully offered to suffer any self-sacrifice, however painful or difficult it might be, in order to obey the command of Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds. Although the word Eid in Arabic means "Joy," Eid-ul-Azha is certainly not an occasion for unbridled fun and frolic, not an opportunity for immoderate gluttony or gourmandism, but it is a solemn, sacred festival which enables a person to enjoy, in the right kiln of Islam, through Azha, -- sacrifice and surrender, resignation and renunciation, selflessness and total submission to the Will of God.

Sacrifice has been in vogue from time immemorial. It has always played a significant role in the chequered history of mankind. Sacrifices have been made to get rid of natural calamities like flood and cyclone and earthquake, to evade famine, to solicit rain, to stop volcanic eruptions, to win wars, to allay tyranny, to appease or eulogise gods and goddesses -- human sacrifices have indeed been made by various nations in various forms and for various purposes since the dawn of civilization.

The glorious attempt of Hazrat Ibrahim to slaughter his son Hazrat Ismail (peace be upon them) as a sacrifice in obedience to God's Command, however, stands unique in the annals of history. Never, never indeed, on the clay of this cold star has any other father tried unhesitatingly to slaughter his own son with his own hands, and in full senses, simply to obey the Master's Command. Never in history has any other son submitted himself whole-heartedly to his father to be a sacrificed only to appease God.

It was indeed a great and momentous occasion when two men, with concerted will, "ranged themselves in the ranks of those to whom self-sacrifice in the service of Allah was the supreme thing in life." The unparalleled incident, which took place in Mina in Arabia 3800 years ago, commenced a new era in religious history.

It teaches us the very essence of our religion that the keys of life and death, and the mysteries of everything around us, are in Allah's Hands, that our honesty, determination and upright conduct are not matters of policy or convenience, that all our life in this world must be lived as in the presence of Benign Providence, that no task or responsibility, however difficult or heavy a burden it may be, is greater than what we can bear. It teaches us, in the words of the Holy Quran, that "short is the enjoyment of this world: the Hereafter is the best for those who do right." It teaches us that a Muslim does not live with his body, but he lives with his spirit. It teaches us not to love life over much, seeing that we must one day part with it. It teaches us to face death with resignation.

The glorious incident in the valley of Mina put an end to the horrible system of human sacrifice which was common among most ancient people. Prophet Ibrahim's (pbuh) seeing in a vision that he, too, was sacrificing his son, his preparation to fulfil it literally, and lastly the Divine Commandment to sacrifice an animal in his stead indeed marked the abolition of the savage custom of human sacrifice. The world today stands indebted to the righteous patriarch and his dedicated son for their noble example in uprooting the age-old savage custom.

Muslims throughout the length and breadth of this world celebrate Eid-ul-Azha every year and hundreds and thousands of sheep, cows, goats and camels are sacrificed in the name of Allah on this auspicious day. Unfortunately, however very few of us celebrate this auspicious occasion in a befitting way, in the true spirit of Islam. Very few realise that Rabbul Alameen does not need the flesh and blood of the animals. What He asks for is the Taqwa (which has been mentioned 211 times in the Holy Quran) and not lives in a physical sense. Sura al-Hajj declares very clearly: "It is not their meet nor their blood that reaches God: it is your piety that reaches Him. He has thus made them subject to you, that ye may glorify God for His guidance to you. And proclaim the Good News to all who do right."

It is very clear that what Allah, in His infinite Mercy, desires from the bandas on this sacred occasion is giving of our whole being to him. It is by the mention of Allah's Sacred Name that an animal is sacrificed. The utterance of the Quranic verses affirms and asserts over and again: "Truly my prayer, and my sacrifice, my life and death, are all for God, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds." It is not an empty mention of a word that Muslims make, the very hearts of the Momens tremble at the mention of the Holy Name.

Each and every Muslim sacrificing an animal should bear in mind if he can sacrifice an animal over which he has full control for a particular period of time, how much more necessary it is that he should lay down his life in the Way of Allah, Who is not only his Master but also his Creator and Sustainer. It will indeed be a sin if we forget the supreme sacrifice made by the Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail (peace be upon them), buy an animal from the market, slaughter it just for the sake of fun and gourmandism, and celebrate this auspicious day through mere pleasure and gaiety, extravagance and dissipation, unbridled merry-making and uncouth entertainment.

No Muslim, nay no human being, has any right to humble the unparalleled sacrifice of the Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail (peace be upon them) by equating it with the mere slaughtering of an animal with no taqwa behind it. We will certainly insult those salt of the earth if we celebrate Eid-ul-Azha only through expensive cattle and clothes and delicious dishes, and not through prayers and penance, sacrifice and benevolence. Allah has very kindly given us power over the brute creation and permitted us to eat their meat but that too if we pronounce His Holy Name at the solemn act of taking the animal's life.

Through this solemn invocation, without which we are apt to forget the sacredness of life, we are reminded that wanton cruelty is not in our thoughts and is never permitted in Islam. Nor does the Most Perfect Deen of Allah permit extravagance or wastage in the name of religion on any occasion whether through slaughtering of cattle on the day of Eid-ul-Azha or through any other means. Eid-ul-Azha is the system of denying ourselves the greater part of the food derived from the sacrificed cattle for the sake of poor brethren; our symbolic act finds practical expression in benevolence and Samaritanism, in fraternity and fellow-feeling, in sacrifice and solicitude for the indigents and have-nots. That exactly is the sublime message conveyed by Eid-ul-Azha.

Syed Ashraf Ali is former DG of Islamic Foundation, Bangladesh.