God commands, prophet responds

Eid has deeper underlying philosophy


Sacrifices are sacred. And the commemoration of sacrifices is even more sacred. The willingness of Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son Ismael as an act of obedience to God deserves deep commemoration.
 Eid-ul-Adha or the festival of sacrifice is the Islamic way of commemorating Abraham's faith and submission to God. It is one of the two Eid festivals celebrated by the Muslims, whose basis comes from the Quran. It is rightly called, the greater Eid (or big Eid) for its grave philosophy and history. It is celebrated on the 10th day of the month of Dhul hijja of the lunar calendar, approximately 70 days after the end of the month of fasting (Ramadan). Eid-ul-Adha signifies submission and obedience of the Supreme Lord. The remarkable story of Abraham, his son Ismael and Hajara (prophet's wife) epitomizes the obedience and submission to the supreme creator, which is the core meaning of Islam; etymologically Islam means submission to God.
 The prophet was first commanded to take Hajara and their son Ishmael to an uninhabited, barren and distant land and leave them alone. He submitted and obeyed. When Hajara realized this, she cried out, 'Abraham! Are you going to leave us in this untrodden land where no people live? Did your lord order you to do this? He replied yes, and she submitted by saying 'then our lord will not let us perish'. Furthermore, when Ismael became older, Abraham was commanded by his lord to sacrifice him. Abraham submitted and laid his son for the sacrifice. The old father ignores the ethereal whispers that surround him, from the devil himself, urging him to desist. Instead, the father looks at the boy, then, slowly, raises his knife to strike the boy down. The strike's never made. Instead, God sends an animal to be sacrificed in his place. Abraham thus kills the two - the Animal and the Devil. And till doomsday no human sacrifice would be ever made in the name of God.
So far this is the plain historical account of the events that forms the basis of this important festival. However, there are deeper philosophical questions that need serious consideration.
One wonders about the extremity of this test. Abraham was very old when his lord blessed him with a son. It was all joy over the blessings of his lord and the fulfillment of his faith. His belief in the supreme and the divine attained further strength. And after this brief joy, all was lost! He was actually commanded to sacrifice all that he had. Is there no sympathy for this venerable old man, none for the innocent child? There was every possibility of a doubt and yet Abraham did not doubt; he believed the preposterous. Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish precursor of existentialism, calls it the ‘Anguish of Abraham’. Every man is in this sort of anguish; that is when he commits himself to anything, he fully realizes that he is not the only choosing what he will be, but is a legislator deciding for the whole of mankind- in such a moment a man cannot escape from the sense of complete and profound responsibility. Each man must ask himself: am I right to set the standard for whole humanity? To deny this fundamental quest is to mask the anguish. The anguish that made Abraham ‘the chosen one of God’.  Abraham could have done otherwise. He could have thrust the knife in his own breast. He would have still been admired in this world, and his name never forgotten; but it is one thing to be admired and other to become a guiding star that saves the anguished!
As Hazrat Ali puts it, Eid is not about good dressing and proper sacrificing; its core signifies submission. Prophet Abraham submitted, Ismael submitted, Hajara submitted and now we must submit. This is the message if Islam; this is the message of eid.

Author is a PhD scholar researching on International political theory at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Reach him at mehdijalil@gmail.com

Lastupdate on : Fri, 26 Oct 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 26 Oct 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 27 Oct 2012 00:00:00 IST

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