There are only a few days left until the Eid al-Adha. Who will die and who will remain next year?
Without delving into the debates regarding its religious obligation or recommendation, I wanted to underline a few points about the symbolic meaning of sacrifice in this article.
First and foremost, sacrifice is an act of worship that the Prophet Muhammad himself performed from the second year of his migration until his passing. He attached such importance to this act of worship that he said, “Those who are capable of sacrificing but do not do so should not come near our place of prayer.”
Sacrifice has two aspects. The first is its role in fostering social solidarity and mutual assistance, which everyone can predict, know, and experience. The second aspect is its significance as a symbol and indication of being a Muslim, as a form of worship. “We have made the sacrificial camels and cattle among the symbols appointed by Allah for you” (22:36) emphasizes the symbol, while the verse “It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him” (22:37) highlights the worship aspect of this symbol. And this verse reinforces this meaning: “We have made the sacrificial animals part of the rites of Allah for you. They are among the sacred symbols with which He has endowed you. So, mention Allah’s name over them while they are lined up for sacrifice. And, when they have fallen down dead on their sides, you may eat of their flesh; and feed the contented poor and the needy who do not beg. Thus, have We subjected these animals to your service, so that you may be grateful” (22:34).
However, neither the flesh nor the blood of the animals we sacrifice reaches Allah. What reaches Him is the consciousness of servitude and the sense of responsibility that we carry in our hearts while performing this act of worship. It is the fulfillment of the command, despite any rational questions that may be troubling our minds. Allah clearly conveys this message to us: “It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him” (22:37).
We can observe this truth in the words uttered by the Prophet Muhammad during his own sacrifice, as both of these statements are from the verses. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “I have turned my face wholeheartedly towards the One who has created the heavens and the earth, disassociating myself from any falsehood. I am not one of those who associate partners with Allah in His divinity. Indeed, my prayer, my sacrifice, my life, and my death are all for the sake of Allah, the Lord of all the worlds. There is no god but Him. I have been commanded to be of those who submit, and I am of those who have submitted. O Allah! This sacrifice is Your gift and bounty to me. Accept it on behalf of Muhammad and his Ummah.” Then he would say, “In the name of Allah, Allah is the Greatest,” and proceed to sacrifice.
The most famous story we learn from the Quran that carries such a profound meaning of monotheism is the story of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), who, according to narrations, intended to sacrifice his son Ismail (Ishmael) when he was supposedly 86 years old. With a heart filled with longing for a child, Prophet Ibrahim had promised to sacrifice his child to Allah if he were to be granted one, and later in his life, he was blessed with a child. It was the love for his son that led him to make this prayer, but he was severely tested by this love. Even when Ismail was just a baby, Prophet Ibrahim left him and his mother Hajar in the place where the Kaaba stands today, entrusting them to Allah. In the later years, he found himself faced with the act of sacrificing his son.
This is where the symbolic dimension of the act of sacrifice comes to the forefront. It is said that Prophet Ibrahim’s real test was between Allah’s decree and command and his love for his child. Whom would Prophet Ibrahim choose? His inner love for his child or his one and only son standing before him? There is no other option. As an esteemed and determined prophet, Prophet Ibrahim made the choice expected of him and showed his loyalty to his Lord by preparing to sacrifice Ismail.
Now, whom or what are we sacrificing? Have we ever contemplated this matter? I believe we should. Each individual should place their cap in front of them and ask, “Who or what is my Ismail?” The answer one seeks is the response to the question, “What are the present or potential obstacles that come between me and Allah?” Is it money, position, desire, fame, house, property, physical appearance, or youth? We must find the correct answer to this question and sacrifice it during the days of sacrifice. As we wield the knife on the animal’s neck, we should metaphorically strike the neck of our love for worldly status. That is when the day of sacrifice becomes a true Eid for us.
Let me conclude my writing with the striking words of Ali Shariati: “Sacrifice is the symbolic expression of liberation by renouncing the most valuable thing that binds humans to life. Sacrifice is dedication, sacrifice is submission, sacrifice is letting go of one’s most precious possession for the sake of Allah, sacrifice is the pinnacle of sincerity, sacrifice is letting go of the most valuable thing that ties humans to life, sacrifice is breaking free from chains.”
Indeed, Prophet Ibrahim was sacrificing Ismail. Now, whom or what will you sacrifice?