The 10th day of Dhu’l Hijjah in the Muslim calendar is the day of Hajj – Eid al-Ad’ha or Yawm al-Nahr — when the pilgrims in Makkah sacrifice halal animals following one of the oldest traditions of mankind, dating back to the time of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) Alayhis Salam (meaning: peace be upon him).
In an earlier article ‘The Soul of Hajj’ I mentioned about the rituals of the hajj and how it is tied up with the events in Ibrahim’s (AS) life. He was childless with his first wife Sarah. Then he took Hagar (Hajera) as his second wife. Through her, he became father of Isma’il (Ishmael) (AS) at a very advanced age. Soon after the child was born, he was commanded by Allah to settle the infant with his mother Hajera in the valley of Makkah. After some years, as the Qur’an says, “And when his son was old enough to walk with him, (Abraham) said: O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice you. So look, what thinkest thou?” (37:102)
To this question, Isma’il (AS), then only a young boy, replied, “O my father! Do that which you are commanded. Allah willing, you shall find me of the steadfast." (37:102)
What a remarkable reply from the son of Ibrahim (AS)! Like the Rock of Gibraltar, Isma’il (AS) said that he was ready to be sacrificed. It is probably this characteristic which earned him the title ‘the forbearing son‘ (Ghulamin Halim) in the Qur’an. The Qur’an continues the story, “Then, when they had both surrendered (to Allah), and he had flung him down upon his face, We called unto him: O Abraham: You have already fulfilled the vision. Lo! Thus do We reward the good. Lo! That verily was a clear test. Then We ransomed him with a tremendous victim." (37:103-107)
Ibrahim (AS) didn’t have to sacrifice his son. Instead, he was asked to sacrifice a ram, which had been sent to him, as ransom for Isma’il (AS). Unlike the false-gods of polytheism, Allah, the One True God, is not bloodthirsty. He just wanted to check where Ibrahim (AS) stood in relation to his uncompromising devotion to and love for Allah; was he capable of overcoming his personal feelings of love and compassion for his son to please Allah. A lesson was taught by Allah –” from now on there would be no human sacrifice in the altar of God. Sacrifice of a halal (e.g., camel, cow, lamb, and goat) animal for eating and distributing among the poor is a sufficient substitute.
Hajj (Pilgrimage) is one of the pillars of Islam. According to Imam al-Ghazali Rahmatullah alayh (May Allah have mercy on him), one of the greatest savants in Islam, hajj is the act of worship of a lifetime, the seal of all that is commanded, the perfection of Islam and the completion of religion. Concerning it the Prophet Muhammad Sallal-lahu alayhi wa sal-lam (meaning: the blessing of God and peace be upon him) said, "Whoever dies without, having performed the Pilgrimage let him die, if he wish, either a Jew or a Christian." It is quite obvious that Hajj has an exalted status without which religion is lacking in perfection.
There are numerous merits of hajj. Allah said [to Ibrahim (AS)], "And proclaim unto mankind the Pilgrimage. They will come to thee on foot, and on every lean camel, coming by every distant tract" (Qur’an 22:27). Qatada (R), one of the pious Muslims of the first century of Islam, said, "When Allah the Most High commanded Ibrahim (AS) to proclaim unto mankind the Pilgrimage, he proclaimed, ‘O People, God the Most High has built a House; go to it on Pilgrimage.’ God the Most High said, ‘That they may witness [its] benefits for them’ [Qur’an 22:28].” It was [once] said, "The business is during the season [of Pilgrimage], and the reward is in the hereafter."
The Prophet (S) said, "Whoever performs Pilgrimage to the House without foul talk or iniquity is free from sin as [he was] on the day his mother bore him." And the Prophet (S) also said, "Satan has never been seen as to be more mean, or humiliated, or miserable or vexed than on the day of ‘Arafat." That is solely because of what he sees of the revelation of the mercy and forbearance of God toward grave sins. Thus it is said, "There are some sins which are expiated, only by the standing on Mount ‘Arafat." Imam Jafar al-Sadiq Ibn Muhammad (R) has attributed this saying to Muhammad (S).
The Prophet (S) said, "Whoever sets out on the Greater or Lesser Pilgrimage and dies [before completing the Pilgrimage], will until the Day of Resurrection be awarded with the award of a pilgrim. And whoever dies in one of the two shrines will not be exposed [to Judgment] or made to give an account. To him it will be said, "Enter into Paradise," And the Prophet (S) said, "One Pilgrimage which is accepted [in the sight of God] is better than the whole world and what is in it; a Pilgrimage which is accepted [in God’s sight] has no reward but Paradise."
And Muhammad (S) also said, "Those who go on the Greater or lesser Pilgrimage are a delegation of God Almighty and His visitors. If they ask [something] of Him, He grants [it] to them; if they beg His forgiveness, He forgives them; if they voice their supplication, it is granted to them; and if they intercede [on behalf of anyone], their intercession is granted." A saying of the Prophet (S) transmitted by members of his household declares: "The most sinful man is the one who, though standing on ‘Arafat, thought that God has not forgiven him."
Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas (Radi Allahu Anhu: May Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (S) said, "Everyday one hundred and twenty mercies descend on this House [the Ka’ba]; of these, sixty are for those who circumambulate [it], forty for those who [merely] pray [before it], and twenty for those who [merely] gaze [at it]." In another Prophetic tradition, it says: "Circumambulate the House often for it is among the most important things that you will find on your record on the Day of Resurrection, and [it is, moreover,] the most delightful deed you will find."
One of the early pious Muslims said, "If the day of ‘Arafat coincides with Friday, all the people [who have stood] at ‘Arafat are pardoned [of their sins]. Such [a day] is the most excellent of days in this [earthly] life; it was on such [a day] that the Prophet (S) performed his farewell pilgrimage, and he was standing [at ‘Arafat] when the, [following] words of God Almighty were revealed [to Him]: "This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favor upon you and have chosen for you Islam as religion." [Qur’an 5: 4] The people of the Book said, "Had this verse been revealed to us, we would have made it a feast day." ‘Umar (RA) said, "I testify that it was revealed to the Apostle of God [Muhammad (S)] on a day of two feasts: the Day of ‘Arafat and the Day of Gathering [i.e. Friday], when he was standing at ‘Arafat." The Prophet (S) said, "O God, forgive the pilgrim and the man for whom the pilgrim asks forgiveness."
`Ali Ibn Muwaffaq (R) is reported to have said, "I performed the Pilgrimage one year, and when it was the night of ‘Arafat I slept in the Mosque of al-Khaif at Mina. I saw in dream as though two angels clothed in green came down from the sky. Then one of them called to the other, ‘O slave of God’, and he [the other Angel] replied, ‘Here I am [Labbayka], O slave of God’. The former continued, ‘Do you know how many performed pilgrimage to the house of our Lord the Most High this year?’ ‘I do not know’, he [the second Angel] answered. ‘Six hundred thousand have performed the pilgrimage to the House of our Lord’, the other said, ‘but do you know how many of them were accepted?’ He said, ‘No.’ ‘Six persons’, the other replied. Then they ascended into the air and disappeared from me, and I woke up in fright. I was very much distressed and my condition greatly disturbed. Then I said [to myself], ‘If the pilgrimage of [only] six persons has been accepted where am I among the six?’ Then, after I had left ‘Arafat I stayed for a while at Mash’ar al-Haram, and I began to meditate upon the multitude of people [who attended that year’s pilgrimage as compared to] the small number whom were accepted. I fell asleep, and all of a sudden there were [before me] the two figures having descended [again] in their [same] form. And one of them called the other repeating the same words [as before]. Then he said, ‘Do you know what decision has our Lord made this night?’ ‘No’, the other said. He said, ‘He has given everyone of the six a hundred thousand.’ Then, I woke up with such rejoicing as cannot be described."
May Allah allow us to perform Hajj, the largest annual gathering of people on Earth, and chant: Labayk Allahuma Labayk. Labayk. La shareeka laka Labayk. Innal hamda wan-nimata laka wal mulk. La shareeka Lak (meaning: Here I am at your service, Oh Lord, here I am – here I am. No partner do you have. Here I am. Truly, the praise and the favor are Yours, and the dominion. No partner do You have.)
Happy Eid. Eid Mubarak.
End Note: Biblical Controversy with the Qur’anic Narrative
The Biblical narratives, however, differ here with the Qur’anic version suggesting, instead, that it was Isaac (Ishaq) (AS) –” the second son of Ibrahim (AS), born through Sarah, who was meant for the sacrifice. Genesis (chapter 22) says: "Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love…" The problem with this verse is that Isaac was not Abraham’s only son. Before Isaac was born, there was Ishmael. Is it possible some zealous scribe had replaced the word Ishmael with Isaac into the verse?
Since the Qur’anic story about sacrifice did not specifically mention Isma’il (AS) by name, some Jews and Christians have suggested that the lad meant for sacrifice was Isaac. However, if one follows the sequence of verses it becomes clear that Ishaq (AS) was not meant in the Qur’anic story. In regard to the verse, "So We gave him the good news of a forbearing son," Imam Ibn Kathir (R) states in his tafsir (exegesis): "And this son is Isma’il (AS) for he is the first son whose good news was brought to Ibrahim (AS). He is older than Ishaq (AS), according to both Muslims and the Ahl-e-kitab (People of the Book –” Jews and Christians). It is even said in their Scripture that Isma’il (AS) was born when Ibrahim was 86 years old and Ishaq (AS) was born when Ibrahim (AS) was 99. Moreover, their scripture states that Allah ordered Ibrahim (AS) to sacrifice his only son and in another version his firstborn. And, at this spot, they inserted falsely the name of Ishaq (AS) against the text of their very Scripture. The reason they inserted Ishaq (AS) is that he is their father whereas Isma’il (AS) is the father of the Arabs. They added Ishaq (AS) out of envy and brushed away ‘only son’ by saying that Isma’il (AS) and his mother had already been to Makkah. This is a fanciful explanation since we never say ‘only son’ except to a person who has no more than one son. Moreover, the firstborn has got a special place [in the heart of his father] that is not given to the following children and the order to sacrifice him is, therefore, a greater test… Moreover, God’s Book (the Qur’an) is a witness, and points to the fact that it is Isma’il (AS) because it said that the son who was patient and that he is the sacrificed. Only afterwards, He (Allah) said: ‘And We gave him the good news of Ishaq, a prophet, one of the Righteous’ (37:112) and when the Angels brought the good news of Ishaq to Ibrahim they said: ‘Fear not,’ and they gave him the ‘glad tidings of a son endowed with knowledge.’ And [Allah] the Most High said: ‘We gave her [Sarah] glad tidings of Ishaq, and after him, of Yaqub (Jacob)" (11:71) — meaning that in the lifetime of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac will beget a child that he will call Yaqub implying that Ishaq will have a progeny. We have already explained why it is not possible that Ishaq be sacrificed while still a child, i.e., because God promised them [Ibrahim and Sarah] that he [Ishaq] will have a progeny. On the other hand, Isma’il was described as forbearing and he fits that description."
As can be seen from above narrative, Imam Ibn Kathir nullifies the Judeo-Christian argument by simply making the point that Ibrahim (AS) was given the good news about the birth of Ishaq (AS) who would go on to father Yaqub (AS). Thus, it was not Ishaq (AS), but Isma’il (AS) who was meant for sacrifice.