Understanding the Muslim festival of Eid-Al-Adha

Millions of Muslims in this country will be celebrating the festival of Eid-Al-Adha today, but what is its significance? And what can Muslims and non-Muslims learn from this special day?

The Quran expounds the story of Prophet Abraham who was told in a dream to sacrifice his one and only beloved son, Ismaeel. After much confusion, doubts and inner disquiet, Abraham decided to surrender to the call – which he knew was from his Lord. But those who are familiar with the Biblical and Quranic story will know that God was not interested in the sacrifice: He wanted to test Abraham and provide humanity with an invaluable lesson.

The Quran differs from the Biblical narrative in that Abraham first told his son that he was going to sacrifice him. However, what is fascinating is Ismaeel’s response, the young boy said: “Oh my father! Do as you have been commanded. You will find me, God willing, amongst the patient and steadfast.” This highlights that both Abraham and Ismaeel were in complete submission to the Divine.

However, God is not a Shylock. Upon raising the knife to sacrifice his son, God made the knife blunt, Abraham received a lamb instead and the test was complete. Abraham, according to Muslims, is our exemplar and the spiritual father of the three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. All the prophets of Islam: Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad et al, where all given great tests, but the test given to Abraham is unparalleled. Tests are an inevitable part of life, whether it be the death of a loved one, the loss of wealth or being betrayed by someone you trusted – we all go through hardships. But every test and vicissitude can be seen through, and often, the outcome benefits us. “Verily God is with those who are patient”- as the saying goes

Eid-Al-Adha also commences the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca by Muslims who are financially, physically and mentally able to do so. Hajj is the single biggest human gathering in the world, it is believed that more than 3 million Muslims gather together in Mecca in unity. The pilgrimage, which Malcolm X famously went on, is unlike any other human event.

Malcolm X said: “During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug – while praying to the same God – with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana.”

And:

“Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures.

Islam is thus the continuation of the messages brought by Moses and Jesus and all the other prophets of God. It is not merely a religion but more a way of life; practising the faith in a purely perfunctory manner misses the point and understanding the profoundly nuanced traditions within the faith is essential.

Eid Mubarak!

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