Eid al-Adha or the “Festival of Sacrifice” is celebrated by Muslims across the world marking the completion of the annual pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca, commemorated on the 10th of Dhul Hijjah, which is the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The Arabic term “Eid” is derived from aud meaning ‘to return’. In Islam, it means a recurring festivity of happiness, feast or celebration. Adha, the plural of adhat, means ‘sacrifice’. Across diverse global Muslim communities, it is known by various names including Id al-Akbar, Id al-Kabir, Eid Qurban, Kurban Bayrami, Bakra Eid and Eid al-Adha. It is considered amongst the oldest festivals in Islam, Eid al-Adha honors and remembers one of the greatest trials of faith in the life of Hazrat Ibrahim – or Prophet Abraham (p.b.u.h) – whose example epitomizes the notions of sacrifice, complete submission and obedience to the Creator’s will. In fact, complete trust in the Creator, Allah, is something taught to us through numerous examples of the Prophets.
In his sermon on the occasion of Eid al-Adha in 947 CE, the 13th Ismaili Imam al-Mansur (a.s) (914-952), is reported to have said:
“Most truly this day of yours is a sacred day during a sacred month, made more significant than other days, a day of the greater pilgrimage, in which God, the hallowed and exalted, tested Abraham His friend. He was redeemed in it from slaughtering his son, may God bless them both, and God imposed on the whole people of Islam the obligation of pilgrimage to His sacred house, which He made a refuge for the people and a place of safety.” Source: Orations of the Fatimid Caliphs: Festival Sermons of the Ismaili Imams by Paul Walker (2009), p. 108
On this occasion, all the Muslims who can afford, sacrifice an animal per household and share its meat with relatives and the needy, as well as partake in other acts of charity. This day of Eid also marks the culmination of Hajj rituals. According to the Abrahamic traditions, it is related that, as a test of Hazrat Ibrahim’s faith, the Almighty called upon him in a dream asking him to offer in sacrifice what was dearest to him. Hazrat Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Hazrat Ismail (Ishmael)- (p.b.u.h), and Hazrat Ismail’s consent to be sacrificed exemplify and reflect unconditional commitment to the Will of God, which was substituted by a ram, and it has been perpetuated by Islam. Hazrat Ismail is regarded as a Prophet (Nabi) and an ancestor to Hazrat Muhammad (p.b.u.h). He, along with his father Hazrat Ibrahim, built the house of God called Kaaba.
It is related that once when the Companions of the Prophet asked him about this sacrifice, he replied: “This is commemorative of the Sunnah of your father Abraham” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Vol. 3 p. 221). The sacrifice was asked of both father and son. The two were united in their faith. For the Holy Quran also says “It is neither their [that is, the sacrificed animals’] meat nor their blood that reaches Allah, but [it is] your piety that reaches Him” 22:37. Hence, as the two prepared themselves for the sacrificial act, the Quranic description goes on to say, “…We called out to him, O Ibrahim, you have already fulfilled the vision – thus indeed we reward the righteous…indeed this was a manifest trial…” 37:104-106.
Sacrifice suggests an attitude of putting someone else’s needs above our own, of helping those who require assistance and, if need be, giving up, what is important to us for the benefit of others. In our Ismaili traditions, voluntary service is a great example of this mindset, where the murids of the Imam devote their time, knowledge, skills and resources for the benefit of others. It is a tradition that our community has preserved over centuries.
Such complete reliance in the Creator is called “tawakkul”. We use this term in our daily Du’a: tawakkultu ‘alayka, which means: (O Allah) ‘I rely upon you’. In the Holy Qur’an Allah reminds us time and again to put our complete trust and reliance in Him. Allah says: “And put your complete trust [in Allah], if you are indeed believers.” 5:23. This reliance on Allah does not imply that we do not apply our intellect and make efforts to overcome our difficulties; it means that we do our best, but trust in the Creator that the outcome will be whatever our Creator deems to be most appropriate.
The trust that we have in Allah is part of a reciprocal relationship between us and God. In Hadith al-Qudsi, narrated by Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h), Allah says:
“He who draws near to Me a hand’s span, I will draw near to him an arm’s length. And whoever draws near Me an arm’s length, I will draw near him a fathom’s length. And whoever comes to Me walking, I will go to him running…“
During the Prophet’s time Muslims believed that he was appointed to communicate the will of Allah and, therefore, they followed his guidance as part of their tawakkul in Allah’s mercy. We too ought to demonstrate our tawakkul in Allah’s Mercy, even if at times it may seem difficult for us to do so.
The Noble Qur’an portrays Islam as a continuation of Hazrat Ibrahim’s teachings. His life reflected the foundational teachings common to all Abrahamic traditions: iman, tawakkul and qurbani, that is, deep faith, unconditional trust in God and a profound sense of sacrifice. In the Holy Qur’an Prophet Ibrahim is described as a hanif which means ‘one who turned away [from idolatry]’, and a Muslim, that is, one who leads a life of devotion and complete submission to the Will of God. The Qur’an describes him as “one who was neither Jew nor Christian, but one with true faith” 3:67.
The figure of Hazrat Ibrahim and the paradigm of his piety, obedience, trust and unwavering faith are central to all the three monotheistic traditions of Judeo-Christian-Islam, often referred to as the Abrahamic tradition. Furthermore, as is mentioned in the Holy Quran, many great prophets descended from Hazrat Ibrahim, including Prophet Musa (Moses) (p.b.u.h), Hazrat Isa (Jesus) (p.b.u.h), as well as the last and final Prophet, Muhammad al-Mustafa (p.b.u.h).
The notion of divine guidance being vested in the family of Prophet Ibrahim is firmly established in the Qur’an “Allah did choose Adam and Nuh, the family of Ibrahim, and the family of Imran above all people; offspring, one from the other, Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing“ 3:33.
For Muslims, divine guidance, which Allah vested in Hazrat Ibrahim’s descendants, continued in Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h) who was the ‘khatam an-nabiyeen’, that is, ‘the seal of the prophets’. Thereafter, according to Shi’a tradition and belief, the authority of guiding the community has rested in the Imams from the Prophet’s progeny through hereditary succession and continues till this day, through the Rope of Imamat. Eid al-Adha, therefore, is an occasion to express our sincere gratitude for the immense grace and bounty of the institution of Imamat.
In considering the continued relevance and significance of commemorating Eid al-Adha, the principles of service and sacrifice for concerns loftier than the self, are most pressing and necessary. Eid al-Adha is an opportune time to reflect on how we can “sacrifice” our resources, time and knowledge in the service of the community in which we live and the larger humanity, and towards improving the quality of life of those less fortunate.
On this auspicious occasion, let us not forget the important message of trust and reliance in Allah, and let us continue to strengthen that bond of our trust through devotion and obedience to Allah (s.w.t). Let us remember the spirit of sacrifice epitomized in the example of Hazrat Ibrahim and Hazrat Ismaili. Let us rejoice in the tradition of service that has been preserved by our community throughout history under the guidance of our Imams. And let us celebrate this Eid al-Adha with the rest of the Muslim Ummah as a reminder of the common ethics of all Abrahamic traditions. Let us pray that we are granted strength to continue to serve our families and humanity, in the spirit of selfless sacrifice, whether it be of wealth or desires, is the practical proof of mankind’s devotion to the Creator that Mawlana Hazar Imam exemplifies, Ameen.
Orations of the Fatimid Caliphs: Festival Sermons of the Ismaili Imams by Paul Walker
I.B. Tauris; 1st edition (February 28, 2009)