Professor Dr. Anwarul Karim :
The article intends to focus Islam and the Eid-ul-Azha in the global perspective. Islam is neither personal, nor it has anything that could be taken as a sect-based or sectarian . The followers of Hazrat Muhammad (Sm) are considered as the custodian of Islam. The Prophets of Islam always took into consideration of the humanity at large as detailed in the holy Quran, the last of the Holy Books preceding the Old and New Testaments as the Bible.
The Holy Ka'ba is open to those who believe in Allah and also in His Prophets. The prayer of Hazrat Ibrahim and his son Hazrat Ismail is related to the believers who do not share Allah's power with anybody and believe in all other Prophets of Allah- known and unknown.
Once at the Divinity School, Harvard in 1985 I heard a scholar emphatically telling in the seminar, "I respect Jesus as the Prophet of God. Similarly, I respect Muhammad as the Prophet of God and also take him as the last of all Prophets. Some people in the meeting were annoyed and unhappy, but the majority were happy.
The word 'Qurbani' is related to 'the Hebrew 'qorban' or 'offering' and Syriac qurbana 'sacrifice', etymologized through the cognate Arabic as "a way or means of approaching someone" or 'nearness'. The word 'qurban' appears thrice in the holy Quran: once in reference to sacrifice of domestic animal and twice referring to sacrifice in the general sense of any acts which may bring one closer to Allah.
In Islam, preached by Prophet Muhammad (Sm) Eid-ul-Azha is one of the most important festivals of the Muslims. Eid-ul-Azha marks the end of Hajj, the sacred pilgrimage to the Holy City of Makka after one fulfills one's obligation to Allah at the Holy Ka'ba, and 'Safa-Marwa' at 'Mina'. The Hajj to Makka is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation upon male and female adults whose health and means permit it, or, in the words of the Qur'an, upon "those who can make their way there."
Eid-ul Azha and Qurbani
Eid-ul-Azha and Qurbani can be traced back to the ancient history which states that Hazrat Ibrahim (As) was instructed by Allah, to raise the foundations of Ka'ba, the most sacred shrine in Makka. Muslims believe that after undergoing a lot of trials and tribulations on his way to Makka, Allah revealed in a dream to Ibrahim (As) to sacrifice his dearest. Ibrahim (As) and Ismail set off to Mina for the sacrifice. As they went, the devil attempted to lead Ibrahim astray by disobeying Allah and not to sacrifice his beloved son. But Ibrahim (As) remained firm in his decision and true to Allah, and drove the devil away. As Ibrahim put his knife on the throat of Ismail to slaughter his son, the knife did not work. Ismail then asked his father to be blindfolded as his love for him might prevent him from slaughtering. Ibrahim thought it could be and then blindfolded himself again pressed his knife. The same thing happened. Up came the Order of Allah. Ibrahim and Ismail have successfully passed in the test and Allah was pleased to provide Ibrahim with an alternative 'qurbani'. What a lesson Ibrahim and Ismail passed through including the mother Hajera! After Nooh's Great Flood which occurred as a punishment to the non-believers from Allah for disobedience, Ibrahim was made the Prophet of Allah. He was taken as the first Muslim for his unique submission to Allah and established the rule of Allah on earth. Ibrahim and his son Ismail's scarific as ordered by Allah is known as the Qurbani or the Festival of Sacrifice. It is surprising that the followers of David (Daud,) and Moses (Musa) together with Jesus (Isa) do not follow this sort of 'Qurbani' when Abraham (Ibrahim) did it by the Order of Allah. Today Eid-ul-Azha has become the festival of Hazrat Muhammad's followers only!
Eid-ul-Azha is thus a festival that connects the believers of God and his Prophets in the world through a kind of sacrificial ritual of livestock animal in the name of Allah and only Allah on the occasion of Eid-ul-Azha prayer. The word 'Muslim' includes those who submit to the order of Allah through His respective Prophets. Islam thus means 'submission to the order of Allah'.
Hazrat Ibrahim (As) was considered as the first Muslim by Allah after the devastating flood during the period of Hazrat Nooh which destroyed all human beings of his times excluding the few who took Hazrat Nooh as the Prophet of Allah. Hazrat Adam, the first Man preached Islam and so did all other Prophets of Islam down to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Muhammad (Sm) is not the only Prophet who preached Islam. It is a kind of misunderstanding that his followers have been taken as the only Muslims in the world. Ibrahim, Musa, Isa and Muhammad (Sm) and all other Prophets preached Islam and their followers are Muslims if they do not partake any one with Allah and follow the Injunctions and rituals as ordained by Allah. Allah has no wife and no son and does not have taken anybody as his son. Hazrat Mariam has given birth to Jesus (Isa in Arabic) without husband, by the Order of Allah. He created Adam (As) with the soil as He planned. It was Allah's prerogative to do so as He desired it. It is terribly derogatory to Allah if one believes that Isa or Jesus as the son of God.
Ibrahim's sacrifice by the order of Allah originates to the sacrifice back to Abel and Cain (Habil and Qabil), whose story is mentioned in the Qur'an. Habil was the son of the first Muslim Adam (As).
The Holy Quran speaks in the following words :
"And proclaim that the people shall observe Hajj pilgrimage. They will come to you walking or riding on various exhausted (means of transportation). They will come from the farthest locations." (Quran, Al-Hajj 22:27)
"We have rendered the shrine (the Ka'ba) a focal point for the people, and a safe sanctuary. You may use Ibrahim's shrine as a prayer house. We commissioned Ibrahim and Ismail: "You shall purify My house for those who visit, those who live there, and those who bow and prostrate." (Quran, Al-Baqarah 2:125)
"The knolls of Safa and Marwah are among the rites decreed by Allah. Anyone who observes Hajj or `Umrah commits no error by traversing the distance between them. If one volunteers more righteous works, then Allah is Appreciative, Omniscient". (Quran 2:158)
"They ask you about the phases of the moon! Say, 'They provide a timing device for the people, and determine the time of Hajj.' It is not righteous to beat around the bush; righteousness is attained by upholding the commandments and by being straightforward. You shall observe your duty to Allah that you may succeed." (Quran 2:189)
"You shall observe the complete rites of Hajj and `Umrah for Allah. If you are prevented, you shall send an offering, and do not resume cutting your hair until your offering has reached its destination. If you are ill, or suffering a head injury (and you must cut your hair), you shall expiate by fasting, or giving to charity, or some other form of worship. During the normal Hajj, if you break the state of Ihram (sanctity) between `Umrah and Hajj, you shall expiate by offering an animal sacrifice. If you cannot afford it, you shall fast three days during Hajj and seven when you return home - this completes ten -provided you do not live at the Sacred Masjid. You shall observe your duty to Allah and know that Allah is strict in enforcing retribution." (2:196)
"Hajj shall be observed in the specified months. Whoever sets out to observe Hajj shall refrain from sexual intercourse, misconduct, and arguments throughout Hajj. Whatever good you do, Allah is fully aware thereof. As you prepare your provisions for the journey, the best provision is righteousness. You shall observe your duty unto Me, O you who possess intelligence." (Quran 2:197)
"You commit no error by seeking provisions from your Lord (through commerce). When you file from `Arafat, you shall commemorate Allah at the Sacred Location (of Muzdalifah). You shall commemorate Him for guiding you; before this, you had gone astray. (Quran 2:198)
"You shall file together, with the rest of the people who file, and ask Allah for forgiveness of Allah. Allah is Forgiver, Most Merciful." (Quran 2:199)
"Once you complete your rites, you shall continue to commemorate Allah as you commemorate your own parents, or even better. Some people would say, "Our Lord, give us of this world," while having no share in the Hereafter." (Quran 2:200)
"Others would say, Our Lord, grant us righteousness in this world, and righteousness in the Hereafter, and spare us the retribution of Hell." (Quran 2:201)
"You shall commemorate Allah for a number of days (in Mina); whoever hastens to do this in two days commits no sin, and whoever stays longer commits no sin, so long as righteousness is maintained. You shall observe your duty to Allah and know that before Him you will be gathered." (Quran 2:203)
"The most important shrine established for the people is the one in Makka; a blessed beacon for all the people. In it are clear signs: the station of Ibrahim. Anyone who enters it shall be granted safe passage. The people owe it to Allah that they shall observe Hajj to this shrine, when they can afford it. As for those who disbelieve, Allah does not need anyone." (Quran Al-i-Imran 3:96-97)
"O you who believe, you shall fulfill your covenants. Permitted for you to eat are the livestock, except those specifically prohibited herein. You shall not permit hunting throughout Hajj pilgrimage. Allah decrees whatever He wills." (Quran, Al-Ma'idah 5:1)
"O you who believe, do not violate the rites instituted by Allah, nor the Sacred Months, nor the animals to be offered, nor the garlands marking them, nor the people who head for the Sacred Shrine (Ka'ba) seeking blessings from their Lord and approval. Once you complete the pilgrimage, you may hunt. Do not be provoked into aggression by your hatred of people who once prevented you from going to the Sacred Masjid. You shall cooperate in matters of righteousness and piety; do not cooperate in matters that are sinful and evil. You shall observe your duty to Allah. Allah is strict in enforcing retribution. (Quran 5:2)
"We appointed Ibrahim to establish the Shrine : "You shall not idolize any other god beside me, and purify My shrine for those who visit it, those who live near it, and those who bow and prostrate."
"And proclaim that the people shall observe Hajj pilgrimage. They will come to you walking or riding on various exhausted (means of transportation). They will come from the farthest locations." (Quran 22:26-27)
"They may seek commercial benefits, and they shall commemorate Allah's name during the specified days for providing them with livestock. Eat there from and feed the despondent and the poor. They shall complete their obligations, fulfill their vows, and visit the ancient shrine." (Quran 22:28-29)
"The (livestock) provide you with many benefits for a period, before being donated to the ancient shrine." (Quran 22:33)
"The animal offerings are among the rites decreed by Allah for your own good. You shall mention Allah's name on them while they are standing in line. Once they are offered for sacrifice, you shall eat there of and feed the poor and the needy. This is why we subdued them for you, that you may show your appreciation". (Quran 22:36)
"Allah has fulfilled His messenger's truthful vision: "You will enter the Sacred Masjid, Allah willing, perfectly secure, and you will cut your hair or shorten it (as you fulfill the pilgrimage rituals) there. You will not have any fear. Since He knew what you did not know, He has coupled this with an immediate victory." (Quran al-Fat 48:27)
Muslims commemorate this outstanding act of sacrifice by themselves slaughtering animal such as sheep, camel, cow, bull or goat. When this is done, 1/3 of the meat goes to the needy people, 1/3 is given to neighbors and friends, and 1/3 stays with one's family. People who are away from the holy pilgrimage, Hajj, also carry out this great traditional sacrifice. This act also reminds the pilgrim to share worldly goods with those who are less fortunate, and serves as an offer of thanksgiving to Allah. People visit each other's homes and partake in festive meals with special dishes, beverages, and desserts. Children receive gifts and sweets on this happy occasion.
The purpose of Hajj and Qurbani is to bring in the 'Have-nots' or the poor close to the rich sharing their wealth. Allah has given this right to the poor. The rich must help the poor to improve their position.
Eid-ul-Azha occurs on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Zhul Hijja. The date of Eid-ul-Azha depends on the visibility of the moon each year.
The purpose of Hajj : Unity of the Muslims
It should be taken into consideration that Muslims do not worship the Ka'ba, but it is Islam's most sacred site because it represents 'the metaphorical house' of Allah and the oneness of Allah in Islam. Observant Muslims around the world face toward the Ka'ba during the five daily prayers.
Ka'ba stands for the unity of Muslims. A Muslim is one who believes in Allah as the Supreme Sovereign Being without any partner and also in the Prophethood of Allah. Hazrat Ibrahim is taken as the First Muslim after the Great Flood of Hazrat Nooh. No Prophet of Allah ever preached any religion other than Islam. Moses, Jesus all preached Islam. Those who take Hazrat Isa or Jesus Christ as the Son Of God are not Muslims. Hazrat Isa or Jesus never preached it. Hazrat Ibrahim fought against all kind of idolatry and so did Hazrat Muhammad (Sm).
The Muslim world should get back to the Khaliphhood of Islam. Ka'ba should work as the focal point to the making of Allah's religion on Earth and thereby the unity of the Muslim world. Ka'ba gives this message to the people of the world irrespective caste and race.
Hazrat Ibrahim (As')s sacrifice
The practice of Qurbani can be traced back to Ibrahim, who dreamt that Allah's ordered him to sacrifice his son. Ibrahim (As) agreed to follow Allah command and perform the sacrifice. However, Allah intervened and informed him that his sacrifice had been accepted. Rather the boy is replaced with a 'Great Sacrifice.' Since the sacrifice of a ram cannot be greater than that of Ibrahim's son (and a Prophet in Islam at that), this replacement seems to point to either the religious institutionalisation of sacrifice itself, or to the future self-sacrifices of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad (Sm) and his companions (who were destined to emerge from the progeny of Ishmail) in the cause of their Faith. From that day onward, every Eid-ul-Azha once a year, Muslims around the world slaughter domestic animals to commemorate Hazrat Ibrahim's sacrifice and to remind themselves of abnegation.
Wisdom of sacrifice
The philosophy behind Udhiyyah is that it is a demonstration of submission to Allah, complete obedience to Allah's Will or Command and sacrificing everything for His pleasure. Hazrat Ibrahim (As) demonstrated this spirit of submission and sacrifice in the best possible manner. When confronted with the challenge of love and allegiance, he chose to submit unconditionally to Allah and suppressed personal desire and love for his family and child. Qurbani calls for the slaughter of one's innate desires by placing the knife of courage and resistance on hatred, jealousy, pride, greed, animosity--love for the world and other such maladies of the heart. The Muslims should uplift themselves to proper Islamic spirit to sacrifice life and wealth for the cause of upholding Truth as directed by Allah.
(Author is a Columnist and formerly Visiting Scholar, Harvard Divinity School, USA (1985) e-mail: dranwar. karim @gmail.com)