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Syed Ashraf Ali :
"It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah. It is your piety that reaches Him. He has thus made them subject to you, that ye may glorify Allah for His guidance to you. And proclaim the good news to all who do right."-The Holy Quran (22 : 37)
Festivals are a time of thanks-giving and good cheer, of decorating the house and putting on new clothes, of exchanging gifts and greeting family and friends, of preparing special meals, of drinking life to the lees. But 'Eid-ul-Azha is something extraordinary, something totally different from an ordinary festival. One of the two main festivals in the Islamic calendar (the other being 'Eid-ul-Fitr), 'Eid-ul-Azha brings for the Muslim World a Divine blessing, a rare opportunity not only to enjoy an auspicious day of joy and happiness but also to receive Allah's Mercy and Reward through sacrifice, patience and constancy. The great festival 'Eid-ul-Azha, popularly known in this sub-continent as Bakrid, is celebrated by the Muslims on the tenth of Zul-Hijja every year through sacrifices and prayers in memory of the glorious sacrifice of the Prophet Ibrahim and his son Prophet Ismail (peace be upon them). But Eid-ul-Azha does not simply commemorate the unique sacrifice of the Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail (peace be upon them), it also testifies so eloquently to the patient way in which both father and son cheerfully offered to suffer any self-sacrifice, however painful it might be, in order to obey the Command of Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds.
Sacrifice has always played a vital role in the chequered history of mankind. The Holy Quran testifies : "To every people did We appoint rites (of sacrifice) that they might celebrate the name of God over the sustenance He gave them from animals (fit for food)" (Sura Hajj, 22 : 34) Sacrifices have been made to get rid of natural disasters like typhoons and cyclones, to stop flood, to evade famine, to solicit rain, to nullify earthquakes, to extinguish volcanic eruptions, to win wars, to allay tyranny, to appease or eulogise gods and goddesses. Human sacrifices have also been made by various nations in various forms and for various purposes since the dawn of civilization. The glorious and inimitable attempt of Hazrat Ibrahim Khalihullah at slaughtering his son Hazrat Ismail Zabihullah (peace be upon them) as a sacrifice in obedience to Benign Command, however, stands unique in the annals of history. Never, never indeed, on this clay of a cold star has any other father tried to slaughter his own son with his own hands, and in full senses, simply to obey God's Commands.
The glorious incident of Prophet Ibrahim's (peace be upon him) historic attempt at sacrificing his son Ismail (peace be upon him) in the name of Allah has been clearly narrated in Sura Saffat in the Holy Quran. The Holy Quran testifies : "He (Ibrahim) said, "O my son! I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice. Now see what is thy view !"(37 : 102). The son, "whose very character was to be 'Halim'. which means ready to suffer and forbear, replied, "O my father! Do as thou art commanded : Thou will find me, if Allah so Wills, one practising Patience and Constancy." (37 : 102)
It should be noted that the sacrifice was demanded of both Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail (peace be upon them). It was indeed a great trial of the will of the father and the son. By way of the trial the father had the Command conveyed to him in a vision. To make sure that it was not an idle dream, and, if it was a real order, to make sure that his son consented, Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) consulted the son. The son not only readily consented but also offered to stand true to his promise if his self-sacrifice was really required.
The father sought a solitary comer for the Supreme Sacrifice and took his son towards the hills in Mina. On the way Satan stealthily whispered to Ismail that he was being taken by his father to be killed. But the evil attempt to tempt Ismail (peace be upon him) into refusing to be sacrificed failed miserably and the boy stood steadfast in his obedience to Allah. Thrice did Satan speak to Ismail in the same manner at three different spots but he received the same rebuff every time (This is why pilgrims during the Holy Hajj cast pebbles at the three pillars in Mina symbolising Satan). Just before the Sacrifice, Ismail (peace be upon him) told his father to blindfold himself lest he might not be able to go through the ordeal. Ibrahim did so and brought down his knife. The holy Quran vividly and clearly narrates the incident : "So when they had both submitted their wills (to Allah) and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for Sacrifice), we called out to him : O Ibrahim! Thou hast already fulfilled the vision. "(37: 103-104). And the angel Jibrail with a ram in his arms stopped Ibrahim (peace be upon him) and replaced the son Ismail (peace be upon him) by the ram. Both the father and the son stood the test and deserved the Divine Blessing. Naturally, therefore, Allah, in His infinite Mercy, declared in the Holy Quran : "Thus indeed do We reward those who do right. For this was obviously a trial-and we ransomed him with a momentous Sacrifice. And we left (this blessing) for him among generations (to come) in later times. Peace and salutation to Ibrahim !" (37:103-109)
It "vas indeed a great and momentous occasion, when two men, with concerted will, "ranged themselves in the ranks" of those to whom self-sacrifice in the service of Benign Providence was the supreme thing in life. The glorious incident commenced a new era in religious history. It teaches us the very essence of our religion that the keys of Life. and Death, and the mysteries of everything around  us, are in Allah's hands, that our honesty, determination and upright conduct are not mere matters of policy or convenience, all our life in this world must be lived as in the presence of Benign Providence, that no task or responsibility, however great or difficult a burden it may be, is greater than what we can bear. What is more, it also testifies so eloquently to the fact that Allah docs not delight in flesh or blood and no one should suppose that meat or blood is acceptable to the One True God. It was a Pagan fancy that God could be appeased by blood sacrifice. But what Allah accepts, as the glorious incident indicates, are the true offering of our hearts. The Holy Quran states emphatically : "It is not their meat, nor their blood, that reaches Allah: it is your piety that reaches Him." (22 : 37) The glorious incident in the valley of Mina put an end to the system of Human Sacrifice which was common among most ancient people. Prophet Ibrahim's (peace be upon him) seeing in a vision that he, too, was sacrificing his son, his preparation to fulfill it literally and lastly the Divine Commandment to sacrifice an animal in his stead indeed marked the abolition of the savage custom of human sacrifice. The world today stands indebted to the righteous Patriarch and his dedicated son for their noble example in uprooting the age-old savage custom.
The unparalleled episode of Hazrat Ibrahim and Hazrat Ismail's (peace be upon them) unshakeable dedication and obedience to Allah had a very significant influence not only on the people of the East but it also had great impact in the West. Like the holy Mi'raj of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the Qurbani of the Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail (peace be upon them) deeply influenced the men of letters both in the East and in the West. Even a towering personality like the Great Homer was moved to a great extent. The legendary Greek Poet emulated the glorious example of the devout father and his obedient son and used a similar episode in his world-renowned epic poem Iliad.
While sailing for Troy to rescue Helen, the Greek fleet under the overall command of Agamemnon was detained at Aulis by a terrible wind blowing in the opposite direction. Days passed, but the fleet could not proceed. A sooth-sayer told Agamemnon that the wind would subside only if his daughter was sacrificed to goddess Diana. Agamemnon sent for his daughter Iphigenia, who was at home, on the plea that she was required to come to Aulis in order to marry Achilles. When Iphigenia came and saw that preparations were afoot not for her marriage but for her murder, she implored to be spared, but in vain.
The moment came for the priest to behead her. The priest raised the sword, but when it came down, it struck not Iphigenia but a goat. It was Diana who did the miracle when she took pity on Iphigenia and whisked her away, making a goat appear on the altar.
The story, which has a striking similarity with that of the sacred and sacred  sacrifice of Hazrat Ibrahim and his son Hazrat Ismail (peace be upon them), clearly indicates that Homer was influenced by the glorious incident which occurred on the plains of Mina in 1800 B.C. It is true that in the case of the Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail (peace be upon them) there was no question of war, it did not originate from the lips of a soothsayer, no daughter was there, no plea was necessary to convince the son, nor was there any protest from or unwillingness on the part of the son to be sacrificed. But in spite of all these minor differences, Homer's description of the human sacrifice to appease the goddess Diana, the last minute miraculous replacement of Iphigenia by a goat by Diana, the acceptance by Diana of the intended sacrifice of Agamemnon-all testify eloquently to the fact that Homer indeed was influenced by the historic incident at Mina.
It is really surprising that some inadvertently call this great festival 'Eid-uz-Zoha. The words 'Eid and Azha in Arabic mean 'joy' and 'sacrifice' respectively; 'Eid-ul-Azha stands for the 'Joy of Sacrifice'.
But 'Zoha' in Arabic stands for the 'forenoon' or 'middle of the time and mid-day', and has nothing to do with sacrifice. Naturally, therefore, the term 'Eid-uz-Zoha will refer to the 'Joy of forenoon' and can never signify or stand for the 'Joy of Sacrifice'.
'Eid-ul-Azha, promising an occasion of joy and happiness, pleasure and gaiety, provides us with a unique opportunity to receive the Divine Mercy and Reward through sacrifice, patience and constancy. It will be really be unfortunate if we fail to rise to the occasion in true spirit and try to celebrate this historic occasion through mere fun and merry-making and through so-called sacrifices of cattle. Mere purchasing of a cow or a goat only a few days before the festival and slaughtering it on the tenth of Zul-Hijja does not and cannot pay befitting homage to the sacred incident of a devoted father's glorious attempt at slaying the bone of his bone, the heart of his heart-his dearest son. What is needed on this glorious occasion is sacrifice from inside our hearts and not merely from our purses. Allah has, in His infinite Mercy, given us power over the brute creation, and permitted us to eat meat, but that too only if we pronounce His holy Name at the solemn act of taking life.
Through this solemn invocation, without which we are apt to forget the sacredness of life, are we reminded that wanton cruelty is not in our thoughts and is never permitted in Islam. Nor does Islam permit extravagance in the name of religion on any occasion whether through slaughtering of cattle on 'Eid-ul-Azha or through any other means. As already stated, Allah does not delight in flesh or blood and it is the genuine outpourings from the hearts, firm in constancy and patient perseverance, that please Benign Providence. What is more, through the system of denying ourselves the greater part of the food derived from the sacrificed cattle for the sake of the poor brethren, our symbolic act finds practical expression in benevolence, and that exactly is the virtue sought to be taught.
'Eid-ul-Azha indeed is a festival with a difference. Each and every Muslim should try his or her level best to celebrate this auspicious occasion every year in a befitting manner. What Allah expects on this sacred occasion is giving of our whole being to Him. It is by the mention of Allah's Sacred Name that an animal is sacrificed by a Muslim. It is not an empty mention of a word that the Muslims make, their very hearts should tremble at the very mention of the Holy Name. Each Muslim should bear in mind that if he sacrifices an animal over which he has full control, how much more necessary it is that he should lay down his life in the way of Allah, Who is not only his Master but also his Creator and Sustainer.
Lastly, it is the righteous whom Islam requires to sacrifice, and what Islam teaches through the sacrifice of animals on 'Eid-ul-Azha in memory of that Great Sacrifice is the lesson of laying down of our own lives in the cause of Truth and Justice. It teaches us not to love life over much, seeing that we must one day part with it. It teaches us to face death with resignation.

- Blessed Nights And Days

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