Following the footsteps of Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him), on the 10th of Dhul Hijjah, the multitudes of Muslims who have been blessed to perform the Hajj and others throughout the world mark the blessed day of Eid al Adha also known as Eid al Hajj or Eid al Qurban.
The day, which begins with thanks to Allah in the form of the Salat of Eid is completed through the sacrifice of an animal - the meat of which is distributed to those less fortunate - thus maintaining the balanced life of a Muslim - taking care of the rights of the Creator and the creation.
As with all acts in Islam, there is an outer dimension - the physical actions which we perform, and an inner aspect - the reality of the deed. The inner reality to the slaughtering of an animal, as the teachers of the spiritual aspects of Islam state is that we need to ensure that the temporary material world and its allurement is kept secondary in our minds and hearts; we need to be able to sacrifice whatever we love and hold dear to us in the way of the Beloved when the call comes. This is best understood in the following Dua of the Qur'an in which we pray: "Say, 'Indeed my prayer and my worship, my life and my death are all for the sake of God, the Lord of all the worlds. He has no partner, and this [creed] I have been commanded [to follow], and I am the first of those who submit [to God].'" (6:162-163) Thus, in reality, the sacrifice is a symbol of love and commitment; it is a symbol of the acceptance and respect one has for one's Beloved (Allah).
What is the historical significance of this act and how did it become legislated in the Islamic tradition? We are told that when Prophet Ibrahim was with his young son, Ismail in the valley of Mina, the command came from the Beloved that he must slaughter his child. The great Prophet Ibrahim explained the command of his Beloved to his son and the order which had to be carried out. With full devotion and acceptance, the young child proclaimed, "O' my father! Carry out that which you have been commanded to do! Indeed, God-Willing, you will find me of those with patience." (37:102)
Both of them, with a sense of complete enthusiasm and love, obeyed the command of Allah, however, just as the knife was about to cut the throat (of Ismail), a call was heard from the Beloved that the test has been successfully completed: "You have indeed shown the truth of the vision!" (37:105). Allah replaced the required sacrifice with a sheep - thus formulating the Sunnah of the Muslims of today. However He noted that, "And we ransomed him with a great sacrifice." (37:107)
Without doubt, it was a great sacrifice to make in the way of Allah to give up that which one loves the most. However in the end, we see that both father and son came out with high marks in the Divine examination. What a sweet ending, but what a bitter way to learn!
"Verily this was a manifest trial." (37:106) The outcome - not only for Ibrahim and Ismail - but rather even for us if we are able to kill the passion and lower desires is that we too may be elevated to the rank of, what the Qur'an states as, "Verily he was of Our believing servants." (37:111)
Therefore, the sacrifice is really a lesson in love; it is a lesson in devotion; a lesson for giving in the way of Allah even so much as one's own life, property and children; it is a lesson in the power of intention during tests and difficulties and in reality - it is a lesson in complete submission and true worship of Allah.
On this blessed day, we pray that we too can become and remain sincere and devoted servants of the Most Merciful and His commands can be accepted and implemented without question or doubt.