The historical background of Eid al-Adha is that the Prophet Ibrahim (may Allah be pleased with him) had a dream in which he was sacrificing his young son, Ismail (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Prophet Ibrahim, a great believer in Allah, took his dream literally and wanted to sacrifice his son. But, according to the tradition, Allah the Almighty sent his angels and asked him to sacrifice an animal instead of his son.
During the celebration of Eid al-Adha, Muslims honor and remember Ibrahim’s (may Allah be pleased with him) trials, by themselves slaughtering an animal such as a sheep, camel, cow or goat.
Allah has given us supremacy over animals and permitted us to eat meat, but only if we pronounce His name at the earnest act of taking life. Muslims slaughter animals in the same way throughout the year. By saying the name of Allah at the time of slaughter, we are reminded that life is sacred. Life is to be valued with utmost act of piousness and holiness.
The meat from the sacrifice of Eid al-Adha is mostly given away to others. One-third is eaten by immediate family and relatives, one-third is given away to friends, and one-third is donated to the poor. It is to divide among those who honestly deserve the share of it rather than consuming all among ourselves.
It is very important to understand that the sacrifice itself, as practiced by Muslims, has nothing to do with apologizing for our sins or using the blood to wash ourselves from sin. This is a misunderstanding by those of previous generations:
“It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your devotion that reaches Him.” (Qur’an 22:37)
After the five pillars of Islam, Sunnat-e-Ibrahimi (sacrifice) is the most important activity. This sacrifice is the legacy of Prophet Ibrahim who combines the Prophetic patronage from three religions i.e. Jewish, Islam and Christianity. The festival also symbolizes the trial of faith and loyalty towards Allah. It enlightens ours path with true spirit of righteousness and rectitude.
A sacrifice, usually taken to be the slaughtering of animals, is more than that. The physical act of sacrificing of the animals is just a ritual, is just a tradition and is just a sacred practice whereas the essence lies far beyond it and the spirit of it goes far beyond common human perception.
The act symbolizes our will to give up some of our own bounties, in order to strengthen ties of friendship and help those who are in need. It is to train us how to surrender ourselves to the will of Allah for the sake of serving humanity. We recognize that all blessings come from Allah, and we should open our heart and share with others.
Eid al-Adha is celebrated for certain number of days but its impact is required to last the entire year. Eid al-Adha is like a symbolic rehearsal of high values and it is essential that these values be translated into practical life all the year round. We must be reminded all the moments of our living by how religiously we have gone through the act of sacrificing.
Perhaps, most of us think of the spiritual sacrifice as giving something up, but we have to look inside ourselves to see why we are sacrificing something in the first place.
In fact, sacrifice is an act of submission to Allah. It is to submit to the will of the Almighty. Sometimes Allah asks us to sacrifice something important to us in order to learn that there is something greater beyond it. But sadly we fail to translate the essence of its sacrificial values in our life!
Furthermore, we need to practice the spiritual effect of sacrifice so that we learn to rely on Allah’s provisions rather than the things we have built for ourselves. It is a part of submitting to Him.
Eid is also a day on which Muslims remember the deceased, visit the sick, see relatives and friends, overlook grudges, help the needy and show kindness and generosity to all.
Overcoming the common grievances against each other that prevent our mutual co-existence is the ultimate spirit of sacrifice. It is also a day for rejoicing by getting involved in a good, clean and honest enjoyment.
Sacrifices contribute to the success of our struggle. They strengthen our inner spiritual and moral resources and develop qualities of character which are essential to our struggle at every level of our existence.
Every act of sacrifice nourishes and increases our Imaan, that is to say ‘Faith’, for it transforms a verbal confession and a mental conviction into a living reality. It confirms, and thus increases, our love for Allah, for every step we give up something for the sake of his love.
It reinforces our loyalty and faithfulness to Allah, for all other loyalties become secondary as they are sacrificed for the sake of this loyalty. In short, sacrifices bring us nearer to Allah and develop a sort of invisible communication with the Creator. It makes us feel stronger and firmer.
The process is mutually interactive: the stronger the faith, the greater the will and capacity to sacrifice, the greater the sacrifices, the more internalized and deeper the faith. That is indeed the secret of our good and balanced living.
Sacrifices are essential for the development of all moral qualities, but especially for the development of tolerance, strength, determination, firmness and purpose. These can be summed up in just one word patience (Sabr).
Every sacrifice reinforces the quality of patience, making it grow in quality and strength. Forbearance, in turn, sustains and increases the capacity to sacrifice.
All promises of help from Allah, all assurances of success in this world and rewards in the Hereafter, have been made conditional upon the attainment of sacrifice and patience.
Indeed, sacrifice is the essence of life and we should leave no stone unturned to sacrifice our money, comfort and time for the sake of Allah. We should make an effort to live truly to the expectations of the spirit of sacrifice that the festival of Eid al-Adha stands for.