Millions of Muslims around the world will begin celebrating the Feast of Sacrifice or Eid al Adha this Sunday, evoking the Quranic account of Prophet Abraham’s trial, in which he was ordered by God to sacrifice his most beloved possession, his son Ishmael.
Abraham, whose name etymologically means the father of nations, would have slaughtered his son following God’s command without question, but in the face of the Prophet’s sheer determination and strength of faith, God swapped Ishmael with a ram and Abraham slaughtered it instead.
Since the Prophet Mohammed’s era, Muslims have marked the incident by sacrificing animals.
After the sacrifice, Muslims share meat with the needy, who might not eat meat often, and their relatives, fulfilling God’s vision of brotherly relations.
They also visit each other to tighten their friendships and to heal old wounds.
How Islam explains Abraham’s trial
The Quran recounts the incident in a chapter called Saffat (The Aligners).
It first talks of Abraham’s happiness having received a “righteous [son]” but when the boy is of working age, the patriarch receives a vision commanding him to sacrifice his son on God’s orders.
“Now see what is thy view!” Abraham asked the son to which he responds: "O my father! Do as thou art commanded.”
During the run up to the sacrifice, Abraham is tested by Satan who tries to convince him to ignore God’s command by appealing to his ego, that of his wife, and that of his son.
With the help of the angel Gabriel, Abraham forces Satan away by pelting him with stones.
Muslims symbolically reenact the incident during the Hajj pilgrimage by pelting three pillars marking where Satan stood in his encounter with Abraham.
The ritual known as the ‘Stoning of the Devil’ takes place in the neighbourhood of Mina close to Mecca.
According to Islamic tradition, Abraham brought his second wife, Hagar, and his son Ishmael, to Mecca, near to where the sacrifice was to happen.
There he rebuilt the Kaaba, the central fixture of worship for Muslims, which represents the oneness of God.
Afterwards, Abraham and Ishmael went to Mount Arafat, which is also located close to Mecca, to implement the divine order.
According to the Quran, at Mount Arafat, Abraham “had laid him [Ishmael] prostrate on his forehead [for sacrifice].”
But God suddenly intervened, declaring: "Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!"
An animal, which was a ram in the opinion of many Muslim scholars, appeared to replace Ishmael and the sacrifice was fulfilled by slaughtering it, the Quran says.
Abraham’s steadfast stance in implementing God’s wish earned him divine praise, and his emotionally powerful experience is marked today in the Feast of Sacrifice and celebrated by more than 1.8 billion Muslims globally.
“We left [this blessing] for him among generations [to come] in later times: ‘Peace and salutation to Abraham!’” The Quran says about a figure honoured by Muslims, Jews, and Christians.