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Sacrifice and Submission

"Verily, Abraham was a nation, obedient to Allah, and he was not of the polytheists. [He was] thankful for his favors [from Allah]. [Allah] chose him, and guided him to a straight path. And We gave him good in this world, and surely in the Hereafter, he is among the righteous. Then We inspired you , [saying]: Follow the creed of Abraham, turning away [from _shirk_]. And he was not among the polytheists." [Qur'an, 16:120]

The Qur'an speaks of Prophet Abraham (peace and blessings be upon him) in numerous places, and establishes that he was a pioneer of monotheism, and a Muslim: one who had submitted his self to Allah. Islam,as revealed to Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), is essentially a return to Abraham's creed of pure monotheism. It is Allah's final guidance, directed to all of mankind, and an answer to Abraham's own prayer,
"Our Sustainer! Raise up from among them a messenger from among them, who shall recite to them Your signs, and teach them the Scripture and the Wisdom, and shall purify them. Surely, You are the Mighty, the Wise." [Qur'an, 2:129]

The rites and practices traced back to or connected to Abraham (peace be upon him) in the Final Law are numerous, including circumcision, and the mention of his name at the end of each prayer. Perhaps one of the most prominent and outstanding of these, however, is the rite of sacrifice. Every year, on the occasion of Eid al-Adha (the Festival of Sacrifice), Muslims slaughter animals -- sheep, goats, cows and camels -- in remembrance of and as a continuation of the tradition of Abraham.
[Note: According to a commonly-quoted hadith, the Companions asked,"What are these sacrifices?" and were told, "The sunnah of your father Abraham." "What is there in it for us?" "For every hair, [the reward of] a good deed." The hadith is extracted by Ibn Majah and Ahmad via the same route. Haythami said in Majma` al-Zawa'id, "Its isnad contains Abu Dawud Nufay` ibn al-Harith, who is an abandoned narrator, and was accused of fabricating hadith." Hence, the isnad has a severe defect, and it should not be used, even for purposes of encouragement, although its general meaning appears correct. Allah knows best.]

The rite of sacrificing animals is one which has existed since the early history of mankind.
"For every ummah, We made a rite, in order that they could mention the name of Allah over what He has provided them with of animals."[Qur'an, 22:34]
"Recite to them the story of the two sons of Adam in truth; when each offered a sacrifice, and it was accepted from one but not accepted from the other." [Qur'an, 5:27]
According to various accounts in the books of exegesis, the sons were Haabeel and Qaabeel, and Haabeel's sacrifice was an animal. According to Ibn `Abbas, it was a ram, and the very same ram ransomed Abraham's son. [Mukhtasar Tafseer Ibn Katheer, 1/507]

When Abraham was saved from his people's scheme to kill him, and he despaired that they would believe -- their already having witnessed great signs, he emigrated away from them.
"He said, 'I shall go to my Sustainer, Who shall guide me. My Sustainer! Grant me [offspring] among the righteous.' So, We gave him glad tidings of a forbearing son." [Qur'an, 37:99-101]
According to the majority of exegetes, this son was Isma`il (peace be upon him). According to Judaeo-Christian sources, Abraham (peace be upon him) was 86 years old at the time. We can imagine the great delight he would have felt at being granted a son, at such an advanced age. However, Allah had a test in store for Abraham (peace be upon him).

"Then, when [the child] reached [the age where he could] walk with him [and help him work], [Abraham] said, 'My dear son! Verily, I see in a dream that I am slaughtering you [as a sacrifice], so look what you think.' He said, 'O my father! Do what you are commanded to! You will find me, Allah willing, among the patient ones.' "[37:102]
Abraham (peace be upon him) saw in a dream -- according to some sources, the dream was repeated on three consecutive nights -- that he must sacrifice his son. The dreams of the prophets are a type of waHy (inspiration), and hence it became incumbent on him to follow it. (If a non-prophet sees such a dream, of course, he may not implement it.) Abraham (peace be upon him) knew that the order of Allah must be carried out. He did not ask, "Why would Allah want me to do this?", "What benefit could there be in it?", "Maybe I can do something else instead?" ... He submitted and resigned himself to the command of Allah. He consulted with his son, perhaps to make it easier for him, or to see how much patience and resignation he was capable of at this young age. His son showed the same spirit of resignation, and promised to be steadfast. Perhaps this is why Allah describes Isma`il (peace be upon him) as "true to his promise." [Qur'an, 19:54]

Accordingly, the two of them set out to fulfil this command. Ibn `Abbas says, "When Allah ordered Abraham (peace be upon him) to perform the rites, Satan appeared before him at the place of Sa`y, and sought to race him, but Abraham beat him. Then, Gabriel took him to Jamrat al-`Aqabah, whereupon Satan appeared before him, so [Abraham] pelted him with seven pebbles until he left. Then, he apeared before him at the Middle Jamrah, so he pelted him with seven pebbles. Then [Abraham] laid [his son] on his face [so he would not have to watch his face while slaughtering him]. Isma`il was wearing a white shirt, and so he said to [Abraham], "My father! I do not have a garment other than this in which you could bury me, so take it off, so that you could bury in it." So, he turned him so as to take it off, whereupon it was called out from behind him, "O Abraham! You have fulfilled the dream." So, Abraham turned, and there was a white horned ram." [Narrated by Ahmad. The narration goes on to state that Gabriel (peace be upon him) took Abraham to the third Jamrah, where Satan again appeared and he pelted him with seven pebbles, and then to Mina, then to Muzadalifah, then to `Arafah.]
"So, when the two of them had resigned themselves [to the order], and he turned him on his face, [Suddi says that Abraham tried to cut, but the knife would not cut his son's throat, and it was at that time that] We called out to him, 'O Abraham! You have fulfilled the dream. Thus do We reward those who do good. Verily, this was a manifest trial. And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice [i.e. the ram, which Ibn `Abbas and Abu Sa`id have said was brought from Heaven]. And We left [a good remembrance] for him among later generations. Peace be upon Abraham! Thus do We reward those who do good. Verily, he was among Our believing slaves." [Qur'an, 37:103-110]

So, when Abraham (peace be upon him) demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice his son, Allah conveyed to him that he did not have to do so. What was intended was for him to demonstrate his submission to the command and his willingness to carry it out. Once he did that, the sacrifice of his son was replaced with the sacrifice of an animal. Allah rewards those who submit to His commands. Obeying the laws of Allah pays, and does not bring hardship in the long run.

Lessons
Perhaps the most important lessons to be learned from this event are the spirit of sacrifice and submission displayed by Abraham and his son (peace be upon them both). As we have mentioned, Abraham did not remonstrate, protest, object or question when he received this command. This is the true attitude of a Muslim - one who submits to Allah. Yes, a Muslim is not supposed to be gullible, blindly following everything or everybody he encounters. However, once he has ascertained that something is indeed commanded by Allah or the Prophet, then he has no choice but to accept it.
"It is not allowed [nor appropriate] for a believing man, nor a believing woman, when Allah and His Prophet have given judgment in a matter, that they have any choice regarding their affair. And whoever disobeys Allah and Allah's messenger has gone astray in clear misguidance." [Qur'an, 33:36]
It is reported that the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) has said,
"None of you has [true] faith until his desires come into accordance with what I have brought." [cited by Ibn Katheer, as in Mukhtasar Tafseer Ibn Katheer, 1/410. Baghawi cited it in Sharh al-Sunnah 1/213, and its editor judged it weak, on account of Nu`aym ibn Hammad. Hafiz Ibn Rajab also judged it as weak, on this count and others, in Jami` al-`Ulum wa al-Hikam, 2/393-5. Hence, the hadith is weak, and is not cited as a proof in itself. However, its meaning is correct, as borne out by the previous and following Qur'anic quotes.]

"Nay, by your Lord! They do not have faith until they appoint you [Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)] as judge in that which arises amongst them, and then do not find any resistance regarding your that which you decree, and submit with full submission." [Qur'an, 4:65]
This verse establishes that one cannot be a believer unless he/she
1) Resorts to Qur'an and Sunnah for judgment, and
2) Does not resist any judgment coming from these sources, and
3) Submits to the decree with full submission. This submission begins from the heart; one must believe the decrees of Qur'an and Sunnah to be correct and true. Then, this submission should spread to the body, such that the decree is implemented. The least of faith is to accept the Qur'an and Sunnah, and to hold them to be true. Then, if one's faith is to be perfect, the decrees must be practically implemented as well. When Abraham (peace be upon him) received the order to sacrifice his son, he did not say, "Allah knows what is in my heart. I don't need to make the effort to sacrifice my son, because I know the intention is what is important." By no means! While the intention and belief is certainly important, if it is really genuine, it should manifest itself in one's actions.

Yes, certainly it may be difficult in some cases to carry out these commands. But that is part of the test of your love for Allah. One should not expect to get Heaven presented to him on a silver platter, without making any effort. It may be difficult to get up early in the morning -- especially if it is cold -- to make wudu and perform Fajr on time. It may be difficult to leave your class for 5 minutes for salah although you know very well that the time for the salah will have expired by the time the class ends. It may be difficult to perform wudu' and find a place to pray when you are travelling or in a strange place. It may be difficult to wear hijab. It may be difficult for a country to give up riba (interest) and to Islamicize their economic system. But in all these cases, we have to make the necessary effort.

At the very least, accept the decree of the Shari`ah in your heart, and do not try to dispute it; rather try to bring yourself to implement it, and strive for that. It is one thing to be spiritually weak and incapable of implementing some particular regulations. It is quite another to spurn that regulation, rejecting it and trying to distort the truth in an attempt to justify one's inaction.

When Allah revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him), [the verses meaning], "To Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And, whether you reveal that which is within yourselves or conceal it, Allah will bring you to account for it. Then, He will forgive whom He wills and punish whom He wills. And Allah has power over all things." [Qur'an, 2:284] the Companions said, "O Messenger of Allah! We have [hitherto] been tasked with such deeds as we are capable of: salah, fasting, jihad and charity. But [now] this verse has been sent down upon you, and we are not capable of it." The Messenger of Allah said, "Do you wish to say as the people of the two scriptures before you said, 'We hear and we disobey.'? Rather, say, 'We hear and we obey. [We ask] Your forgiveness, Our Sustainer, and to You is the destination.'" Then, when the people recited it, their tongues became humbled by it. Then, Allah revealed right after it, [translated], "The Messenger believes in what was sent down to him from his Sustainer, and [so do] the believers. All believe in Allah, and His angels, Books and Messengers. [They say:] We do not differentiate between [believing in] any of His Messengers. And, they say, 'We hear and we obey. [We ask] Your forgiveness, Our Sustainer, and to You is the destination.'" Then, when they had done that, Allah abrogated [the earlier decree], for Allah revealed, [translated], "Allah does not task a soul its scope..." [Muslim and Ahmad; vide Mukhtasar Tafseer IBn Katheer, 1/257]

Sadly, some self-professed Muslims appear so psychologically defeated (or perhaps enamored) by 'modern' Western 'civilization' that they feel apologetic about certain aspects of Islam, and try to distort it and mould it to conform to the Western norms. Some forsaken individuals (may Allah guide them) have even gone to the extent of wanting to change things such as certain inheritance laws, which are clearly demarcated in the Qur'an with phrases such as, "Those are the limits of Allah." Regardless of the guises of pseudo-intellectualism and scientific inquiry which such individuals may don, it is imperative for the believer to recognize that such endeavors are antithetical to the very essence of Islam. If one truly believes that Allah has sent Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) as the Final Messenger for all of mankind upto the Day of Judgment, then, knowing that Allah is All-Wise, he/she will realize that the laws of Allah are not open to human tampering or 'improvement'. Islam was perfected some 1,400 years ago. Any attempt to change aspects of it which are clearly specified in sacred texts is tantamount to claiming that one knows better than Allah. Certainly, there is ijtihad in Islam, but its scope is limited to those issues which are left open in the sacred texts - not for those which are clearly spelled out. One who wishes to change fundamental aspects of the religion is effectively denying the very need for divine guidance.

A person may start out accepting an ordinance, although failing to put it into practice. Then, over time, he/she may try to reduce the guilt of not obeying this command by looking for ways out; i.e. by trying to vindicate his/her own sin. Such an attitude was the cause of Iblis' downfall. By refusing to prostrate before Adam (peace be upon him), Iblis became a sinner. However, when he questioned the divine command, and claimed -- on the basis of his 'intellect' -- that it is not suitable for him -- a being originated from fire -- to prostrate before a being created from earth, he became an unbeliever. He refused to adopt submission and resignation before Allah. Hence, it is important that one should continue making effort to reach the goal, otherwise, he may become complacent with his state of sin and attempt to justify it.

The wisdom or rationale of some regulations -- such as the prohibitions of alcohol and adultery -- can easily be grasped; or at least some aspects of them can be grasped by our minds, for there may be other aspects which we have not yet discovered or do not yet comprehend. With other regulations, however, the rationale may not be within our grasp. Especially for ritual acts of worship, while one may certainly be able to rationally justify the need for prayer, fasting, charity and the like, one cannot use one's mind to explain the specific forms of these worships required by the Shari`ah. e.g. why salah is five times a day, and not fewer or more, why it involves the specific sequence of actions and invocations, etc. Again, one who is convinced that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah should have no hesitation in accepting and submitting to these details. All of Allah's laws are ultimately for our benefit. Anyone who wishes to dispute in such matters is not very likely to be convinced by any argument, no matter how cogent or convincing it is. Such individuals are either intent on sticking to their own pre-conceived ideas of how things should be, or obstinately arguing merely for the sake of doing so. Even if they were given permission for what they are seeking, they would probably then ask for something else in its place.

"If We had prescribed for them, that kill yourselves [or: kill one another], or go forth from your homes, they would not do it -- except a few of them. If only they did what they are exhorted to, it would have been better for them and more strengthening [for their faith]. And in that case, We would surely have given them from Us a great reward. And We surely would have guided them to a straight path." [Qur'an, 4:66-68]

Hafiz Ibn Katheer comments, "[Allah], the Exalted, conveys that most of mankind [are such that] if they were to be ordered to perform those forbidden deeds [such as killing one another] which they are already engaged in, they would not do so, because their natures have become disposed to contravening [divine] orders." [Mukhtasar Tafseer Ibn Katheer, 1/410]

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"O you who believe! Hearken to Allah and to the Messenger, when they call you to what gives you life. And know that Allah comes between a man and his heart, and that to Him will you be gathered." [Qur'an, 8:24]

There are various explanations given by commentators for the phrase, [translated], "what gives you life" : the truth, the Qur'an, Iman (correct belief), Islam, martyrdom. Al-Wahidi said that the majority have taken it to refer to jihad. Hafiz Ibn al-Qayyim comments that jihad is the greatest means of obtaining life : in this world, by overcoming the enemies [and stopping their oppression]; in the grave by preventing the soul of the martyr from dying [See Qur'an, 3:169] and in the Hereafter -- which is the abode of eternal life -- and in which the lot of the mujahid and the martyr is greater than that of others.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) has said, "During no days are good deeds are more superior than during these [i.e. the first ten of Dhul-Hijjah]." The Companions asked, "Not even jihad in the path of Allah?" He replied, "Not even jihad in the path of Allah, except for a man who goes out, risking his life and property, and does not return with either of them." [Bukhari]
Jihad, too, then is a part of this Shari`ah which provides an opportunity for showing a spirit of sacrifice similar to Abraham's (peace be upon him). The human being's self dislikes jihad, because of the hardship it knows it involves.
"Fighting is prescribed for you although it is hateful to you. But, it may be that you dislike something while it is good for you. And it may be that you love something while it is bad for you. Allah knows, and you do not know." [Qur'an, 2:216]
The same human being dislikes some of the inconveniences associated with marriage, but nevertheless puts up with them, because he realizes that he needs its benefits.
"If you dislike [women] then it may be that you dislike something while Allah has placed in it great good." [Qur'an, 4:19]
Yet, this human being fails to fully realize the benefits awaiting him from jihad - in this world and the Hereafter. Truly he is, as described in the Qur'an, [translated] "unjust to himself and ignorant."! [Qur'an, 33:72]

Taking the verse as referring to jihad does not conflict with the other interpretations quoted, for all are expressions for establishment of that which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his Household) has brought. Iman, Islam, the Qur'an and jihad all give life to the heart, and lead to the perfect life of Heaven. Just as the human being cannot have physical life until the angel blows the spirit of life into his fetus, similarly he cannot have spiritual life until the Messenger breathes into him that spirit which has been conferred upon him.
"Thus have We inspired you with a spirit from Our decree." [Qur'an, 42:52]
"Is one who was [spiritually] dead [(without Iman)], whereupon We gave him life, and made for him a light whereby he walks amongst mankind -- [is he] like one who is in darkness from which he cannot come out?" [Qur'an, 6:122]

As for the second half of the verse, [translated], "And know that Allah comes between a man and his heart, and that to Him will you be gathered," there are at least two possible interpretations:

1) Ibn `Abbas and the majority of exegetes said it means that Allah comes between a believer and unbelief, and between an unbeliever and faith; i.e. preventing them from those things. According to this, the verse then is a warning to us: If you do not respond, or are lethargic in doing so, then do not rule out the possibility that Allah might come between you and your heart, such that you are incapable after that of responding, as retribution for your having held back from hearkening when the truth was clear and distinct to you.
"We shall turn their hearts and their eyes away, as they had not believed the first time, and We leave them in their transgression, wandering blindly." [Qur'an, 6:110]
"So, when they turned away, Allah turned their hearts away." [Qur'an, 61:5]

2) Qatadah is of the view that it means that Allah is close to the human being's heart, between the person and his own heart [with His knowledge], such that no secret is hidden from Him. So, responding with the body is of no benefit if one's heart is not responding, and Allah knows whether the person's heart has responded and conforms to his outward deed.
"The flesh of [the sacrificial animals] does not reach Allah, nor their blood, but the piety from you reaches Allah." [Qur'an, 22:37]
So, sacrificing the animal is not a mere outward rite, custom or tradition. If it is to bring the desired reward, it must be accompanied by the spirit of sacrifice and piety. It is reported that Qaabeel's sacrifice, which was rejected, comprised the most inferior portion of his harvest.

If one is killing not only the physical animal, but also one's own base desires, and resistance to the commands of the Shari`ah, then he has prospered.
"The son of Adam does not do any deed more beloved to Allah on the Day of Immolation than the shedding of blood [of the sacrificial animal]. And, verily, it comes on the Day of Arising with its horns and hooves and hairs [to be counted as reward]. And verily, the blood falls in a place by Allah before it falls to the earth. So, [offer the sacrifice] with an open and happy heart." [Ibn Majah, Tirmidhi (hasan)]

The majority of jurists are of the view that the Sacrifice is an emphasized sunnah. However, Imam Abu Hanifah and some other jurists concluded that it is wajib, based [partly] on the hadith,
"Whoever finds ability, but does not slaughter [a sacrificial animal], let him not come near our place of prayer." [Ibn Majah and Ahmad; Its isnad contains `Abdullah ibn `Ayyash, whom some considered weak or unacceptable, but Hafiz Ibn Hajar's conclusion in al-Taqrib is that he is 'truthful' - i.e. acceptable, even if not strong; he also comments on this hadith in Fath al-Bari and says its narrators are reliable. Zayla`i has opined in Nasb al-Rayah that the narration is more authentic in mawquf form, but Thanwi says there is no cause to reject the marfu` version. See: I`la al-Sunan, 17/212-9 ]

Even if the Sacrifice be a sunnah and not wajib, this hadith should provide sufficient motivation to perform it if one is capable. In fact, given the great reward it entails, one should capitalize on this great opportunity in the hope of cancelling out some of one's sins, for we know not whether we will live to witness the next Eid al-Adha. Another great opportunity for blessing during this time is the fast of `Arafah. The Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) has said,
"I seek from Allah that fasting on the day of Arafah may atone for the sins of the preceding and the coming year." [Malik]

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