Editorial, The Review of Religions, July 1990
Eid-ul-Azha marks the completion of the pilgrimage to Mecca by Muslims from mutlifarious nations of the world on the tenth day of the Islamic month Zul Haj. It is obligatory to bring the pilgrimage to a successful termination with the sacrifice of an animal. Like prayer and fasting, the performance of pilgrimage is a mode of worship seeking the spiritual, social and economic upliftment of Muslims.
Pilgrimage accustoms a person to leave home and, for the sake of God, to undergo separation from friends and relatives. It also serves as a symbol of respect for the holy places of God frequented by the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). When visiting these sacred places the pilgrim experiences spiritual elation. The universal bond of Islamic brotherhood is also strengthened as pilgrims of worldwide nationalities gather together in a spirit of unity and harmony.
The pilgrim offers the sacrifice of an animal at the end of the pilgrimage which is also done by Muslims all over the world. This is done in remembrance of Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son Ishmael (not Isaac as recorded in the Bible) who, in turn, resigned to being sacrificed under the belief that it was the Will of God. We read in the Holy Quran:
And when he (Ishmael) was old enough to run along with him (Abraham), he said, `O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I offer thee in sacrifice. So consider what thou thinkest of it!’ He replied, `O my father, do as thou art commanded; thou wilt find me, if Allah please steadfast in my faith.’
And when they both submitted to the Will of God, and Abraham had thrown him down on his forehead, We called to him `O Abraham thou hast indeed fulfilled the dream.’ Thus indeed do We reward those who do good.’ (37:103-105)
The Holy Quran succinctly describes the significance of animal sacrifice:
Their flesh reaches not Allah, nor does their blood, but it is your righteousness that reaches Him. (22:38)
The act of sacrifice is symbolic reminding the person who offers it that as the animal is inferior to him so he, also, is inferior to God and should, therefore, be ready to sacrifice himself and all his personal interests and inclinations for the sake of God when he is required to do so. The attainment of righteousness should be the goal of every Muslim. The Holy Quran states:
Verily the most honourable among you in the sight of Allah is the one who is most righteous among you. (49:40)Those who do good and act righteously shall have a great reward. (4:173)
Verily he truly prospers who purifies himself, and remembers the name of his Lord and offers prayers. (87:15)
The act of sacrifice is in no way an atonement for the sins of the person making the sacrifice. Islam emphasises that no creature or person can atone for the sins of anyone else and, therefore, rejects the Christian Doctrine of Atonement which declares that Jesus atoned for the sins of mankind by shedding his blood on the cross.
Eid-ul-Azha is an occasion on which Muslims everywhere are encouraged to make every kind of sacrifice for the spiritual, moral, social, and economic uplift of mankind and especially their own. If they make it a common cause and strive to manifest in themselves the attributes of God in accordance with the teachings and guidance of the Holy Quran and teachings of the Holy Prophet then, indeed, the message of Eid-ul-Azha would have borne fruit.