The history of Islam saw absolute sacrifice and submission in the way of Allah only twice. Prophet Ibrahim (as), the Father of Faith himself, was the first to take the test of submission. Ibrahim (as) displayed his obedience to Allah (swt) by readily submitting completely to God’s will. Allah (swt) exempt Prophet Ibrahim from continuing with the sacrifice, promising a more momentous one later in time, a sacrifice which came through the martyrdom of Imam Husain (as), the grandson of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh&hf). Prophet Ibrahim’s (as) and Imam Husain’s (as) sacrifices symbolize for Muslims the importance of complete submission to Allah (swt).
Prophet Ibrahim lived a life full of struggle. He, alone, bore the heavy responsibility of spreading monotheism in a dark world where oppression, prejudice, and ignorance were abundant. After long years of prophet hood and service to Allah (swt), the childless and aged Prophet Ibrahim longed for a son and heir. Although his wife was barren, he called to Allah (swt), “O my Lord! Grant me a righteous son!” (37:100)
Surely, against all natural expectations, Allah (swt) fulfilled His promise to Prophet Ibrahim, and made him the father of a great line of Prophets. And “So we gave him the good news of a forbearing boy” (37:101).
The son’s name was Ismail, and being the symbol of the continuation of further generations, he meant the entire world to Prophet Ibrahim (as). He was Allah’s mercy to the aged, lonely, hopeless, and anguished messenger of God. For Ibrahim, Ismail was not just a son for a sonless father; he was the end of a life of waiting, the reward of a century of suffering, the fruit of his life, and the hope after all despair. So as Ismail grew under the unconditional love of his father, there was always joy in the house of Prophet Ibrahim.
However, Allah (swt) tried Prophet Ibrahim’s obedience and submission. Allah (swt) sent Prophet Ibrahim a vision in which he commanded him to slaughter his only son. The Prophet, approached Ismail and painfully asked him: “O my son, I see in a vision that I offer you in sacrifice. Now see what is your view?” (37:102). Ismail, having strong faith in his Lord and realizing his father’s distress assured him: “O my father! Do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah so wills, patient and constant” (37:102).
Therefore, Prophet Ibrahim (as) placed his trust and faith in Allah (swt), took the Ismail of his life in one hand, and the knife of his faith in his other, and left to the place of sacrifice. The prophet laid Ismail on the ground. Turning his anguished face from his son’s, he lifted his paralyzed arm and slaughtered Ismail. However, by Allah’s mercy, the knife did not cut the throat of Ismail. Immediately a sheep was sent for slaughtering instead, and Allah (swt) called to the Prophet: “O Ibrahim! You have confirmed the Vision. Thus indeed do We reward those who do right. This is indeed the manifest trial!” (37:104-105).
Ismail was spared sacrifice, and thus Allah (swt) promised: “And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice. And We left (this blessing) for him among generations (to come) in later times” (37:107-8). According to Abdullah Yusuf Ali, a renowned English translator and commentator on the Quran, the verse refers to the future martyrdom of Imam Hassan (as) and Imam Husain (as). Abdallah Yusuf Ali states in his commentary: “Martyrdom is in itself an honour and a privilege: how glorious is the fame of Hamza the martyr, and in later times, of Hassan and Husain” (Yusuf Ali 457).
Abdallah Yusuf Ali further explains that “the adjective qualifying ‘sacrifice’ here may be understood both in a literal and a figurative sense. In a literal sense it implies that a fine sheep or ram was substituted symbolically. The figurative sense is even more important. It was indeed a great and momentous occasion, when two men, with concerted will, “ranged themselves in the ranks” of those to whole self-sacrifice in the service of God was the supreme thing in life. This was a type of the service in which Imam Husain (as) performed, many ages later, in 60 AH… But note that the ransom, i.e., commutation of sacrifice, was made not by the men but by God. God wants our will and devotion, not necessarily our lives in a physical sense. He will find means, if we offer ourselves, to use us not for our destruction, but for our further advancement.”
The sacrifice of Imam Husain (as) in the desert lands of Karbala near the Euphrates River is also noted in the bible. The book of Jerimiah (46:10) fortold: “There will be a sacrifice by the river Euphrates,” referring to the sacrifice of the grandchildren of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hf).
This sacrifice, called “athim” in the Qur’an (37:107), means it was a momentous and historical one. Imam Husain’s sacrifice was so grand because he not only sacrificed himself, but his entire family and seventy-two companions as well. Imam Husain received hundreds of thousands of pleading letters from the people of Kufa begging for his help to relieve them from the oppressive leaders. At the time, Imam Husain was performing Hajj with his followers. Yazid sent an emissary to demand allegiance from Imam Husain. He refused because he knew that giving allegiance to Yazid would put Islam in jeopardy. He decided to take his family and close companions and began their caravan to Kufa after hearing about plots to kill him in Mecca. On his way to Mecca, he met an army with soldiers on the brink of dehydration. Imam Husain gave up the water of his caravan to the thirsty soldiers and horses. When Imam Husain continued his journey to Mecca, Hurr, the commander of the army, stopped Imam Husain (as) and blocked access to the nearby river of Euphrates. Regardless of this, Imam Husain (as) still took his family and companions as a symbol of peace.
Although Imam Husain (as) was aware that he could easily avoid the situation, he portrayed complete submission and sacrifice in the way of Allah. By doing so he preserved the strain of true Islam- the Islam taught by the prophet and forwarded to the people trough his family. If Imam Husain (as) had not stood up and offered himself and his family in the way of Allah, Islam wouldn’t exist as it does today. Imam Husain (as) taught, through the grand and historical sacrifice of himself, his family, and his companions to stand against coercion and tyranny in the way of Allah (swt).
There are many morals to understand and adopt from two such momentous events. Prophet Ibrahim (as) taught the Muslim nation to be more critical and less complacent about attaining faith and understanding. The Ismail of Prophet Ibrahim (as) was his son. Who or what is the Ismail of an individual today? It is a possession, a degree, a position or job, or a reputation. It is modesty, haraam music, and haraam food.
Whatever is most prized and loved in this world by a certain individual is the Ismail of Prophet Ibrahim (as). The Ismail of everyone is whatever weakens the path of faith and draws doubts about responsibilities; it is what incarcerates freedoms and compromises justifications.
Prophet Ibrahim (as) and Imam Husain (as), have taught through their own sacrifices to locate weakness and eliminate it in order to move closer to Allah (swt). They have taught all Muslims of the future to revolt against worldly desires and motives, corrupt tyrants, and to strive to attain the pleasure of Allah (swt) instead.
Remember our Eid is not a Eid of victory. It is the Eid of sacrifice (adha).