Islam invites religions to their common origin
Eid-ul-Adha Khutba at Darus Salaam, London, 9 July 2022
by Dr Zahid Aziz
اِنَّ اَوَّلَ بَیۡتٍ وُّضِعَ لِلنَّاسِ لَلَّذِیۡ بِبَکَّۃَ مُبٰرَکًا وَّ ہُدًی لِّلۡعٰلَمِیۡنَ ﴿ۚ۹۶﴾ فِیۡہِ اٰیٰتٌۢ بَیِّنٰتٌ مَّقَامُ اِبۡرٰہِیۡمَ ۬ۚ وَ مَنۡ دَخَلَہٗ کَانَ اٰمِنًا ؕ وَ لِلّٰہِ عَلَی النَّاسِ حِجُّ الۡبَیۡتِ مَنِ اسۡتَطَاعَ اِلَیۡہِ سَبِیۡلًا ؕ وَ مَنۡ کَفَرَ فَاِنَّ اللّٰہَ غَنِیٌّ عَنِ الۡعٰلَمِیۡنَ ﴿۹۷﴾
“Certainly the first house appointed for mankind is the one at Bakkah, blessed and a guidance for the nations. In it are clear signs: (It is) the Place of Abraham; and whoever enters it is safe; and pilgrimage to the House is a duty which people owe to Allah — whoever can find a way to it. And whoever disbelieves, surely Allah is above need of (anything or anyone in) the worlds.” (The Holy Quran, 3:96–97)
مَا کَانَ اِبۡرٰہِیۡمُ یَہُوۡدِیًّا وَّ لَا نَصۡرَانِیًّا وَّ لٰکِنۡ کَانَ حَنِیۡفًا مُّسۡلِمًا ؕ وَ مَا کَانَ مِنَ الۡمُشۡرِکِیۡنَ ﴿۶۷﴾
“Abraham was not a Jew nor a Christian, but he was an upright man, one who submitted to God, and not one who took others for gods.” (3:67)
وَ اِذۡ بَوَّاۡنَا لِاِبۡرٰہِیۡمَ مَکَانَ الۡبَیۡتِ اَنۡ لَّا تُشۡرِکۡ بِیۡ شَیۡئًا وَّ طَہِّرۡ بَیۡتِیَ لِلطَّآئِفِیۡنَ وَ الۡقَآئِمِیۡنَ وَ الرُّکَّعِ السُّجُوۡدِ ﴿۲۶﴾ وَ اَذِّنۡ فِی النَّاسِ بِالۡحَجِّ یَاۡتُوۡکَ رِجَالًا وَّ عَلٰی کُلِّ ضَامِرٍ یَّاۡتِیۡنَ مِنۡ کُلِّ فَجٍّ عَمِیۡقٍ ﴿ۙ۲۷﴾
“And when We pointed to Abraham the place of the House, saying: Do not set up any partner with Me, and purify My House for those who make circuits and stand to pray and bow and prostrate themselves. And proclaim to mankind the Pilgrimage: they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel, coming from every remote path.” (22:26–27)
The festival we are commemorating today — Eid-ul-Adha or the Festival of Sacrifices — marks the event of the readiness of Abraham even to sacrifice his son Ishmael when Abraham thought that he had been commanded by God to sacrifice him. As we all know, Eid-ul-Adha is held when the Hajj or the Pilgrimage is taking place in Makkah. The Hajj may be regarded as representing the climax and culmination of the teachings of Islam. And that climax shows clearly that Islam is an international religion which has come to unite all humanity and all religions on the basis of the oneness of God and the equality of all human beings.
The Holy Quran tells us, as quoted above, that the Ka‘bah was the first House of worship on earth that anyone built. Historical evidence, too, bears out that this House has existed from the most ancient times that we can go back to, and that it was visited annually by people and regarded as sacred. Thus Islam has chosen as its central shrine, not a place whose importance arose only in the life of our Holy Prophet Muhammad, but one which has significance in the history of religion of mankind, where people first built a house of worship. In fact, it was part of God’s plan to raise the Last Prophet in the land where this most ancient of all religious memorials existed. Humanity, which spread all over the earth, is being drawn back to the place where religious consciousness of mankind originated. It is also being called back by Islam to the original principles of religion, the simple fundamentals which later became lost in the maze of detailed religious doctrines, ceremonies and controversies as different religions took different forms.
The Quran speaks of mankind (an-nas) or humanity when mentioning the Pilgrimage, as in two verses above, and not just believers or Muslims. This contains a prophecy that it is not only in theory that Islam makes an appeal to all mankind, but in practice too a substantial cross-section of all mankind will join Islam, so that the Pilgrimage will present a scene showing representatives of all mankind there. The verse:
“And proclaim to mankind the Pilgrimage: they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel, coming from every remote path” ()
was revealed to the Holy Prophet in the very late stages of his life in Makkah, shortly before the emigration to Madinah. At that time Islam and the Muslims were in the weakest position they have ever been in, and it appeared that they would be simply be effaced from this world by their opponents. No one could imagine that Islam would spread in Arabia, let alone that large crowds of people belonging to all sections of mankind would come, travelling from the farthest places in the world. This was also prophesied in the Bible. The prophet Isaiah said:
“It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it.” (Isaiah, 2:2, in RSV)
Being the “highest” and “raised above the hills” means, of course, the highest in dignity and honour in the hearts of mankind.
Secondly, apart from the connection of the Ka‘bah with the earliest days of human worship, it is also connected with Abraham, a man accepted and revered by both Jews and Christians. Abraham is the Patriarch with whom the history of religion, or at least the history of the Middle Eastern religions, can be said to begin. He taught the oneness of God, service to God and sacrifice for Him. According to the Bible, God bestowed upon him the name Abraham, meaning father of the nations. God gave him many promises about how great nations would arise from among his descendants, who shall be blessed in the world, and how his name will become great in the world and be blessed by people.
According to Islam, and the traditions of the Arabs before the coming of Islam, Abraham travelled down to the Ka‘bah in Arabia, which had become derelict by his time, settled his wife Hagar and young son Ishmael there, and some years later returned to rebuild the Ka‘bah with his son Ishmael and establish the Pilgrimage. But some thousands of years later when the Holy Prophet Muhammad appeared in that country, the people there had made it a shrine of idol-worship, superstition and ignorance. This was the condition of the Arabs, among whom no prophet had ever appeared. The other descendants and followers of Abraham were the Jews and the Christians. In their history many prophets had appeared, from Isaac, Jacob, Joseph to Moses, David, Solomon and lastly Jesus, and they possessed scriptures. Yet these two religions held opposite beliefs.
The Jewish religion prescribed the rites and rituals of the religious law in the most minute details, and the Jews came to believe in the mechanical observance of these rituals as of the prime and greatest importance. Their concept of God was of a Being that is remote and insists more on punishment and justice than on forgiveness and mercy. When Jesus appeared among the Israelites he had to correct these exaggerated tendencies. So he denounced observance of just the letter of the law and laid stress on love and closeness between humans and God and the need for exercising forgiveness and mercy. His later followers took this to an extreme and minimised the need to follow the regulations of the religious law, and instead taught reliance on the forgiveness and mercy of God. It came to be thought that belief in Jesus as the one who had atoned for people’s sins, and having love for God in your heart, was all that was required.
So here were two religions following the same scriptures, and believing completely opposite things. One believed that the mechanical observance of religious laws and rituals was all in all, and the other rejected the law as unnecessary. One believed strictly in the oneness of God and God as separate from man, while the other believed in God having a son who appeared in human form. One rejected Jesus as an impostor while the other believed him to be the son of God. As the Quran says:
“And the Jews say, The Christians follow nothing (true), and the Christians say, The Jews follow nothing (true), while they recite the (same) Book.” (2:113)
But the Holy Quran says about them:
“Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good, they have their reward with their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.” (2:62)
In the light of this verse, we can see that it is Islam and the Quran which are moderate and fair to others, and recognise that both Christians and Jews can be good people.
In order to correct these wrong doctrines entertained by the Jews and Christians, the Quran calls upon these two faiths to reconsider their common origin. It tells them: “Abraham was not a Jew nor a Christian, but he was an upright man, one who submitted to God, and not one who took others for gods” (3:67). In other words, Abraham, the great teacher who preceded their two religions, obviously neither followed the detailed religious law of Moses, nor believed in Jesus as saviour and son of God, and yet he is their real founder and father figure.
As a contrast to the Jewish practices, Abraham’s obedience to God was not in mechanically following rituals of the religion but in displaying a true spirit of submitting to God’s commands with one’s heart and soul. This is illustrated in his readiness even to sacrifice his son when he thought that that was what God had commanded him to do. Those who lay extreme stress on a ritualistic following of details of religious precepts usually find it very hard to make a real sacrifice of their desires. They may be very meticulous in adhering to all the physical details of worship but they then consider that this gives them a licence to indulge in their wrongful conduct in their practical lives. There is a lesson in this also for Muslims of the present times who show exactly the same tendency.
In contrast to Christians, Islam points out that Abraham was a staunch upholder of the belief in One God and did not raise anyone else to the level of God. Abraham according to the Bible was a man so close to God and so beloved of God that it is written about him in the Bible:
<![if !supportLists]>1. <![endif]>“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” — Genesis, 15:1
<![if !supportLists]>2. <![endif]>“I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless.” — Genesis, 17:1
<![if !supportLists]>3. <![endif]>“… and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.” — Genesis 24:1
And why did God raise him to such an eminent position? It was because:
“… Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” — Genesis, 26:5
And after Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son, the Bible records:
“By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, … and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed My voice.” — Genesis, , 18
And according to the Quran:
“And who is better in religion than he who submits himself entirely to Allah while doing good (to others) and follows the faith of Abraham, the upright one? And Allah took Abraham for a friend.” (4:125)
Abraham became the beloved of God by obeying the voice and the commandments of God and by his willingness to carry out the sacrifice of his son. In other words, you must do something practical to show your love for God and to be loved by God.
The approach adopted by Islam is not to say to the Jews and Christians: you are wrong and we are right, so accept our beliefs. Islam invites them to look at the origin of their own faiths, and to realize that those original, simple principles of faith, as seen in the life of Abraham in their own traditions, are the core and crux of religion, and they are ones that Islam is re-establishing. The Jews had made the law and practice of religion too complicated and cumbersome, while the Christians had made the theory and doctrines of the religion complex and hard to comprehend. Islam resorted their original simplicity.
In this way, while correcting their errors, Islam also accords them respect and dignity by dignifying the origin and the forefathers of those faiths. If you want to insult a community, you say to them: there is nothing good in your background and history. You attack their forefathers. But God says in the Quran near the beginning:
“O Children of Israel, call to mind My favour which I bestowed on you and that I made you excel the nations.” ()
There was a time when you were the best of nations and you can be again.
Incident of sacrifice
The main points of the incident of the readiness of Abraham to sacrifice his son are as follows. They can be found summarised in the Holy Quran.
<![if !supportLists]>1. <![endif]>It was after much prayer that Abraham at last had a child, his son Ishmael, and that too in old age. His prayer was: “My Lord, grant me a doer of good deeds” (37:100), and this contains a lesson for us as well.
<![if !supportLists]>2. <![endif]>But he was then commanded to settle the infant and his mother in the wilderness of Arabia, where the Ka‘bah is now located, which he immediately did.
<![if !supportLists]>3. <![endif]>Now when Ishmael reached his teens, Abraham saw in a dream that he was sacrificing him.
<![if !supportLists]>4. <![endif]>His attachment to his son was not only of love, but the son was of economic value as well. He could work and Abraham was old.
<![if !supportLists]>5. <![endif]>As human sacrifice was a common practice, although of course it was wrong and cruel and not sanctioned by any teaching from God, Abraham thought that the dream was a command to sacrifice his son literally.
<![if !supportLists]>6. <![endif]>Abraham put it to Ishmael: “What is your view?” Abraham was not forcing this sacrifice upon Ishmael; the son’s willingness was a part of this act of sacrifice. The Quran says: “So when they both submitted”; it was a submission of both of them. This teaches us to have regard for the rights of other human beings, especially those who are under our charge. We cannot do something to them without their agreement and willingness.
<![if !supportLists]>7. <![endif]>But then God stopped Abraham from going further and said that he had already fulfilled the vision. He had already done the real sacrifice required by settling his son in the desert.
<![if !supportLists]>8. <![endif]>To commemorate this event, the practice of sacrificing an animal was instituted as a symbol. Islam continued this institution among Muslims at the occasion of the Pilgrimage and at Eid-ul-Adha for those who are not at the Pilgrimage.
The practice of sacrificing something belonging to you for God, or for a deity that people worship, was very common among all religions and people. The idea behind it was to try to please a deity by offering it a gift, particularly if you thought that the deity was angry with you. But Islam presented a different concept of God as follows:
“He (God) feeds and is not fed” (),
“I (God) desire no sustenance from them, nor do I desire that they should feed Me.” (51:57)
“Not their flesh, nor their blood, reaches God, but what reaches Him is your righteousness and doing of duty.” ()
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement, explained this last verse as meaning that the true sacrifice is not of the animal which is being slaughtered, but of the animal desires of the person doing the sacrifice. Maulana Muhammad Ali used to exhort people in his khutbas at this Eid that the real sacrifice by an individual at this occasion is to give up a bad habit permanently. Each and every Muslim has to sacrifice a part of his bad side, even though it may be a small part.
We also learn from Abraham’s experience of sacrifice that if we show our complete readiness and absolute willingness to do something very difficult in Allah’s way, then Allah lifts its burden from us and makes it much easier for us to do it, just as Allah lifted the burden from Abraham of having to sacrifice his son and gave him the much easier task of sacrificing a lamb. Just your whole-hearted determination and commitment to do what is required of you can itself amount to doing it.
May Allah enable us all to make this real sacrifice, ameen.