A look in to the existential philosophy of ‘Id al-Adha from the viewpoint of Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi
RNA – The ‘Id al-Adha (also known as ‘Id of Qurban) is an important opportunity towards gaining further proximity to God. This is a day when human beings remember their status of servitude towards God and they remember how important it is to obey his commands. Moreover, while carrying out God’s command in regards to the sacrifice in Mina, we should remember that this sacrifice must be accompanied by a sacrifice in regards to our carnal desires as well. In reality, the sacrifice of our carnal desires is the key issue in this matter. Indeed, gaining a deeper understanding of the various facets and aspects of ‘Id al-Adha has been greatly emphasized in the Islamic teachings, because without such understanding one cannot make proper use of this blessed day.
In order to understand this day properly, let us delve in to the explanations of Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi in regards to the various aspects of this day. One of the key ways of looking at this day is as a type of war against one’s carnal desires; it is a type of realization of the ‘Greater Jihad’, which means fighting one’s evil-prompting self. Many of the Quranic commentators have considered the Yawm al-Hajj al-Akbar (The Day of the Greater Hajj) to mean the day of the ‘Id al-Adha. This day is considered as one of the most important days of the Hajj pilgrimage and we have many traditions from the Ahl al-Bayt (as well as traditions in the Sunni sourcebooks) which confirm this meaning. In light of this understanding, let us now turn to the viewpoint of Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi in order to better understand the various aspects of this issue:
‘Id al-Adha: The Realization of the Greatness of the Islamic Faith in the Great Gathering of the Hajj
Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has explained the importance of the ‘Id al-Adha (particularly in the context of the Hajj pilgrimage) in the following words: ‘Id al-Adha possesses certain particularities which cause it to be one of the most important days of worship in the Islamic faith. Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has then explained the significance of ‘Id al-Adha as a symbol of the greatness of Islam and as a symbol of the Hajj pilgrimage, and he has said: We Muslims spend our time fasting during the month of Ramadan and we repent of the sins which we have committed. At the conclusion of the month, we are given the grace and blessing of celebrating the day of ‘Id.
Similarly, when the Hajj pilgrims have concluded their rites, they also celebrate their ‘Id as well. However, the blessings of the Hajj pilgrimage are not restricted to the pilgrims who perform it; rather the Hajj itself adds to the greatness and honor for the entire Muslim world. Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has considered this day of ‘Id to be a day when God has invited the pilgrims as guests to his table, which is filled with many blessings and honors. Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has mentioned in this regard: ‘Id al-Adha is a day when the people are chosen to be the guests of God; the pilgrims have visited the house of God and thus they have become his guests and the day of ‘Id al-Adha is a day of celebration for them.
Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has stated that those who are not in Makkah during that time still benefit from ‘Id al-Adha and they should hold celebrations and be extra cheerful on this day. The reason behind this is that the blessings of God on this day spread beyond the pilgrims who are in Makkah and they end up encompassing all of the Muslims.
‘Id al-Adha: A Symbol of the Great Self Sacrifice of the Champion of Monotheism
Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has explained the essential nature of the sacrifice which is performed on the ‘Id al-Adha in Mina. He has stated the following in this regard: One of the rites of the Hajj pilgrimage on the tenth day of Dhi al-Hijjah is that of sacrificing an animal for the sake of God in Mina. This is considered to be an obligatory action within Islam. Yet, by examining the reasons behind the doing of this rite, we realize that one of the purposes of this rite is to commemorate the self-sacrifice of Prophet Abraham, one of the champions of monotheism.
Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has then explained the actions of Prophet Abraham and he has said: The story behind this event is that God wished to perfect the spiritual state of Prophet Abraham and he furthermore wished to show his high rank and position. Towards this end, He ordered him to sacrifice his own son in the land of Mina, in the way of God. In reality, this sacrifice was simply a test and it was to prove the worthiness of Abraham. When Prophet Abraham obeyed God’s command and was prepared to sacrifice his son, he passed the test and thus he was asked to sacrifice a lamb instead.
In light of this, the pilgrims at the Hajj re-enact this grand sacrifice in Mina in order to commemorate the lofty faith and sincerity of Abraham and also to remember how far he was willing to go in God’s obedience. This remembrance brings the hearts back to life and it teaches us to also be willing to sacrifice in the way of God and to be willing to make every effort in his cause. It is said that a man of God is the one who is ready to sacrifice all he has in the cause of God, just as Prophet Abraham was prepared to do so. Thus, this sacrifice on the day of ‘Id al-Adha is simply a grand reminder of this momentous event in history.
‘Id al-Adha: A Feast of Obedience
According to Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi, the ‘Id al-Adha is a clear symbol of obedience to God and following his commands. Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has mentioned in this regard that: On the day of ‘Id al-Adha, which is the second most important ‘Id of the Muslim world, the pilgrims first perform the rites of the Hajj and when they are finished, they celebrate the ‘Id al-Adha and the rest of the Muslim world celebrate it alongside them. This day is considered to be a day of ‘Id, which is in reality a day of celebrating one’s obedience to God.
Reflection on the Significance of the ‘Id al-Adha in the Field of Quranic Exegesis: The Verse which Swears by the Rising of the Dawn
Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has mentioned that the Quranic verse which states: ‘By the dawn’ is in reality a reference to the day of ‘Id al-Adha. He has made the following remarks in this regard: The term Fajr (dawn) in this verse is a reference made to the dawn of the day of ‘Id al-Adha. The reason behind this is that there is a lot of commotion on that day and the massive crowds gather together at the Mash’ar al-Haram, awaiting the coming of the dawn. Everyone is absorbed in a state of supplication and prayer, and they are focused on God.
After the coming of the dawn, the people stay in Mash’ar for a short period of time and then they move waves after waves towards Mina. The pilgrims finally stone the Satan in Mina and they then perform the sacrifice; after this is complete, they then shave their heads (Taqsir). This verse of the Quran is in reality a reference to the coming of the dawn of the day of ‘Id al-Adha, which is a very special kind of dawn, unlike the other normal days of the year.
‘Id al-Adha: Total Submission to the Commands of God
In order for us to truly understand the ‘Id al-Adha, we must first look in to the teachings of the Quran and the traditions, and then it is necessary for us to delve in to the story of Prophet Abraham and the sacrifice of his son, Isma’il. Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has further explained this issue in the following words: Prophet Abraham had passed many of the tests which God had placed in his way; this time too, he was forced to gather his spiritual resources, and strive towards passing this new test which he was being given.
He had been asked to sacrifice a son for whom he had been waiting for a very long time. His son had now reached the age of youth and Abraham was being asked to sacrifice him with his own hands… It is interesting to see that since Abraham considered his son of thirteen years as being an independent and free soul, he wished to allow him to also participate in this divine test and feel what it feels like to be obedient to one’s Lord, no matter what is being asked of you.
Furthermore, Isma’il also wished to further strengthen his father’s will and resolve in the test which he was facing. He didn’t tell his father “sacrifice me!”; he instead told him: “obey your Lord and do what He has ordered you to do”. He also told his father that he would submit before the command of God, regardless of what was being asked from him. When he spoke to his father, he used the words of ‘Oh’ father’ which signifies that what they were doing did not mean that they had forgotten the love and affection between a father and his son; yet, at the same time, their behaviour shows that such emotions should never get in the way of what God has commanded, for God’s command predominates over everything else.
Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has then continued his explanation of how Prophet Abraham and Prophet Isma’il attained victory in their battle, and he has stated: It is noteworthy that Prophet Abraham had an exceedingly refined level of behaviour and courtesy towards his Lord. He never believed that he could solely rely upon his own faith and willpower in the fulfillment of his mission; rather, he relied on God as the source of all power and as a God whose will dominated over the will of everything else. In this way, both father and son passed the first stage of their great examination!
‘Id al-Adha: A Chance to Free Oneself from the Strictures of the Carnal Desires
Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has explained the details of Prophet Abraham’s sacrifice in the following words: A most sensitive moment had arrived and it was time to carry out the divine command. Prophet Abraham saw that his son had also submitted before this command and he embraced his son for one last time and kissed him. At this moment, both of them began to cry. The Quran has recounted this moment as follows: ‘So when they had both surrendered [to God’s will], and he had laid him down on his forehead…’
Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has explained the meaning of this verse in the following words: Some have said that the meaning of ‘…and he had laid him down on his forehead’ was that Abraham placed the forehead of his son down according to his son’s suggestion, so that his father would not be wrongly influenced by emotion in seeing his son’s face and fail to obey God’s command. In any case, Abraham placed his son’s head on the ground, and he took out his knife and began to cut… However, the knife failed to even scratch his son’s throat.
Rather astonished that the sharp knife had not done its job well, Abraham once again tried to cut but once again, the knife had no effect. This was, in fact, because Abraham was commanding the knife to cut, but God had commanded the knife not to cut and the knife was being obedient to its Lord’s commands. Yet, what happened next has been briefly narrated in the Quran has mentioned as follows: ‘We called out to him, ‘Oh Abraham! You have indeed fulfilled your vision! Thus, indeed do We reward the virtuous!’ God gave them the blessing of being victorious in their examination and he also saved Prophet Isma’il from being sacrificed. These were two individuals who had submitted themselves fully to God and they were willing to do anything for His sake, even at the cost of their lives. The Quran has then continued and mentioned: ‘This was indeed a manifest test.’’
‘Id al-Adha: A Gathering of Reward for the Sincere and Faithful Servants
Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has further explained the essential philosophy of ‘Id al-Adha by referencing various traditions. He has mentioned in this regard that: It has been mentioned in some traditions that when this sacrifice was taking place (the sacrifice of Isma’il by Abraham, the Angel Gabriel cried out with amazement: God is the greatest, God is the greatest. And Abraham ‘s son cried out: There is not deity but God, God is the greatest! At this moment, Abraham also said: God is the greatest; all praise is due to God. These are similar to the calls of glorification which we recite on the day of ‘Id al-Adha.
The Great Sacrifice: The Reward for the Victory of Prophet Abraham in his Divine Examination
Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has explained the essential formation of ‘Id al-Adha and the establishment of this Abrahamic tradition. He has said in this regard: In order that the actions of Abraham would not remain unfinished and that he could perform his sacrifice, God sent a large ram to him so that it could be sacrificed in place of his son. This act was then established as a tradition for all the people during the Hajj pilgrimage in the land of Mina. The Quran has made the following remarks in this regard: ‘Then We ransomed him with a great sacrifice.’
So not only did God praise Abraham for his victory and obedience on that day, but He made that act something which would be remembered and commemorated each and every year by large crowds of pilgrims. The Quran has mentioned in this regard: ‘and left for him a good name in posterity.’ This means that the act of Prophet Abraham continues to be remembered up until today and it will continue to be remembered long in to the far future.
Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has then continued this discussion and said: At this first stage, God confirmed Prophet Abraham’s victory in the course of his great examination and he confirmed that he had passed his test. This in itself was a great reward, for passing such a great examination is itself a great blessing and grace from God. This was in reality the greatest reward which God gave to Abraham. The next issue involved was that of the ‘great sacrifice’ and the perpetual commemoration of the name and actions of Prophet Abraham and this was a type of second reward which was given to Prophet Abraham.
‘Id al-Adha: A Day of Helping the Poor and Poverty Stricken
Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has then referred to one of the important issues related to the ‘Id al-Adha, which is the distribution of the meat of all of the animals which are slaughtered. These are naturally distributed to the poor of the Muslim world. Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has mentioned in this regard: We must now see what Islam has said in regards to the meat of these animals and if the Muslims have a duty in this regard. When we refer to the Quran, we see that in Surah al-Hajj, the following instructions have been given to those who sacrifice animals in Mina on the day of ‘Id al-Adha. The verse states the following: ‘…and feed the destitute and the needy.’ Another verse in this same chapter states: ‘And when they have fallen on their flanks, eat from them, and feed the self-contained needy and the mendicant.’
The Correct Use of the Remaining Meat: A Completion of the Spiritual Benefits of the ‘Id al-Adha
Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has explained how the aforementioned meat should be utilized and the role that this plays in the completion of the spiritual benefits of ‘Id al-Adha. He has made the following remarks in this regard: In our religious texts, it has been instructed that the Hajj pilgrims need to divide the meat in to three portions. One portion should be used by themselves, the other portion should go to the pious believers, while the third portion should go to the poor. These explicit instructions show us that in addition to the spiritual benefits of this act of sacrifice, there are also material benefits for the entire society. This meat must never be wasted and there must be proper planning and organization to ensure that it is used in the correct manner.
‘Id al-Adha and the Duties of the Islamic Governments
Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has emphasized the necessity of having the proper management for all of the meat which results from the yearly sacrifices. He has mentioned in this regard: At this time, the duty of the pilgrims and the Muslim governments is to process and utilize this meat in the correct manner. This is an Islamic duty which is in line with the other goals of the faith. We must work towards building the proper cold storage units and prevent any of the meat from going to waste. This meat should be used in the way the Holy Quran has instructed and this is a goal which we can gradually work towards.
During past times, the numbers of the Hajj pilgrims were much smaller and the meat which resulted from these sacrifices was used properly in that same day. Today, the numbers of the pilgrims have increased due to the ease of travel. Therefore, we must utilize modern technology to prevent the waste of this meat… This is a duty which is incumbent on the Islamic governments and on the Muslims as individuals, and they must work hard to ensure that no waste takes place in this regard.
A Final Word
Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi has then concluded his discussion of the great event of ‘Id al-Adha and the role of Prophet Abraham in its establishment as follows: One of the signs of the greatness of this day is that every year, the numbers of pilgrims grow and become larger and larger. Today, more than two million pilgrims commemorate the great sacrifice of Prophet Abraham … In the Holy Quran, God has mentioned that: ‘Peace be upon Abraham.’ He has also stated that: ‘This is how we reward the doers of good.’
In light of this, we must say that ‘Id al-Adha is a reminder of this key lesson from Prophet Abraham, who became an example for all of humanity… His actions on that day many centuries ago became a divine tradition implemented in to the rites of the Hajj pilgrimage. This is a divine tradition which will continue to be remembered and practiced in the future. We should know that Abraham is the forebearer of the Prophet of Islam and he is in reality the father of the Islamic nation.