Celebrating Eid ul Adha as time of honoring sacrifices this past year
In the sixth chapter of the Quran, Muslims are instructed, “Say, ‘Surely my prayer, my sacrifice, my life, and my death are all for God — Sustainer and Caretaker of all worlds.” (6:162)
The holy day of Eid ul Adha (Celebration of Sacrifice) is a sacred day for the nearly 2 billion Muslims in the world. This year it begins the evening of July 19 and runs through sunset of July 20. It lifts up sacred virtues such as devotion, sacrifice, love and gratitude towards God, among others.
Like the Biblical story of the Aqedah, or Binding of Isaac by Abraham in the Jewish and Christian tradition, Eid ul Adha is rooted in the sacrifice of Abraham’s son Ishmael, who like Isaac in the Hebrew Bible, is taken to be sacrificed by Abraham as a sign of his devotion to God, and who, like Isaac, is saved through divine intervention as God lifts up Abraham’s resilience, commitment and devotion instead as the true and greater sacrifice in and of itself.
In commemoration of this story and event, Muslims around the world perform a ritual animal sacrifice, of which the meat of the offering is taken not just by the one who performs the sacrifice, but also for the community — for friends, family, and most importantly, the poor and needy.
Though Eid ul Adha is a sacred holiday for rest and celebration, its rituals and its background are consistent harbingers of the importance of sacrifice within the Islamic faith, as Muslims are called not just to literally sacrifice an offering, but to sacrifice their wealth, time and resources in feeding and caring for the poor as well as the community. In short, Eid ul Adha is an occasion that teaches us the importance of sacrificing for the wellbeing and welfare of the community.
This past year alone, however, has shown us that sacrifice is a universal concept which is not limited to any one faith or tradition. We’ve seen, heard, read and even experienced some of the most extraordinary sacrifices made by our loved ones, our neighbors, strangers and even ourselves since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. These include but are not limited to: healthcare workers having to work tirelessly for days on end as hospital units are filled and medical supplies are exhausted, teachers and students having to navigate learning through a new virtual norm, and for so many others living in relative isolation, socially distanced and absent of much needed human interaction. These are just a few examples of such extraordinary sacrifices that continue to be made even up to this day and beyond.
Just as sacrifice is not an idiosyncratic concept, so, too, is the message and lesson of Eid ul Adha, especially in light of the past year. Eid ul Adha lifts up not just the literal sacrifice of a person, but more importantly, their resilience in striving towards that which benefits the community.
The Quran tells us that “It is not the meat, flesh and blood of your sacrifice that pleases and reaches God; rather, what pleases and reaches God is your piety” (22:37). As such, though we value and hold sacred our ritual sacrifices and offerings, whether through the form of feeding our families, neighbors and those in need, Eid ul Adha challenges us to not just make a sacrifice one time, but to live a life marked and defined by sacrifice and resilience.
Regardless of our religion, race, creed, ethnicity, gender, orientation or any other difference, this past year has taught us the universality of sacrifice, as well as the power of human resolve in the face of adversity.
Although we may all be going through the same storm of COVID-19 and pandemic life, we’re all on very different boats given our circumstances — some of us are on yachts or other sturdy boats, whereas others might be just clinging to shipwreck, struggling to survive.
Eid ul Adha teaches us to sacrifice, not just individually or for personal benefit, but more so for our community, for one another, in times of prosperity and adversity alike.
Usama Malik serves as the resident chaplain at Muslim Space (muslimspace.org), a Muslim community organization that fosters an open, inclusive, multicultural, and pluralistic space for self-identifying Muslims and the larger Austin community. Doing Good Together is compiled by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, interfaithtexas.org.