Monday, September 24, 2007

What It Means to Sacrifice


Maryam Sakeenah

I hear the doorbell ring. I was almost waiting for it. I put two big, juicy chunks of meat in the bag and run to the gate. There they are, two ruddy-cheeked, barefooted kids looking expectantly. I smile involuntarily as I catch a glint in the younger one’s eye. They wish me Eid Mubarak take the bag, and leave.

It isn’t an unfamiliar scenario. It happens each year on Eid day. Running to the gate with the meat bag is one of my childhood memories and I’ve surely carried it into adulthood. I love the thrill and the warmth. It’s a simple little pleasure for which I wait year-long. For, it’s an Eid-day speciality.

I cannot imagine another situation when we would actually wait for the beggar’s bell-ringing to hand him over a big fat bag of fresh meat. But it’s that magical Eid-day spirit that works wonders on us all.

Perhaps that is what is so refreshingly different and so special about Islamic celebrations. They don’t discriminate. They don’t confine the joys to a select few who can afford to eat hearty or dress rich. They make us reach out to those that we leave conveniently forgotten the whole year round. I eat the meat as does the beggar who rang my bell early in the day. We both thank Allah, Who made me give, and Who made him get. We share an invisible bond of being Muslims. It makes us close-tied parts of a warm community, an ‘ummah.’

Eid Day sights and sounds: I hear the takbeer, ‘Allah is Great’, and the blood spurts out. A life created, sustained and owned by Allah, just like ours, is given in His Name, by His Command. What if it were my own life, my own blood, and for a cause as great as the glorification of Allah’s Name…? It transports me to battlefields where Muslims lay down their lives for the glorification of Islam. I see the corpses in pools of blood beneath the fluttering banners of victory, proclaiming the Greatness of Allah. Jihad fi Sabil illah: the Greatest Sacrifice_ parting with life itself for the cause of upholding the Truth. The ritual of sacrifice is immensely invigorating, so powerfully symbolic of the spirit of Islam. I remember Iqbal’s words: “Simple, bloodied and rich with pain is the story of this Sacred House / It ends with Hussain (R.A), it begins with Ismail (A.S).” The Prophet (SAWW)’s beautiful prayer before sacrificing is redolent with the essence of what sacrifice means: “I turn my face to the Lord and Sustainer of the heavens and the earth. (I testify that) I am on the Way of Ibrahim (A.S) and I am not among the mushrikeen. My prayer, my sacrifice,my living and my dying are all for Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. No partner has He. I am by His Command, and I am of the Submitted Ones. O Allah! (I offer this) in Your Name and for Your sake, from Muhammad (p.b.u.h) and his followers_ (this is) in Allah’s glorified Name. And indeed, Allah is Great.” (Sunan Abu Dawood)

When my student once questioned why we don’t just give some charity as sacrifice on Eid, I told her it wouldn’t be half as beautiful, for it wouldn’t afford us the opportunity to re-live the experience of Ibrahim (A.S). ‘Verily, Ibrahim was, without doubt, gentle (of disposition)’, the Quran says_ and yet he lay the knife on his beloved firstborn to take the life he knew was Allah’s trust, and to fulfil the trial set for him by Allah_ unwavering, undeterred. ‘I hear and I obey, my Lord’, he must have said. Khallas. The Quran testifies, immortalizing the memory: “When his Lord said to him (Ibrahim A.S) ‘Submit!’ (i.e, be a Muslim), he said, ‘I have submitted myself (as a Muslim) to the Lord of the Worlds.’” (2: 131)

Sacrifice is beautiful, because it is born out of passion, grated in the heart’s fire, immersed in the heart’s blood. It is one of the deepest, highest human sentiments. When you become capable of it, you become beautiful too, for you are cleansed of all selfishness and rise above the earthy smallness we’re all tied to. For sacrifice means not to put your selfish desires first, but let them wait, or let go of them for a higher cause. When you rise above the pettiness, you can then humble yourself to the One Higher and dare to sell yourself into bonded slavery to Allah. The gentler virtues of compassion, generosity, honesty that your selfishness impeded shine through you as naturally as sunlight.

Baptized in the contemporary spirit of ‘Self First’ that is national policy justifying dirty deals and sell-offs on ideology, we need a rediscovery of the essence of the Abrahamic tradition. It is politically relevant to teach ourselves that when the devil came in Ibrahim (A.S)’s way with perfectly ‘sensible’ ‘politically correct’ arguments that would have served his ‘personal interest’ in the world best, he held the course, following what his heart believed was right. He stoned the tempter not once but thrice, expressing an outright rejection of the logic that lures away from what the heart knows and believes to be true. He went on with his decision to do something he couldn’t give a single worldly-wise reason for justifying. He went ahead _unreasonably, fanatically resolute_and became an immortal paragon of heroism standing tall, with a faith that makes him larger than life. This is the lesson of history. “And who turns away from the religion of Ibrahim (A.S) except him who befools himself? Truly we chose him in this world and verily, in the Hereafter he will be among the righteous.” (2:130)

This time round, Eid ul Azha holds a special significance. The devastation in Kashmir is a moment of test that demands sacrifices true to our religious tradition. In the footsteps of a prophet (SAWW) who would give ‘like the rushing wind’; a man (R.A) who gave away all he possessed_ all_content that Allah and His Prophet (SAWW) would suffice for him; a people steeped in tribalism who shared everything they possessed_ every bit_ with penniless, shelterless foreign immigrants whom they hailed as blood-brothers: we need to live up to that glorious tradition.

It is heartening to know that socio-religious organizations are organising mass animal sacrifice campaigns in the quake-hit areas. Here lies an opportunity we can make the best of. The warm communal spirit of Islam can heal, cure and raise from the rubble the promising glow of living anew. We just need to let it take its toll!