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The Sacrifices of Ibrahim (A)

by Musa Bukhari

Sacrifice. In our modern world, that word carries a negative connotation. Our modern ideals of prioritizing the self, the individual, over everything and everyone around us, leaves little room for true development of the self, true reformation of the ego. To sacrifice is to suffer a personal loss, by choice, for the good of someone else or their pleasure and happiness. When it comes to sacrificing, there is a price. Sometimes it is for the right reasons and it is rewarding to do so, such as a mother sacrificing her sleep to soothe her crying baby. But sometimes, it is for the wrong reasons, such as someone sacrificing their self-respect to keep someone’s good favor.

When it comes to Allah, however, all sacrifice is good. Sometimes Allah demands that we sacrifice and sometimes He accepts it when we do it out of love for Him. For example, in Ramadan Allah demands that we sacrifice our food and drink and halal pleasures for His sake and He gives us taqwa (God-consciousness) in return. And sometimes, we may choose to sacrifice our sleep to pray and talk to Allah in the middle of the night—He didn’t ask us to do this, but when we do it out of love, He gives us His love.

The ultimate thing Allah asks us to sacrifice is our nafs, our ego. This is because the ego consists of our thoughts and our desires, our defenses and our justifications. How can we submit if we are ruled by our egos, our own lower selves? So sometimes Allah asks us to give up things that we love so that we may discipline the nafs and prepare ourselves for submission.

One of the greatest examples we have in human history about what it means to sacrifice for the sake of Allah is the example of Prophet Ibrahim (A). Ibrahim (A) is highly praised in the Qur’an for the readiness that he showed to make sacrifices for the sake of Allah. Ibrahim (A)’s story of submission serves as inspiration for all of us who came after him. We honor Ibrahim (A) by sending salawat upon him and his family in our prayers as we send salawat upon the Prophet (SAW) and his family.

Ibn Mas’ud reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “I met Abraham on the night of my Ascension and he said: O Muhammad, greet your nation with peace from me. Tell them Paradise has pure soil and delicious water, that it is a level plain and its plants grow with declarations of the glory of Allah, the praise of Allah, the oneness of Allah, and the greatness of Allah.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhī 3462)

This is a beautiful hadith that shows us that even Ibrahim (A) sent salam upon us when he met the Prophet (SAW). He has so much love for us, and he has so much to teach us through His worship of Allah (SWT). We normally visit the story of Ibrahim (A) during the time of Hajj, as many of the rites of Hajj are put in place by Allah to honor Ibrahim (A)’s obedience to Him.

“Allah is Enough for Me” – Sacrificing Home and Family

When Ibrahim (A) was young, he was searching for Allah. After realizing that the moon and the sun could not be God, he was finally pointed towards Allah—the Creator of the moon and the sun and everything else in creation. “But when [the sun] set, he said, "O my people! I am indeed free from all that you join as partners in worship with Allah. Verily, I have turned my face towards Him Who has created the heavens and the earth hanifan (Islamic Monotheism, i.e. worshipping none but Allah Alone) and I am not of al-mushrikin (those who worship others besides Allah).” (6:78-79)

When Ibrahim (A) realized that Allah was the Rabb of the Heavens and the earth, he made a plan to destroy the idols in order to prove to his people that the idols could neither benefit them nor save themselves. After he did this, the people got very angry with him. The more Ibrahim (A) preached the message of the Oneness of Allah and submission to Him, the more it enraged them. This continued until they decided to build a huge bonfire to kill him. They tied up his hands and feet, and launched him out of the catapult…

Ibrahim (A) called out to Allah: “HasbiAllah, Laa ilaha illa hu, Alayhi Tawakkaltu” (Allah is Enough for me, There is no God but He. I put my trust solely upon Him.”

As a result, Allah commanded the fire to be cool:

"O fire, be coolness and safety upon Abraham." (21:69)

Allah saved Ibrahim (A) by His direct command to the fire. Not a hair on the body of Ibrahim (A) was harmed. Even the ropes that tied his limbs together were burned but Ibrahim (A) was completely safe inside this fire that had become a safety for him.

There are several lessons we learn here: One, the help that Allah brings us is directly in proportion to the amount of reliance that we place upon him (although Allah can help anyone no matter what if He so wishes, out of His Generosity). Two, Ibrahim (A) was more concerned about the worship of Allah than he was about his own life. He was ready to sacrifice his life for Allah, but Allah saved him.

Ibrahim (A) decided thereafter to give his da’wah to his father one last time. He spoke to him kindly and invited him to submit to Allah.

"'O my father! Verily! There has come to me of knowledge that which came not unto you. So follow me. I will guide you to a Straight Path. O my father! Worship not Satan. Verily! Satan has been a rebel against the Most Beneficent (Allah). O my father! Verily! I fear lest a torment from the Most Beneficent (Allah) overtake you as that you become a companion of Satan (in the Hellfire).'

His father said, 'Do you reject my gods, O Abraham? If you stop not this, I will indeed stone you. So get away from me safely before I punish you.' Abraham said, 'Peace be on you! I will ask forgiveness of my Lord for you. Verily, He is unto me, ever Most Gracious! And I shall turn away from you and from those whom you invoke besides Allah.' " (19:43-48)

After this painful exchange, Ibrahim (A) was forced to leave the land of the idol-worshippers, but this was his homeland. The maker of the idols was his family. Ibrahim (A) sacrificed both his home and his family for the sake of Allah. He chose to walk away from a place where he could not practice his religion safely. He chose his relationship with Allah over his relationship with his family.

Sacrificing Wife and Son

Ibrahim (A) continued to go through trials. He could not have a child from his first wife, Sarah, so he married Hajar. Both wives eventually bore him sons—Ishaq (A) and Isma’il (A). But the test of sacrifice came once more. Allah asked Ibrahim (A) to leave his wife and baby son in the desert. Hajar accepted this sacrifice, and Ibrahim (A) did so as well, as he sadly left his wife and young child in the middle of nowhere. They might have been afraid, uncertain, worried about the future, but their Tawakkul in Allah was ironclad. They had no doubt that Allah would take care of them. But what they didn’t know is the amazing plan that Allah had in store for them.

Years after the miracle of the Zamzam water and the establishment of civilization in Makkah, Ibrahim (A) is reunited with his son. But Allah asks him for another sacrifice!

He must physically slaughter his son for the sake of Allah! What a heavy thing for any parent to process. What a burdensome task! But Ibrahim (A) once again submitted. With a heavy heart, he broke the news to his son, who following in the footsteps of his father, said, “I’m ready to sacrifice my life for the sake of Allah.”

Allah rewarded them, however, by placing a lamb where Isma’il (A) had been lying. Ibrahim (A) realized that this was just a test—a monumental test of submission and sacrifice. And Ibrahim (A) had passed the test.

Our Sacrifices

The rites of Hajj are a reminder to us that Ibrahim (A) always sacrificed what was dear to him in favor of what Allah asked of him. Allah asks us everyday to sacrifice our time for Him, to sometimes sacrifice our money for Him (zakat and sadaqah), and to sacrifice our egos for Him (controlling our base desires, submitting our intellect to the commands of Allah, giving up arguing even when we’re right, etc.), but how many of us do?

Allah says in the Qur’an: “Have you seen the one who has taken as his God his own desire?” (45:23)

What this means is: who do we obey? Our egos or Allah? Our desires or Allah? Do we have within us the spiritual strength to make the sacrifices necessary to earn Allah’s Pleasure? Or have we become so lazy and so consumed in our own problems that we don’t care about what Allah wants from us, what kind of life He wants us to live?

Hajj is a reminder of what our lives should revolve around (Tawaf), what we ought to be striving for (Sa’ee), where our attachments should be (Mina), what we need to prepare for (Muzdalifah) and who the real enemy is (Jamarat). This is why Hajj requires from us so much patience and sacrifice. The ritual that is meant to teach us about sacrifice and submission has within it so many elements of sacrifice and submission. This is because Allah is the Best of Designers—He knows us well and He knows what we need in order to submit.

May Allah allow our hearts to incline towards Him, to follow in the footsteps of Ibrahim (A) in submission. May Allah keep us sincere to Him, and may Allah facilitate for us experiences that bring us closer to Him, in aafiyah (wellbeing). Ameen.

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