The Letter Writing Project: The Value of Sacrifice & Thanksgiving
This post was supposed to be a quickly copied article or embedded video on Eid-ul-Adha (The Festival of Sacrifice), but after some thought I decided to just write an entire post on Islam's second most important festival. Besides, it's been a minute since I wrote a good letter, and given how far we've come since my last Islam-related post during Ramadan, I believe I owe God one. However, before I get into all the juicy details about the different shapes, sizes and aromas of the succulent lamb chops that grace Eid, I'd like to talk a bit about another equally important event in Islam - and probably the singular largest gathering of people in the world - that is sometimes overlooked in the haste for the Eid holiday: the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
The Fifth Pillar of Islam: Hajj
Islam has five pillars or foundations that each Muslim is required (or should I say tries their best) to follow: Khalimat Shahaddah (bearing witness to the Oneness of God & recognizing Prophet Muhammed (SAW) as the final messenger of God), Salat (the five daily prayers), Zakat (giving of alms or charity to the poor and needy), Sawm (Fasting during the Month of Ramadan), and Hajj (going on pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca).
While Prophet Muhammed (SAW) sealed the Hajj as an annual practice by the Muslim community, it is believed to date back as far as Abraham, who was ordered by God to leave his wife Hagaar and his son in the desert. The Hajj pilgrimage is incumbent on every Muslim at least once in their lifetime (the Prophet himself did it once) so long as they can afford it. As a result, many Muslims guard their entire life savings to finance their participation or that of their parents or relatives in the Hajj during the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. After the successful completion of the Hajj, a Muslim earns the title Alhaji (male) or Hajia (female).
In addition to those somewhat coveted titles - for my Ghana peeps, now you know where the titles come from, LOL. A Muslim man or woman isn't an Alhaji or a Hajia by default) - there's a sense of being part of something greater, of sealing one's connection with the Muslim community, and, from some accounts, of communing directly with the divine. Unfortunately, I haven't yet been granted the honor of undertaking the Hajj, so I can't really talk too much about my experience in that regard. Nevertheless, I believe the Hajj is a beautiful practice and very symbolic of our individual journeys through life - from being doe-eyed and confused, to finding ourselves and our place(s) in this world and life. InshAllah (God willing), we will each have the opportunity to participate in this holy event.
Eid Ul-Adha - The Festival of Sacrifice (and Thanksgiving)
Eid ul-Adha marks the end of the Hajj, but there's also another significance to it; what many call the story behind Eid Ul-Adha. Personally, I adore the story behind Eid Ul-Adha. Not because of the grand excuse to eat all the meat and delicious food you can (you'll be surprised how much you can stomach...literally :P ), but rather because of the lessons it holds. True, unlike Eid Ul-Fitr (the festival after Ramadan), we don't go through the challenging (but highly rewarding) 30 day period of fasting, but nevertheless, Eid Ul-Adha is like a gentle reminder that Allah will always have our best interests at heart and so everything will turn out just right. More importantly, it reminds us about our common humanity - whether male, female, black, white, Asian, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Budhist, rich, poor, educated, illiterate, young, old, all of us - through the father of nations: Abraham.
And so, the story goes that Ibrahim (Abraham) had prayed to God for many years for a child and God finally heard his prayer. He blessed him and his wife Hagaar with a son who was named Ishmael (Isaac according to Christian theology). Soon after, Allah commanded Abraham to go to Mecca and build his grand mosque, the Kaba (where all Muslims face when praying Salat). He also commanded Ibrahim to sacrifice his only son as a show of his faithfulness to God. Abraham set off to fulfill his charges and while he was tempted along the way to turn against Allah, he continued on. When Ibrahim was finally ready to sacrifice his son, knife in hand and all, God commanded him to stop, and instead, asked Ibrahim to sacrifice a ram, which Ibrahim did. To this day, Muslims everywhere commemorate Eid ul-Adha by offering up a ram in sacrifice and thanks to Allah for His mercy. It is also an occasion for celebrating the ties of friendship and family.
Personal Reflection on Eid ul-Adha
As I mentioned earlier with the Hajj, I feel like a lot of the practices in Islam are very symbolic of our respective journeys through life. Like Abraham and Ishmael, God has a charge for each of us that we are expected to fulfill. Regardless of how long it takes, there will come the day when we are each called upon to fulfill that charge and by then, Allah would have equipped us with what we need to successfully complete our mission (in Abraham's case it was the son he had longed for for so long). While in the pursuit of our charge, we will be faced by challenges - doubts, fears, hungry days and lean nights, betrayals, sickness, anything you can think of that you might use as an excuse not to do what you innately know you were destined for - but like our father Abraham, it is essential that we press on towards our ultimate goal. Eventually, just when we think we can take it no longer, or we would certainly crumple beneath the load or the darkness of the hour, the dawn breaks, and with it comes Allah's mercy and more blessings than we would have ever thought imaginable.
Maybe I'm just musing here with my reflections, but I can call up numerous occasions when this story has applied to circumstances in my life. One of them being after college when I was looking for a job - a year into the ongoing recession - and the words "Sorry, your application..." seemed to be the bane of my existence. In each of those moments, I always thought I had it figured out and that I knew what was best for me. But always, in hindsight, I never knew anything, and the best was yet to come. Just like Abraham who made the transition from a faithful servant to God's closest friend - For God did take Abraham for a friend. Surah 4.125 - those "challenging" circumstances carried me out of who I was at the time to who I could be by equipping me with valuable lessons and greater inner strength. And so it continues. We might make sacrifices huge and small, day in and day out, but in each instance, whether it seems like it or not, we are getting closer to being the kind of person we need to become in order to fulfill our respective charge. And so, it goes without saying, in ALL things, give thanks! (Easier said than done, right?)
Further Resources on Hajj and Eid ul-Adha (Nov. 17 this year BTW)
There are many resources on the Hajj, its significance and the various practices, but here are two that I found particularly insightful. The first is a quick summary of the visit to Mecca, while the second is a detailed documentary. I hope you found this post helpful in understanding what all the fuss about Mecca, the Hajj and Eid ul-Adha is. Feel free to ask questions or share your thoughts. Stay blessed!
Photo Source: Photo 1, Photo 2