This was first published on July 26, 2021 after the Eid-el-Kabir of that year. I find it still relevant and important, with a little tinkering in dates to come now.
Next week, Muslims the world over will celebrate the eid-ul-adha or the “big eid” or “big Sallah”. We are, however, more interested in its meaning, implications and bearing on us as a nation. We need to look at spiritual milestones, hoping to find the seemingly elusive panacea for our ills.
Eid means feast, festival or celebration, while adha loosely means “sacrifice” (animal sacrifice), “offering” or “oblation”. It so got its name because it commemorates Prophet Ibrahim’s (AS) devotion to Allah (SWT) and his readiness to sacrifice Ismail, his son, for His love.
The Qur’anic story has it that Ibrahim (AS) experienced a dream in which God ordered him to sacrifice his beloved son, Ismail (AS). At first, he was skeptical, and believed it was the trickery of the cursed devil. After experiencing the dream the following night, he then understood that it was a message and a command from Allah (SWT). Without hesitation, he prepared his son for the sacrifice. Ibrahim (AS) loved his son dearly, yet this was no obstruction to honouring his duty as instructed by Allah (SWT) and thus proving his full submission to Allah (SWT).
Ibrahim (AS) took his son to the top of Mount Arafat, and in his hands, he had a knife and a rope. Upon arrival, he mentioned the dream to his son Ismail (AS) and made him aware that Allah (SWT) has decreed for him to be a sacrifice and, in obedience, his son Ismail (AS) accepted what God commanded of him. Ismail (AS) asked that his hands and legs be tied to avoid struggling during the sacrifice and that his father should blindfold himself to avoid witnessing his suffering. Ismail was aware of his father’s love towards him and knew that this would be difficult to witness.
However, as Ibrahim (AS) began performing the sacrifice, Allah (SWT) replaced Ismail with a ram and Ismail (AS) was saved unharmed. Allah (SWT) tested Ibrahim (AS) to see his dedication in his submission (Islam) to his creator. In his willingness to obey Allah’s (SWT) commands, Ibrahim (AS) successfully passed the test and the act of the sacrifice serves as a reminder of Prophet Ibrahim’s dedication and devotion to serving Allah (SWT) obediently. Therefore, eid-ul-adha means the festival of sacrifice.
The lesson here is that of sacrifice for a better you. We mostly look at the sacrifice from the point of slaughtering a ram for its meat. Even at that, Islam recommends one to get a healthy, mature and meaty sacrificial lamb that will be a beauty to the eye. Looked at deeply, the sacrifice should translate to sacrificing what one loves in exchange for gaining spiritual upliftment.
Any man uplifted spiritually will spread the love around. He will not be where there will be an injustice. He will not be a party to corrupt activities. Above all, that man will not be where another human being is being harmed. Humanity will be safe with him. If the Nigerian Muslims who took part in the eid-ul-adha all take in the spirit behind the event, our country will be better than it is now.
It is a sacrifice in self-immolation that can only be compared to the myth of the Thornbird in the fictional book, Thorn Birds, a 1977 bestseller by Colleen McCullough. She set the story in Drogheda, a town that does not exist in Australia. In the front matter of the book, the myth is set out thus: There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest, it searches for a thorn tree and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its agony to out-carol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only brought at the cost of great pain… Or so says the legend.
The spirit of eid-ul-adha teaches us to sacrifice ourselves for God. Ismail (AS) was part of Ibrahim (AS), do not forget. By sacrificing his son, he was sacrificing himself as well.
Nigeria, now more than ever in its history, needs countrymen who are ready to sacrifice for its existence. We should frown at a situation where leaders will call on us to change while they indulge in the perfidies associated with our leaders of old.
It is not fair, nor is it right, for leaders to ask followers to tighten their belts while they punch more holes in theirs to accommodate their ever bulging bellies.
It is also not indicative of leaders with the spirit of sacrifice when they take their children to the best schools around while the public schools are a little better than pigsties.
The spirit of sacrifice is no doubt lacking in the leader who, together with his family, can have access to the best Medicare, while a bigger chunk of the people does not have access to basic healthcare facilities.
How can a good Muslim’s conscience not disturb him when he buys good exam results or bribes for his child to get a well-paying job? Why should a good Muslim be happy when he collects money to pass a student or to give him a job?
We are talking of Muslims as citizens because we are referring to an Islamic event that just happened.
But come to think of it, Christianity attaches great importance and symbolism to sacrifices as well. Theirs is even directly and practically connotative of the denial of comfort. Their form of sacrifice focuses on the bodies of its members as a living sacrifice.
And I believe all Christians understand Christ’s death on the cross to be a necessary atonement for the sins of humankind. And if it was so, why should a Christian run away from discomforting himself for God to be happy with him?
In reality, all those who make up a nation must sacrifice for the nation to be great. All religions teach us to sacrifice and all our tribes have stories of legends who sacrificed their happiness for that tribe to survive.
The problem with Nigeria, as my friend Barrister Okoroafor Vincent always insists, is not the North as some southerners would want us to believe or the South as some northerners would insist. He believes it is not even Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Ijaw or Tiv, etc. He is also adamant that it is neither Islam nor Christianity. The problem with Nigeria, he opines, is individual selfishness and self-centeredness that border on ‘it is our turn to chop’ and myopia in putting the self first before the nation. And all people from the tribes have that tendency which is exhibited by adherents of both religions.
The lawyer says if we can put Nigeria first as our collective interest, then we would have a great nation. I cannot agree more.
•Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime.