Trials of Abraham, Pilgrimage and Sacrifice
If you are a new Muslim coming from Christianity, you will be familiar with the name Abraham. Abraham has a very important status to many people in the world, especially Jews, Christians and Muslims. Many claim Abraham to themselves but God says, “Abraham was neither a Jew nor Christian. Rather he was upright and devoted to God in submission (Islam), never an idolater.” 3:67
Abraham’s journey to God is full of trials from the very beginning. The Quran recounts the story of Abraham finding God and dedicating himself to Him against all odds at a very young age. He then migrates in the land to have the ability to worship God. Once he has a family of his own, the trials continue and his family also experiences these trials. As a believing family they go through God’s tests and pass them.
Many converts to Islam may be familiar with the Biblical accounts of the story, however, the Quran sets the record straight and sheds light on what truly transpired long ago without dramatisation.
Abraham’s experience shows the importance of faith and dedication to the One True God.
Abraham at a very old age asks God for a child who will inherit the responsibility of inviting people to God and following His commandments. His prayers are answered and he is blessed with his first child, Ishmael. Shortly after, he must face the trial of separation and abandonment, which will take Hagar and their child, Ishmael, to a barren land and a dead Valley.
Having left Hagar and Ishmael, in the middle of the dessert with a skin of water and leather bag full of dates and walking away. Hagar became anxious as to what was happening. Abraham did not look back. Hagar chased him, ‘O Abraham, where are you going, leaving us in this valley where there is no person whose company we can enjoy, nor is there anything here?’
Abraham hurried his pace. Finally, Hagar asked, ‘Has God asked you to do so?’
Suddenly, Abraham stopped, turned back and said, ‘Yes!’
Feeling a degree of comfort in this answer, Hagar asked, ‘O Abraham, to whom are you leaving us?’
‘I am leaving you to God’s care,’ Abraham replied.
Hagar submitted to her Lord, ‘I am satisfied to be with God!’
As he leaves, Abraham prays to God and asks for His aid in caring for his family, stating that his intention in leaving his family was obedience and dedication to God. 14:37
Abraham passes the test and so does Hagar and God cares for the young family in Abraham’s absence.
Several years after this abandonment in the desert Abraham was to undergo another trial: God asked him to sacrifice his firstborn son, Ishmael.
During these trials, beyond his human grief and in fact through that very grief, Abraham develops a relationship with God based on faithfulness, reconciliation, peace, and trust. God tries him but is always speaking to him, inspiring him and strewing his path with signs that calm and reassure him.
The Islamic tradition is that God asks Abraham to sacrifice Ishmael; in the Bible, the tradition is that Abraham is asked to sacrifice his first son, however the name that is placed there is Isaac.
This is how the Quran recounts the story:
Lord grant me a righteous son, so We gave him the good news that he would have a patient son. When the boy was old enough to work with his father, Abraham said, ‘My son, I have seen myself sacrificing you in a dream. What do you think?’ He said, ‘Father, do as you are commanded and , God willing, you will find me steadfast.’ When they had both submitted to God, and he had laid his son down on the side of his face, We called out to him, ‘Abraham, you have fulfilled the dream.’ This is how We reward those who do good- it was a test to prove their true characters. We ransomed his son with a momentous sacrifice, and We let him be praised by succeeding generations: ‘Protection and wellbeing be upon Abraham! 37:100-109
The trial is one we can not conceive the difficulty of: for the sake of his love and faith in God, Abraham must sacrifice his son, despite his fatherly love. The trial of faith is expressed here in this tension between the two loves.
Abraham consults Ishmael, and it is his own son, the object of sacrifice, whose comforting words to his father are like a confirming sign: ‘Father, do as you are commanded and , God willing, you will find me steadfast.’ 37:102
Their love for each other did not overtake their love for God. Truly this is where success lies.
Abraham and his son pass the test. A ransom was granted by the grace of God and the tradition of an animal sacrifice to the One True God is commemorated by believers on the Feast of Sacrifice on specific days of the Month of Pilgrimage annually.
Later in life, Abraham and his son Ishmael were commanded to construct a temple and a house of worship dedicated exclusively to the One True God. They completed building the cube structure (Kaba) together and prayed for acceptance. 2:127
God then ordered Abraham to call out for people to perform pilgrimage to it. God says, “Proclaim the Pilgrimage to all people. They will come to you on foot and on every kind of lean camel; emerging from every distant pass.” 22:28
Abraham asked, “My Lord, how can the message reach the people when my call would not reach them?”
God said, “Call them, and I will relay the message.”
Abraham then stood near the Kaba and proclaimed, “People! Your Lord has taken this as His House so perform a pilgrimage to it!” And to this day, any pilgrim who visits Mecca is answering his call.
Abandonment of comfort and ease is commemorated in the Pilgrimage. People continue to answer the call of Abraham and travel to the house which Abraham and Ishmael built. They dedicate themselves to model the rites of Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael from long ago with the same objective and the intention to please the Lord of the Universe.