The semiotics in the Day of the Great Festival
In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.
“…Thus We have subjected these animals to you so that you may be grateful.
It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Him but your piety.” (Q22: 36-37)
Brethren, I know you are in the mood already- that mood of happiness that humans experience each time they move from one station of happiness into another.
But it is not only Muslims who are in the mood of the day of Id al-Kabir; the rams, quite ironically, are equally there. It is their season too! This is the only season of the year when rams become the ‘cynosure’ of all eyes. It is their season of gathering. Each time they are brought together, I have a strange feeling that the rams are gathered for their own ‘resurrection’. Yes, brother, it feels as if the rams are witnessing their own ‘day of resurrection’. They have been brought together from far-flung and distant lands; from unknown regions and unsung landscapes. They have been brought into our cities and villages – rams of all sizes and weight.
Brethren, each time the Id al-Kabir is here and I behold the rams as they gather waiting for the day of sacrifice, I remember our own day of resurrection. On that day, we shall equally be gathered by our Creator from all around the world; from the past and to the present, from the known to the unknown. All of us shall be gathered by force to an open landscape where the Almighty would ‘sit’ in judgment over our actions and indeed, inactions here on earth.
But why is the sacrifice of rams so central to our faith? Is it one other celebration of blood as it is in some faith? The answer is in the negative. “Neither their meat will reach the Almighty nor their blood” so says the Almighty, “but what reaches Him is piety from you. Thus have We subjected them to you that you may glorify the Almighty for He has guided you right and give good tidings to the doers of good”…(Qur’an 22 verse 37).
As you count down to the Id day, therefore, please keep in mind the story of the spiritual patriarch whose journey with our Creator partly made this season a reality. Prophet Ibrahim (a.s) decided to believe in the Almighty at a time humanity had apostacized. Thus, he was tormented and punished by the idolatorous community into which he was born. But he knew that adversity is a precondition or prerequisite for prosperity. He knew he would win but he had to endure tribulation. Thus he was thrown into a burning fire. But the power to burn was taken away from the fire by He from whose fire sources its own power and he emerged from the inferno unscathed. By coming out of the fire unhurt, Prophet Ibrahim became an eternal model for all pretenders to faith. He became an exemplar in our on-going battle against earthly principalities.
Brethren, when someone proposes to oppress, torment and subject you to untold suffering, the Id al-Kabir takes place every year to remind you of the emptiness of that threat once you stand for and with your Creator.
Brethren, let us quickly fast forward to the family established by Prophet Ibrahim, a family of faith, piety and perseverance. He was the patriarch, not a masculinist. Sarah was the wife, not a feminist. She was the extremely contented and humble mother of Ishaq, from whose womb the Jews emerged.
Hajar was also the other wife, mother of Ismail from whose womb Muslims emerged. Prophet Ibrahim’s family featured a man, two women and two sons all of whom were individually destined to impact human history in extremely dissimilar and similar ways.
In other words, every action of these characters, while they were on earth, was destined to be a signifier. They were all involved in creating history without actually knowing it; they ‘transacted’ spiritual-mundane businesses which eventually became models till eternity.
Thus dear brethren, Prophet Ibrahim dreamt he offered his son, Prophet Ismail, as sacrifice to the Almighty. He proceeded to inform him of what he saw and the latter, without hesitation, encouraged his father to carry out the divine inspiration without prevarication.
Why was Prophet Ibrahim blessed with such a child who was ready to travel with him in the wilderness of spirituality? Why was he blessed with such a faithful child? My teachers suggested it was pay-back-time for him. Yes. Prophet Ibrahim was equally dutiful to his parents; the Almighty therefore would not and could not have blessed him with another son other than a lovely and dutiful one. My brother where and how is your father today? Pause a moment and ask yourself: where and how is your mama now?
Thus in that lonely desert that day, father and son got together to do what the father deemed to be the bidding of the Almighty. He wanted to sacrifice his son; the son wanted to offer himself to the Almighty. Father desired to please the Almighty; the son wanted to curry the favour of the owner of the heavens and earth.
Meanwhile, the mother of the son, Hajar, occupied a lonely space. In silence, she bore the pain of the inevitable loss of her son. In silence, she opened up her hearts to the Almighty.
Ismail was the only fruit of her womb. She had hoped he would be alive to take of care of her tomb. But there she was all alone as she submitted her desires and aspirations to the Almighty, the owner of her womb and tomb. She knew He was there watching over her son as he went through the most painful experience in submission and devotion.
Brethren, Id al-Kabir is around to remind us, once again, of how the Almighty usually intervene to turn a situation of hopelessness to that of hope and happiness. Prophet Ibrahim was told: “You have indeed affirmed the dream” and consequently a beautiful ram was given to him as ransom for his son. Thus, sacrifice became not an end in itself but a means towards a nobler end: an end to the sacrifice of humans in history, an end to the ascension of pernicious authorities in humans which usually make them go against the will of the Almighty, an end to greed, self-conceitedness, and inane glorification of the ephemeral not the eternal.
Sacrifice of animals on this day reminds the servants of the Almighty of their utter weakness in relation to every entity in the universe. Were it not for the WILL and favour of the Almighty, how could we by ourselves control and exert our authority over these sacrificial lambs?
Thus, on this hallowed day, prepare to observe the Sunnah of our leader.
Take a bath before Fajr prayers and put on new clothes (or the best available).
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