The Ultimate Sacrifice
The years passed, and Ibrahim AS used to visit Hagar and Ismail AS regularly.
Ismail AS was most beloved to him. He was his only son, and the only descendant who could continue his line. Ismail’s AS birth into this world was a long time coming, and having had his prayers for a child and an heir for the message of Islam answered by Allah, it was only natural that Ibrahim AS loved his precious boy fiercely. It was also natural that over the years, his paternal love and affection increased as the boy grew from an infant to a youth who was poised to succeed Ibrahim AS in transmitting the message of Allah to his people.
When Ismail AS was at the brink of manhood (by most accounts, 13 years old) Ibrahim AS received a recurring dream that he was to slaughter him. Dreams of Prophets are revelations, so there was no doubt that this dream was a divine command from Allah. By this time, Ibrahim AS was close to one hundred years old.
Ibrahim AS had an unimaginable task ahead: to end the life of his beloved son with his own hands. It was the ultimate trial for him, and the decision would have been heart wrenching for any father. However, Allah’s wishes had been communicated clearly, and it was a command that Ibrahim AS was willing to obey in order to please his Lord.
Ibrahim’s AS love for Allah was greater than the love he had for his son. After all, his son was not his to own, but a trust from Allah, to whom all things belong. Love of Allah involves momentous sacrifices of what one loves in this world, and Ibrahim AS chose the love of Allah above what he loved most dearly in this world. The sincerity of his action reflected his submission to the will of Allah.
He consulted with his wife, Hagar. She had the strength of faith befitting of a Prophet’s wife, and she supported his decision. Imagine how heartbreaking such a decision must have been for a mother in respect of her only child, yet, the same way she had trusted Allah when placed alone in the middle of the desert, her faith and obedience to Allah reigned supreme in her heart.
Ibrahim AS then consulted his son on his vision – for even though the decision was made, could he then force his son to the place of sacrifice without his consent and cooperation? He said: O my son! I see a dream that I offer you in sacrifice, so tell me what is your view?” (37:102). To his joy, Ismail AS replied “O my father! Do as you are commanded, you will find me, if Allah so willed, one of the patient.”(37:102). Ismail’s AS mature response, his deep insight into the nature of his father’s dreams, his commitment to God, and ultimately his willingness to sacrifice his own life for the sake of Allah were all absolute and unconditional.
Hence, preparations were made for the sacrifice. During this time, Satan tried to tempt Ibrahim AS, Hagar and Ismail AS from carrying out Allah’s command. However, Ibrahim AS drove Satan away by throwing pebbles at him. In commemoration of their rejection of Satan, stones are thrown at three symbolic pillars signifying Satan during the hajj rituals.
The time had come. Ibrahim AS sharpened his knife in order to make death swift, and lay his beloved son face down to spare him the terror of witnessing the fatal strike. ”So when they had both submitted to the Will of Allah, and he laid him down upon his brow…” (37:103) However, upon contact, the blade suddenly became blunt and made no impact on Ismail’s AS neck. Ibrahim AS tested the knife – it was indeed sharp – but again, it became dull and incapable of cutting Ismail’s AS skin. Allah had changed the nature of the blade, the same way that He had changed the quality of the fire into which Ibrahim AS had earlier been thrown.
Then came a call from Allah: “O Ibrahim! You have indeed fulfilled the vision.” (37:104-37:105), meaning that the purpose of the trial had already been achieved. Ibrahim AS had been given the most difficult trial of his life, and had passed. The trial was the supreme and complete obedience to Allah. He had demonstrated that he was willing to offer his only son as sacrifice to Allah.
Allah did not want to end Ismail’s AS life – He just wanted to test Ibrahim’s AS love and sincerity to Him. Some scholars express their interpretation that what was to be slaughtered was not Ismail’s AS flesh, but rather any excessive attachment that Ibrahim AS might have had for his son.
At this time, Allah “… redeemed him with a momentous sacrifice” (37:107) – a ram was sent in substitution of Ismail AS as the sacrifice to Allah. Until today, on the festival of Eid al Adha, camels, cattle and sheep are offered as a sacrifice to Allah in remembrance of Ibrahim’s AS ultimate sacrifice to Allah.
Whenever a sacrifice is made for Allah, or Allah places a trial onto a person, and that sacrifice is made or the person has passed the trial, Allah rewards His slave. The rewards for Ibrahim AS were immense, the first being the construction of the Ka’abah, and the second being the birth of his second son, Ishaq AS, by his wife Sara, from which a long line of noble Prophets and Messengers was born.
The Construction of the Ka’abah
The population of Makkah grew, as tribes from far and wide were attracted to the Zam Zam and its reliable source of water. Eventually it was commanded by Allah for Ibrahim AS and his son Ismail AS to build the first place on earth dedicated to the worship of Allah alone. “Indeed, the first House [of worship] established for mankind was that at Makkah – blessed and a guidance for the worlds.” (3:97) This is also known as the Ka’abah, a modest rectangular structure to which all Muslims, regardless of where they are situated in the world, face when performing their prayers.
Allah guided father and son on the exact specifications of the Ka’abah. There is also the Ka’abah of the heavenly realm, poised exactly above the earthly Ka’abah in Makkah. This other Ka’abah (Al Baitul Makmur) is in the seventh heaven, and on each day a fresh batch of 70,000 angels enter it for the purpose of worship. It is said that the Ka’bah on earth is a replica of Al Baitul Makmur, and was seen by Prophet Muhammad SAW on his ascension to heaven (the mi’raj).
The construction of the Ka’abah was solemnized through the beautiful du’a below:
And [mention] when Abraham was raising the foundations of the House and [with him] Ismail, [saying], “Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Indeed You are the Hearing, the Knowing. Our Lord, and make us Muslims [in submission] to You and from our descendants a Muslim nation [in submission] to You. And show us our rites and accept our repentance. Indeed, You are the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful. Our Lord, and send among them a messenger from themselves who will recite to them Your verses and teach them the Book and wisdom and purify them. Indeed, You are the Exalted in Might, the Wise.” (2:126-2:129)