The Holy Qur’an says: “And We ransomed him with a Great Sacrifice.” (37:107)
Eid al-Adha is the day when Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) was ready to sacrifice his own son in submission to the will of Allah. Despite Satanic insinuations, he took his noble son and resolved to undertake what Allah wanted from him. As he was about to move his knife, Allah commanded him to stop, and placed a ram which He ordered to be slaughtered instead of his son. Ibrahim passed the Divine Test. Narrating this scenario, the Holy Qur’an employs the above mentioned verse. Exegetes of the Qur’an opine that, as is apparent, “the great sacrifice” mentioned in this verse refers to the ram placed for slaughter instead of Prophet Isma’il (peace be upon him). This is the apparent extension (misdaq) of the verse. There is however a deeper and more perfect extension of the ransom which some exegetes draw from the radiant teachings of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them). In fact, they believe that a ram cannot be termed to be a “great sacrifice” for a great human being like Prophet Isma’il.
Shaikh al-Saduq narrates the following tradition in his Uyun Akhbar al-Ridha. Mufaddhal bin Shadhaan narrates: I heard Imam al-Ridha (peace be upon him) saying:
“When Allah (Blessed and Exalted is He) ordered Ibrahim to slaughter the ram that He sent down instead of his son Isma’il, Ibrahim wished that he would have slaughtered his own son Isma’il with his hand and was not ordered to slaughter the ram instead, so that he experiences in his heart that which a father who sacrifices the dearest of his sons with his hand experiences, and as a result, deserving the highest of the stations of the people of reward due to calamities. So Allah, the Invincible and Majestic, revealed unto him: ‘O Ibrahim, who is the most beloved of My creation to you?’ Ibrahim replied: ‘O Lord, You did not create a creation which is more beloved to me than Your beloved Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny).’
“Thereupon Allah, the Invincible and Majestic, revealed unto him: ‘O Ibrahim, is he then more beloved to you, or yourself?’ Ibrahim replied: ‘Rather, he is more lovable to me than myself.’ Allah, the Invincible and Majestic, said: ‘Is then his son more lovable to you, or your son?’ He said: ‘Rather his son is more lovable.’ Allah said: ‘Does the slaughter of his son in oppression by his enemies agitate your heart more, or slaughtering your son with your hand in My obedience?’ He said: ‘Rather, the slaughter of his son in the hands of his enemies agitates my heart more.’ Allah said: ‘O Ibrahim, indeed a people who conjecture that they are from the Ummah of Muhammad would soon kill al-Hussain (peace be upon him), his son, after him, in oppression and enmity, in the way a ram is slaughtered, and as a result, they would earn my wrath.’ This agitated and hurt the heart of Ibrahim and he started weeping.
“Thereupon Allah revealed unto him: ‘O Ibrahim, I have ransomed “your agitation for your son Isma’il if you were to slaughter him”, with “your agitation for al-Hussain and his martyrdom”, and have made incumbent for you the highest of the stations of the rewarded ones due to calamities.’ And that is the word of Allah, the Invincible and Majestic: ‘And we ransomed him with a Great Sacrifice.’ (37:107) And there is no power nor strength except through Allah, the Exalted, and Great.”
Imam al-Hussain not only sacrificed himself, but sacrificed his sons and family as well as his possessions in the way of Allah. This is the lesson of Eid al-Adha. It is a celebration that should rejuvenate in us the spirit of self-sacrifice. We should carefully examine ourselves in order to decipher whether we have actually returned (Eid is from the word ‘Awd, which means “to return”) to the sacrificing spirit that Allah has naturally endowed us with. If not, then we are indeed distant from the real Eid of Sacrifice. This is the message of Eid al-Adha.