Eid al-Azha inculcates modesty and selflessness

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan | TOI Blog | August 01, 2020                       

Eid al-Azha is a festival celebrated by Muslims in the Islamic month of Zul Hijjah. Eid al-Azha literally means Eid of sacrifice as Muslims symbolically sacrifice an animal in an act known as qurbani. It is like a symbolic rehearsal of high values of faith, and it is required that these values be translated into practical life all the year-round. Two practices are performed by Muslims on the day of Eid al-Azha: congregational prayer in the mosque and the sacrificing of an animal. These two practices reflect the basic spirit of Eid al-Azha, which is a combination of two important states of mind–modesty through prayer and selflessness through sacrifice.

Prayer inculcates modesty in a person. A Muslim offers two units of namaz in the mosque. Besides the other prayers, the namaz of Eid includes the takbir which is recited more than once. Takbir means ‘God is great.’ The true significance of this takbir is that ‘God is great, and I am not great.’ So the essence of takbir is modesty. In prayer as in all aspects of our lives, we should relate to God through humility and modesty, as God’s servants.

God is Great, and we are not great. God is the Giver, and we are recipients. God is the Master, and we are His slaves. In this sense, the only appropriate way to relate with God is through modesty. Here, the excellence of the believer is to accept his insignificance before God. In this context, we accept our utter insignificance before Him and express our humility and complete surrender and obedience to Him. Even the word ‘Islam’ has the connotation of modesty. The word Islam means submission or surrender. And submission or surrender indicates modesty. This means that Islam is a religion of modesty.

Modesty is, in fact, the culture of the universe. In the vast space, there are numerous bodies, and all of them are moving according to a destined path. They never stray outside their orbit. All the many planets and stars, including our earth, are moving in a completely controlled and orderly way. They modestly follow the command of God. None of them ever rebels. None of them goes against the law of nature. They all wilfully submit to the law of nature. The whole universe presents a scene of modesty. Following the dictates of nature and Islam, man must also remain modest, both in front of God and to his fellow human beings.

The second important activity performed on Eid al-Azha is an animal sacrifice. This is an annual re-enactment of Prophet Abraham’s actions. Prophet Abraham dedicated his entire life to the cause of God. The full extent of Abraham’s dedication was demonstrated by his readiness to sacrifice even his own son for God. Every Muslim symbolically re–enacts their readiness to sacrifice for the cause of God on this day, as did the family of Abraham–the father, Abraham, the son, Ishmael, and the mother, Hajira. Referring to sacrifice, the Quran states: “Their flesh and blood do not reach God: it is your piety that reaches Him.” (22: 37)

From this verse of the Quran it is clear that while it appears the animals are being presented before God, in reality it is human beings who are presenting themselves before Him. In other words, the actual sacrifice is not the slaughter of an animal, but, instead, the slaughter of one’s self. Through sacrifice we express our determination to slaughter our egos for the sake of God, to sacrifice our own personal interests and be firmly established in the path of righteousness, to ignore all personal interests whilst obeying God’s commandments. In this way, we express our readiness to slice off  with a  knife our egos  if they become a hurdle in our journeying on God’s path.

Eid al-Azha is like a symbolic rehearsal of high values of faith, and it is required that these values be translated into practical life all the year round. There are two aspects of such faith: one, humility and modesty that is inculcated through prayer, and the other, selflessness and dedication that is inculcated through sacrifice. It is on these two fundamentals—humility and sacrifice—that the entire edifice of the faith stands.