Last night as my kids were getting ready for bed, they were looking at a calendar hanging on the wall, and they noticed that today is a holiday: Eid al-Adha. They asked me what it is; maybe you’re wondering too.
Eid al-Adha means “Feast of Sacrifice” in Arabic, and it comes at the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Eid al-Adha commemorates how Abraham’s faith was tested when he was asked by God to sacrifice his only son.
The Biblical story, found in Genesis 22, states that God tested Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice “your son, your only son, whom you love,” and that this son was Isaac. In spite of that, Muslims believe that this son was not Isaac, but actually Ishmael. The Qur’an’s account of this story does not list the name of the son explicitly, but Muslims believe that it was Ishmael, not Isaac – because the Arabic people are descended from Ishmael, whereas the Jewish people are descended from Isaac. It is important to keep in mind that the Muslim traditions and the Qur’an came about much later (hundreds and in some cases, thousands of years) than the biblical texts.
Another difference between the Islamic version of this story and the Biblical one is the location where this takes place. In the Bible, this sacrifice took place on Mount Moriah, which is the future location of Jerusalem, and specifically the Temple. As such, it is the same hill upon which Jesus would later be crucified.
Islamic tradition states that during this time, Abraham was tempted by the devil not to obey God. For this reason, part of the Hajj includes the throwing of rocks at a three large columns in Mina, where it is believed that Abraham was tempted by the devil.
In the biblical account of the story, God provides a ram to be a substitute for Abraham’s son, to die in his place, so that he can live. This, particularly in light of the location on Mount Moriah, is an important foreshadowing to the biblical concept of substitutionary sacrifice, the greatest of which is Jesus – after whom no more sacrifices are to be offered, because no more sacrifices are needed to atone for sin or to facilitate fellowship with God, since Jesus has accomplished those things in their fullest form, forever.
Muslim tradition, on the other hand, states that as Abraham attempted to kill Ishmael, either the knife was turned over in his hand, or copper appeared on Ishmael to prevent Abraham from killing him, and then Abraham was told that he had fulfilled the command. No mention is made in the Qur’an of an animal replacing the son, only that he is replaced with a “great sacrifice.” This sacrifice was taken to be the institution of regular religious sacrifice, which is now practiced every year on Eid al-Adha, where Muslims around the world slaughter an animal to commemorate Abraham’s sacrifice and to remind themselves to obey the way of Allah.
However, there is some Islamic art which has historically shown Abraham sacrificing an animal in place of his son, like in the biblical account.
The greatest difference between Christianity and every other religion in the world, including Islam, is the belief about how one is saved, or justified (made right with God). Whereas every other religion and philosophy says that it is based on your obedience, your performance, your compliance and adherence to certain rules and ordinances, Christianity says that it is by the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus on your behalf – and the story of Abraham and Isaac, and how God provided a substitute, is one of the greatest pictures of this salvation by grace in the Old Testament. Isaiah later speaks of how the Messiah will be slaughtered, like a lamb, and as a substitute for the people (Isaiah 53). Jesus is later referred to as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29).
Please join me in praying that especially now during Eid al-Adha, God would open the eyes of many Muslim people to see Jesus as the true and ultimate sacrifice, given by God on their behalf, so they can rest from their labors of trying to justify themselves, and receive justification and salvation as a free gift of His grace.