There are minor differences between how the episode is narrated in Islam and how it’s told in Judaism and Christianity.
Id-ul-Zuha, (Arabic: “of sacrifice”) also spelled Id al-Adha, also called Id al-Qurban or al-Id al-Kabir (“major festival”), literally means “commemoration of the sacrifice”. Id-ul-Zuha is observed on the 10th of Dhul-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar and commemorates Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God’s command and God’s mercy in substituting a ram on being satisfied with Abraham’s proof of his submission to God’s test. It coincides with the Hajj pilgrimage.
Muslims slaughter a sacrificial animal — perhaps a sheep or goat — as a symbol of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ishmael. The meat is divided into three portions and accordingly distributed — one for the family, one for friends and relatives, and one for those in need or unable to afford meat.
Abraham received an injunction from God: He must offer his beloved son as a sacrifice. As a devoted servant of God, he agrees to obey and, accompanied by his wife, takes the child to Mount Moriah to slaughter him. On their journey, they were repeatedly met by Satan who tried to deter him from his task, but they threw stones at him to repel and drive him away. To re-enact Ibrahim’s rebuff of Satan’s temptation, pilgrims throw small stones at a stone pillar as part of the Hajj pilgrimage. This is act is known as “stoning of the devil” and commemorates the couple’s discountenance of Satan.
However, before Abraham could carry out the sacrifice, God spared Ishmael, who was already bound to the altar, by sending a ram, through the angel Gabriel, as a substitute offering. In celebration of Abraham’s love for God and this ultimate act of devotion, Muslims honour the event by sacrificing an animal on the anniversary every year.
There are minor differences between how the episode is narrated in Islam and how it’s told in Judaism and Christianity. But the moral lesson is the same: Abraham’s piety should be celebrated. He was willing to obey God’s order, even if it meant sacrificing his son. Unlike the Bible, in which Abraham receives an explicit commandment from God to sacrifice Isaac, the Abraham of the Quran only has a dream in which he sees himself sacrificing his son. He then consults his son (which Muslims believe to be Ishmael), and they together decide that this is a commandment from God.
The Quran succinctly illustrates Abraham’s sacrifice:
“And when he (Ishmael) was old enough to run along with him (Abraham), he said, ‘O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I offer thee in sacrifice. So consider what thou thinkest of it!’ He replied, ‘O my father, do as thou art commanded; thou wilt find me, if Allah please, steadfast in my faith.’
“And when they both submitted to the will of God, and Abraham had thrown him down on his forehead, We called to him, ‘O Abraham, thou hast indeed fulfilled the dream. Thus indeed do we reward those who do good.” (37:103-106).
On this solemn day, Muslims should strive to reclaim Id-ul-Zuha’s profoundly evocative spirit of redemption and affirmation of sanctity of human life as a compelling and passionate counter argument to extremists who champion human sacrifice and wield it to distort the humanising spirit of Islam.