Lessons on Sacrifice from the Legacy of Ibrahim (s)

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Published August 28, 2021

By Sh. Suleiman Hani

When you think of Prophet ibrahim (Abraham), with his powerful and numerous stories referenced in more than 200 verses across 25 suwar (chapters) of the Qur’an, how would you summarize his legacy? I suggest that one word, it could be said, sums it up — sacrifice.

Ibrahim (s) was nicknamed the “khaleel” or “friend” of Allah (Qur’an 4:125), praised for being honorably truthful (siddiq, in 19:41), compassionate and gracious (haleem, in 11:75), and, importantly, a monotheist upon pure natural faith (hanif, in 3:67 and seven other verses). Throughout the year, the legacy of Ibrahim is referenced in different ways, and oftentimes it is emphasized more during the days of Dhul Hijjah due to the sacrifices he made. As Muslims, we recognize that the stories of the Qur’an are to teach, to guide, and to uplift. These stories are historical realities that took place with human beings similar to us – and yet different, at times – and the stories we read in the Qur’an are ones that can inspire us to make real changes in our lives and our communities.

Ibrahim sacrificed everything in pursuit of truth, and he did not give up until he found that truth. Allah reveals to us the story of how Ibrahim asked questions to his father and others in his idol-worshiping community such as: “Why do you worship what can neither hear nor see, nor benefit you at all?” (19:42). He also observed the natural world around him via a spiritual-empirical lens, seeing the stars, moon, and sun, for example, as they appeared in all their celestial glory but then vanished with the coming and going of night and day, until he concluded that the only one worthy of worship, the one true God, is “…the one who created the heavens and the earth…” (Qur’an 6:76-79). He had continued searching for the truth until he had full conviction in the one God, the creator of all that exists, and thereafter followed divine inspiration and his realization as a prophet.

Sincerity and Dedication in Search for Truth

Today, people claim to search for truth and oftentimes don’t mean it in anything more than a superficial way. Giving up is easy when there is a multiplicity of options that all can be presented as equally valid, and the truth becomes blurred by our own modernist and “sophisticated” mindset. Even when someone embraces a system of belief but then has doubts, for example, or struggles with an element of faith, how much sincere effort do they put into the pursuit of truth and finding conviction in their belief in that truth in order to overcome that doubt?

In a post-truth world in which most individuals worship their own desires, people inevitably take their desires as gods (i.e., idols) and sacrifice everything, sometimes even those they love, for the sake of their own desires. Their desires and their personal narrative, their “lived experience,” become their ultimate truth, which is essentially one of the main logical conclusions of one form of liberalism today.

Our level of sincerity and dedication determines where we end up in life, and how much truth we attain. The quicker one gives up the pursuit of truth for satisfaction of desires, the more attached to desires one becomes, and the more difficult and distant the truth seems. It is crucial that we are intellectually humble, spiritually sincere, and psychologically resilient in the pursuit of truth and conviction, to overcome laziness, the schemes of the devils, the societal pressures around us, and the distractions and illusions of this superficial and transient world.

The fact is that God promises guidance to those who sincerely seek guidance: “As for those who struggle in Our cause, We will surely guide them along Our Way. And Allah is certainly with the good-doers” (Qur’an 29:69). Even for “practicing” Muslims, there is a promise too: if you want to become better, and if you truly desire improvement, Allah promises that you will have guidance in proportion to how sincere and dedicated (i.e., striving) you are, and more guidance will be given in addition to that: “As for those who are rightly-guided, He increases them in guidance and blesses them with righteousness” (Qur’an 47:17).

Pursuing Truth and Calling Others to It

Sacrificing one’s desires for the truth, in following the footsteps of Ibrahim (s), requires one to pursue truth and also call others to it. Advocating for what is true is not easy work, nor is it a one-time endeavor. Ibrahim relentlessly searched for truth, did not give up, and also called his entire community to the truth as well. It would be easy for most believers to assume that pursuing the truth is an individualistic objective, and that the comfort that comes with “keeping it personal” is preferable to the hard work of helping to bring others to the same realization. Peer and societal pressures, particularly in the twenty-first century, might seem discouraging and difficult to overcome.

The idols people worship today – money, power, fame, and influence, amongst other things – are prevailing and increasing in different parts of the world. At a deeper level, the primary idol that is worshiped is that of one’s own desires — which, in essence, is self-worship. This is an idol that might seem difficult to convince people to detach from. For many people, whatever desires they have, and whatever comes to mind, so long as it “doesn’t directly harm other people” – it becomes not only acceptable, but important to pursue as part of one’s journey towards apparent “happiness.” Thus, sacrifice in this context of self-centeredness requires us to remember the principle that the truth is greater than our desires. The truth, and our purpose in this life, is greater than pursuing our desires.

Additionally, true love of God, and true sacrifice for His sake, is so that we choose Allah over our own desires. That love is tested on a daily basis with the numerous decisions we make, from the time of morning prayer up to and including the moment of sleep. As an end result, those who sacrifice in this world their desires out of love for Allah are promised a Paradise that is eternal, wherein “They will have whatever they desire [eternally], and with Us is more” (50:35). The people of paradise are given an eternal reward, indescribable and unimaginable to us in this world, for choosing to pursue the truth in this life rather than their uncontrolled desires. Furthermore, the desires that do exist that are natural and acceptable, such as the enjoyment of food, drink, achievement, etc., are meant to be channeled in a morally noble manner in this world, but the desires of paradise, pure and sound, are fulfilled forever in a manner we cannot possibly imagine.

Throwing Off the Shackles of Self-worship

So, in light of our emphasis on sacrifice, we should strive to liberate ourselves from the shackles of self-worship while also helping others to be liberated in the process, from the worship of their own worldly and superficial idols. Sometimes, believers mistakenly assume that religion is a sensitive subject which should never be explicitly addressed, but if they were to see people running towards the edge of a cliff, or a fire, or any other form of harm, they would urgently call out to them and warn them about impending danger. Likewise, educating others about Islam through a wise, gentle, prophetic manner, and in the right time and place, is for the sake of helping save as many lives as possible.

The pursuit of social justice causes for the Muslim is about liberating people from all forms of injustice and oppression, as viewed through the lens of objective morality. All oppression and immorality in this world stems from a lack of implementation to God’s revealed law, and if we are to successfully navigate the many problems we face in most societies today, such as racism, wealth inequality, violation of civil and human rights, etc., then our moral reference points, determined by the criteria of Qur’an and sunnah, guide us to the most correct solutions. And, of course, the Muslim worldview aims for the liberation of people from both external and personal causes. This framework sees the liberation from idol/self-worship as just as important. Educating people about the truth of Islam and liberation through submission benefits individuals, families, communities, and societies.

Finally, when one considers the various stories of sacrifice and trials in the life of Ibrahim, such as being thrown in a fire (21:68-69) or the command to sacrifice his beloved son (37:99-111), one should reflect on his or her own sacrifices on a daily basis. Ibrahim was willing to sacrifice his son – although eventually he was replaced with the sacrificial animal – and yet he did not have to. His choice to empty out his heart of all worldly attachments and to place them second after his love of God, meant that his heart was completely filled with the love of Allah and submission to His command. He passed the test, and as a result his son was “given back” to him on new terms, one in which they were both willing to submit to God in total completeness.

Detachment from worldly things is not always easy. Detaching ourselves from people (in such way that we still care but we do not place them as priority over Allah SWT) and material things can seem difficult and unpleasant. However, detaching from this world and filling one’s heart completely with the love of the One who created it, is liberating and otherworldly. He is the One who forgives us every time we turn to Him, accepts us every time we call upon Him. He created us, loves us, and wants us to reach paradise, and yet we at times disregard Him and misunderstand His guidance. The worldly thing that is taken away is meant to purify the heart and make us better. It is meant to test our beliefs and raise our rank. When we attach ourselves to the Eternal, the One who sustains all that exists (Al-Hayy Al-Qayyoom), we keep the temporary things of this fleeting life in a proper perspective and right value.

“O mankind, it is you who stand in need of Allah, and Allah [alone] is the Self-sufficient, the Praiseworthy” (Qur’an 35:15).

We ask Allah to detach our hearts from this world and to attach our hearts to His pleasure and the afterlife, and to guide us to the knowledge and understanding that produce actions that are most pleasing to Him.

Avatar photo Sh. Suleiman HaniAuthor Imam Suleiman Hani is the Director of Academic Affairs at AlMaghrib Institute and a research scholar for Yaqeen Institute. He has master’s degree from the University of Jordan’s College of Shari’ah and a master’s degree from Harvard University.

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