A Look in to the Existential Philosophy of “‘Īd al-Aḍḥā” from the Viewpoint of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

A Look in to the Existential Philosophy of “‘Īd al-Aḍḥā” from the Viewpoint of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

One of the signs of the greatness of this day is that even though many long years have passed, people still engage in this sacrifice and they keep its reminder alive‌

The ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā (also known as ʿĪd of Qurbān) is an important opportunity towards gaining further proximity to Allah. This is a day when human beings remember their status of servitude towards Allah (swt) and they remember how important it is to obey his commands. Moreover, while carrying out Allah’s command in regards to the sacrifice in Minā, we should remember that this sacrifice must be accompanied by a sacrifice in regards to our carnal desires as well. In reality, the sacrifice of our carnal desires is the key issue in this matter. Indeed, gaining a deeper understanding of the various facets and aspects of ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā has been greatly emphasized in the Islamic teachings, because without such understanding one cannot make proper use of this blessed day.

In order to understand this day properly, let us delve in to the explanations of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi in regards to the various aspects of this day. One of the key ways of looking at this day is as a type of war against one’s carnal desires; it is a type of realization of the ‘Greater Jiḥād’, which means fighting one’s evil-prompting self.  Many of the Quranic commentators have considered the Yawm al-Ḥajj al-Akbar (The Day of the Greater Ḥajj) to mean the day of the ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā. This day is considered as one of the most important days of the Ḥajj pilgrimage and we have many traditions from the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) (as well as traditions in the Sunni sourcebooks) which confirm this meaning.  In light of this understanding, let us now turn to the viewpoint of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi in order to better understand the various aspects of this issue:

ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā: The Realization of the Greatness of the Islamic Faith in the Great Gathering of the Ḥajj

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has explained the importance of the ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā (particularly in the context of the Ḥajj pilgrimage) in the following words: ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā possesses certain particularities which cause it to be one of the most important days of worship in the Islamic faith.  Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has then explained the significance of ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā as a symbol of the greatness of Islam and as a symbol of the Ḥajj pilgrimage, and he has said: We Muslims spend our time fasting during the month of Ramaḍān and we repent of the sins which we have committed. At the conclusion of the month, we are given the grace and blessing of celebrating the day of ʿĪd.

Similarly, when the Ḥajj pilgrims have concluded their rites, they also celebrate their ʿĪd as well. However, the blessings of the Ḥajj pilgrimage are not restricted to the pilgrims who perform it; rather the Ḥajj itself adds to the greatness and honor for the entire Muslim world.  Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has considered this day of ʿĪd to be a day when Allah (swt) has invited the pilgrims as guests to his table, which is filled with many blessings and honors. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has mentioned in this regard: ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā is a day when the people are chosen to be the guests of Allah (swt); the pilgrims have visited the house of Allah and thus they have become his guests and the day of ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā is a day of celebration for them.

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has stated that those who are not in Mecca during that time still benefit from ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā and they should hold celebrations and be extra cheerful on this day.  The reason behind this is that the blessings of Allah (swt) on this day spread beyond the pilgrims who are in Mecca and they ends up encompassing all of the Muslims.

ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā: A Symbol of the Great Self Sacrifice of the Champion of Monotheism

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has explained the essential nature of the sacrifice which is performed on the ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā in Minā. He has stated the following in this regard: One of the rites of the Ḥajj pilgrimage on the tenth day of Dhī al-Ḥijjah is that of sacrificing an animal for the sake of Allah in Minā. This is considered to be an obligatory action within Islam. Yet, by examining the reasons behind the doing of this rite, we realize that one of the purposes of this rite is to commemorate the self-sacrifice of Prophet Abraham (ʿa), one of the champions of monotheism.

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has then explained the actions of Prophet Abraham (ʿa) and he has said: The story behind this event is that Allah (swt) wished to perfect the spiritual state of Prophet Abraham (ʿa) and he furthermore wished to show his high rank and position. Towards this end, He ordered him to sacrifice his own son in the land of Minā, in the way of Allah. In reality, this sacrifice was simply a test and it was to prove the worthiness of Abraham (ʿa). When Prophet Abraham (ʿa) obeyed Allah’s command and was prepared to sacrifice his son, he passed the test and thus he was asked to sacrifice a lamb instead.

In light of this, the pilgrims at the Ḥajj reenact this grand sacrifice in Minā in order to commemorate the lofty faith and sincerity of Abraham (ʿa) and also to remember how far he was willing to go in Allah’s obedience. This remembrance brings the hearts back to life and it teaches us to also be willing to sacrifice in the way of Allah (swt) and to be willing to make every effort in his cause. It is said that a man of Allah is the one who is ready to sacrifice all he has in the cuase of Allah, just as Prophet Abraham was prepared to do so. Thus this sacrifice on the day of ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā is simply a grand reminder of this momentous event in history.

ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā: A Feast of Obedience

According to Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, the ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā is a clear symbol of obedience to Allah (swt) and following his commands. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has mentioned in this regard that: On the day of ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā, which is the second most important ʿĪd of the Muslim world, the pilgrims first perform the rites of the Ḥajj and when they are finished, they celebrate the ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā and the rest of the Muslim world celebrate it alongside them. This day is considered to be a day of ʿĪd, which is in reality a day of celebrating one’s obedience to Allah (swt).

Reflection on the Significance of the ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā in the Field of Quranic Exegesis: The Verse which Swears by the Rising of the Dawn

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has mentioned that the Quranic verse which states: ‘By the dawn’  is in reality a reference to the day of ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā. He has made the following remarks in this regard: The term Fajr (dawn) in this verse is a reference made to the dawn of the day of ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā. The reason behind this is that there is a lot of commotion on that day and the massive crowds gather together at the Mashʿar al-Ḥarām, awaiting the coming of the dawn. Everyone is absorbed in a state of supplication and prayer, and they are focused on Allah (swt).

After the coming of the dawn, the people stay in Mashʿar for a short period of time and then they move waves after waves towards Minā. The pilgrims finally stone the Satan in Minā and they then perform the sacrifice; after this is complete, they then shave their heads (Taqṣīr). This verse of the Quran is in reality a reference to the coming of the dawn of the day of ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā, which is a very special kind of dawn, unlike the other normal days of the year.[1]

ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā: Total Submission to the Commands of Allah (swt)

In order for us to truly understand the ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā, we must first look in to the teachings of the Quran and the traditions, and then it is necessary for us to delve in to the story of Prophet Abraham (ʿa) and the sacrifice of his son, Ismail (ʿa). Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has further explained this issue in the following words: Prophet Abraham (ʿa) had passed many of the tests which Allah had placed in his way; this time too, he was forced to gather his spiritual resources, and strive towards passing this new test which he was being given.

He had been asked to sacrifice a son for whom he had been waiting for a very long time. His son had now reached the age of youth and Abraham (ʿa) was being asked to sacrifice him with his own hands…  It is interesting to see that since Abraham (ʿa) considered his son of thirteen years as being an independent and free soul, he wished to allow him to also participate in this divine test and feel what it feels like to be obedient to one’s Lord, no matter what is being asked of you.

Furthermore, Ismail (ʿa) also wished to further strengthen his father’s will and resolve in the test which he was facing. He didn’t tell his father “sacrifice me!”; he instead told him: “obey your Lord and do what He has ordered you to do”. He also told his father that he would submit before the command of Allah (swt), irregardless of what was being asked from him. When he spoke to his father, he used the words of ‘O’ father’  which signifies that what they were doing did not mean that they had forgotten the love and affection between a father and his son; yet, at the same time, their behavior shows that such emotions should never get in the way of what Allah (swt) has commanded, for Allah’s command predominates over everything else.

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has then continued his explanation of how Prophet Abraham (ʿa) and Prophet Ismail (ʿa) attained victory in their battle, and he has stated: It is noteworthy that Prophet Abraham (ʿa) had an exceedingly refined level of behavior and cour-tesy towards his Lord. He never believed that he could solely rely upon his own faith and willpower in the fulfillment of his mission; rather, he relied on Allah (swt) as the source of all power and as a God whose will dominated over the will of everything else. In this way, both father and son passed the first stage of their great examination!

ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā: A Chance to Free Oneself from the Strictures of the Carnal Desires

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has explained the details of Prophet Abraham’s (ʿa) sacrifice in the following words: A most sensitive moment had arrived and it was time to carry out the divine command. Prophet Abraham (ʿa) saw that his son had also submitted before this command and he embraced his son for one last time and kissed him. At this moment, both of them began to cry.  The Quran has recounted this moment as follows: ‘So when they had both surrendered [to Allah’s will], and he had laid him down on his forehead…’ [2]

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has explained the meaning of this verse in the following words: Some have said that the meaning of ‘…and he had laid him down on his forehead’ was that Abraham (ʿa) placed the forehead of his son down according to his son’s suggestion, so that his father would not be wrongly influenced by emotion in seeing his son’s face and fail to obey Allah’s command. In any case, Abraham (ʿa) placed his son’s head on the ground, and he took out his knife and began to cut… However, the knife failed to even scratch his son’s throat…[3]
Rather astonished that the sharp knife had not done its job well, Abraham (ʿa) once again tried to cut but once again, the knife had no effect. This was, in fact, because Abraham (ʿa) was commanding the knife to cut, but Allah (swt) had commanded the knife not to cut and the knife was being obedient to its Lord’s commands.  Yet, what happened next has been briefly narrated in the Quran has mentioned as follows: ‘We called out to him, ‘O Abraham! You have indeed fulfilled your vision! Thus indeed do We reward the virtuous!’[4] Allah (swt) gave them the blessing of being victorious in their examination and he also saved Prophet Ismail from being sacrificed. These were two individuals who had submitted themselves fully to Allah (swt) and they were willing to do anything for His sake, even at the cost of their lives. The Quran has then continued and mentioned: ‘This was indeed a manifest test.’’

ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā: A Gathering of Reward for the Sincere and Faithful Servants

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has further explained the essential philosophy of ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā by referencing various traditions. He has mentioned in this regard that: It has been mentioned in some traditions that when this sacrifice was taking place (the sacrifice of Ismail (ʿa) by Abraham (ʿa), the Angel Gabriel cried out with amazement: Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest. And Abraham (ʿa)’s son cried out: There is not deity but Allah, Allah is the greatest! At this moment, Abraham (ʿa) also said: Allah is the greatest; all praise is due to Allah.  These are similar to the calls of glorification which we recite on the day of ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā.

The Great Sacrifice: The Reward for the Victory of Prophet Abraham (ʿa) in his Divine Examination

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has explained the essential formation of ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā and the establishment of this Abrahamic tradition. He has said in this regard: In order that the actions of Abraham (ʿa) would not remain unfinished and that he could perform his sacrifice, Allah (swt) sent a large ram to him so that it could be sacrificed in place of his son. This act was then established as a tradition for all the people during the Ḥajj pilgrimage in the land of Minā. The Quran has made the following remarks in this regard: ‘Then We ransomed him with a great sacrifice,’  

So not only did Allah (swt) praise Abraham (ʿa) for his victory and obedience on that day, but He made that act something which would be remembered and commemorated each and every year by large crowds of pilgrims. The Quran has mentioned in this regard: ‘and left for him a good name in posterity.’  This means that the act of Prophet Abraham (ʿa) continues to be remembered up until today and it will continue to be remembered long in to the far future.
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has then continued this discussion and said: At this first stage, Allah (swt) confirmed Prophet Abraham’s (ʿa) victory in the course of his great examina-tion and he confirmed that he had passed his test.[5] This in itself was a great reward, for passing such a great examination is itself a great blessing and grace from Allah (swt). This was in reality the greatest reward which Allah gave to Abraham (ʿa). The next issue involved was that of the ‘great sacrifice’ and the perpetual commemoration of the name and actions of Prophet Abraham (ʿa)  and this was a type of second reward which was given to Prophet Abraham (ʿa).

ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā: A Day of Helping the Poor and Poverty Stricken

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has then referred to one of the important issues related to the ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā, which is the distribution of the meat of all of the animals which are slaughtered. These are naturally distributed to the poor of the Muslim world. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has mentioned in this regard: We must now see what Islam has said in regards to the meat of these animals and if the Muslims have a duty in this regard. When we refer to the Quran, we see that in Surah al-Ḥajj, the following instructions have been given to those who sacrifice animals in Minā on the day of ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā. The verse states the following: ‘…and feed the destitute and the needy.’[6]  Another verse in this same chapter states: ‘And when they have fallen on their flanks, eat from them, and feed the self-contained needy and the mendicant. ‘[7]

The Correct Use of the Remaining Meat: A Completion of the Spiritual Benefits of the ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has explained how the aforementioned meat should be utilized and the role that this plays in the completion of the spiritual benefits of ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā. He has made the following remarks in this regard: In our religious texts, it has been instructed that the Ḥajj pilgrims need to divide the meat in to three portions. One portion should be used by themselves, the other portion should go to the pious believers, while the third portion should go to the poor. These explicit instructions show us that in addition to the spiritual benefits of this act of sacrifice, there are also material benefits for the entire society. This meat must never be wasted and there must be proper planning and organization to insure that it is used in the correct manner.

ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā and the Duties of the Islamic Governments

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has emphasized the necessity of having the proper management for all of the meat which results from the yearly sacrifices. He has mentioned in this regard: At this time, the duty of the pilgrims and the Muslim governments is to process and utilize this meat in the correct manner. This is an Islamic duty which is in line with the other goals of the faith. We must work towards building the proper cold storage units and prevent any of the meat from going to waste. This meat should be used in the way the Holy Quran has instructed and this is a goal which we can gradually work towards.

During past times, the numbers of the Ḥajj pilgrims were much smaller and the meat which resulted from these sacrifices was used properly in that same day. Today, the numbers of the pilgrims have increased due to the ease of travel. Therefore, we must utilize modern technology to prevent the waste of this meat… This is a duty which is incumbent on the Islamic governments and on the Muslims as individuals, and they must work hard to ensure that no waste takes place in this regard.

A Final Word

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has then concluded his discussion of the great event of ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā and the role of Prophet Abraham (ʿa) in its establishment as follows: One of the signs of the greatness of this day is that every year, the numbers of pilgrims grow and become larger and larger. Today, more than two million pilgrims commemorate the great sacrifice of Prophet Abraham (ʿa)…  In the Holy Quran, Allah has mentioned that: ‘Peace be upon Abraham.’[8] He has also stated that: ‘This is how we reward the doers of good.’[9]

In light of this, we must say that ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā is a reminder of this key lesson from Prophet Abraham (ʿa), who became an example for all of humanity…  His actions on that day many centuries ago became a divine tradition implemented in to the rites of the Ḥajj pilgrimage. This is a divine tradition which will continue to be remembered and practiced in the future. We should know that Abraham (ʿa) is the forebearer of the Prophet of Islam (s) and he is in reality the father of the Islamic nation.