Eid Al-Adha: Who Has it Right?

Essay Eleven

Eid al-Adha, the great feast of Islam, also called the Day of the Sacrifice, falls on the 10th day of the last month of the lunar calendar. It comes during the Hajj pilgrimage festival, the fifth pillar of Islam, and is essentially a reenactment of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son, the Biblical account of which is found in Genesis chapter 22.

The essential Qur’anic story is found in the 37th chapter and verses 99 to 109. Quoted now from The Noble Qur’an:

99        He said, ‘I am going towards my Lord; He will be my guide.

100  My Lord, bestow on me a right-acting child!’

101  And We gave him the good news of a forbearing boy.

102  When he was of an age to work with him, he said, ‘My son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice you. What do you think about this?’ He said, ‘Do as you are ordered, father. Allah willing, you will find me resolute.’

103  Then when they had both submitted and he had laid him face down on the ground,

104  We called out to him, ‘Ibrahim!

105  You have fulfilled your vision. That is how We recompense good doers.

106  This was indeed a most manifest trial.

107  We ransomed him with a mighty sacrifice

108  and let the later people say of him:

109  ‘Peace be upon Ibrahim.’

It is plain that neither the names Isaac nor Ishmael are in the above text. Only Islamic sources and tradition provides names, some Ishmael, and some Isaac.

Abraham, the true Muslim, in absolute obedience and submission to Allah, intends to sacrifice his son—Ishmael or Isaac. (To reiterate: Islamic scholars are divided on just who was to be sacrificed.) God intervenes and provides an animal to be sacrificed in place of the son. For Muslims the bottom line is that they are to be like Abraham and fully submit to Allah’s commands.

The Binding of Isaac

In Genesis 22:1–19 of the Hebrew Scripture is the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. God instructs His obedient servant Abraham to take his son to the region of Moriah and there sacrifice him. Abraham called the place of the sacrifice “the LORD will provide” (verse 14). The writer in that same verse adds, “On the mountain of the LORD, it will be provided.” Later on, in the Hebrew Scripture—Isaiah 2:3 and 30:29, Zechariah 8:3, and 2 Chronicles 3:1—we read that the temple is built on the “mountain of the LORD” or Moriah, the very mountain where Isaac was to be sacrificed.

For Judaism, the story of the obedience of Abraham is not much different from that of Islam, except that Islam does not focus on sacrifice but on obedience and submission to the will of Allah. For Judaism, much has to do with the actual location of the sacrifice, the temple mount where the temple of Solomon would be built and which therefore lays the ground for the whole sacrificial system we find in the Torah, especially Exodus and Leviticus.

The Ram as Substitute

One of the areas on which Christians tend to agree is the reason for the Binding of Isaac (Abraham bound Isaac before placing him on the make-shift altar—Genesis 22:9). While Abraham was indeed obedient to God, and yes, the location was likely Jerusalem and maybe even where the temple was built more than a thousand years later, the real storyline for Christians has to do with what we call “substitutionary atonement.”

What happened in our Genesis account? God told Abraham to take his son, his “only son Isaac” by the way, to a place far away and there kill him as a sacrifice. Abraham would have been familiar with animal sacrifice, as various forms of evidence demonstrate such was part of religious customs in Abraham’s world. He did not hesitate and was about to go through with it when he was stopped cold. Here now is Genesis 22:11–14:

But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.

So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

In place of Isaac a substitute was provided for the sacrifice. The spilled blood and death of an animal was acceptable to God, and Isaac did not die.

It was a burnt offering, which meant that after the sacrificial animal was killed the remains were burned. A burnt offering is for covering or atoning for sin—substitutionary atonement.

God Did Not Spare His Own Son

The New Testament is essentially about, perhaps only about, substitutionary atonement. Here God does not spare His only Son. The two verses below explain what I am trying to say.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all… (Romans 8:32a).

“Gave” means giving up to death, and in the case of Jesus the Son, it is death on a cross, which is exactly what King David spoke of in Psalm 22, and also the Prophet Isaiah recounted in Isaiah 53. From the point of view of a Bible-believing Christian, it cannot be missed.

Who would or should have been given up to death? You and I, is the plain answer.

For the wages of sin in death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

The God of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is a holy God who will not tolerate sin in His presence, thus the necessity for hell. And I testify that I would not want to bring my load of sin into the presence of God, even if I could. No, I would much prefer hell.

But for reasons I do not fully understand, my Creator God loves me, and it is His desire that I should enjoy His fellowship forever. (Wow, it is beyond comprehension that He should act on my behalf since I helped send His only Son to die horribly on a criminal’s cross!) Since I am a rotten sinner unable to do anything to atone for it myself, God provided “a ram caught in a thicket” (and rams do not get caught in thickets) to be bound and sacrificed in my place. This is the essence and the totality of it. We must then depend solely on the grace of a loving God.

How Could Islam and Judaism Get it Wrong?

Islam has no choice but to get it wrong, because the religion denies that Jesus even died on the cross. Salvation for Muslims is based on obedience to Allah, hopefully doing more good than bad.

Islam, as I mentioned above, is divided as to who was bound, Isaac or Ishmael. Many Muslims say Ishmael, because Arab tribes are thought to descend through Ishmael and Jews through Isaac, making Ishmael more of a father to the original Muslim world.[1]  The reason some Muslims say Isaac is because the Qur’an is not clear on the subject (see Qur’an 37:107).

Judaism sticks with Isaac since that is clearly attested in the Hebrew Bible. Christians stand with the same choice, but the Christian position of substitutionary atonement pointing to the ultimate substitute, Jesus, is unacceptable to official Judaism.

An Appeal

Let me state emphatically that one’s position on this issue has eternal consequences. I know this is complex and mystifying, and the emotion of fear looms large, as one’s whole identity is also placed into the mix. But we must see the larger picture, the only one that counts. Is Jesus our substitute, the One who took our sin upon Himself and freely and completely wipes out all our sin forever? This is the one and only true thing that counts, ultimately.

My appeal then is this: Find a time to be alone. Get on your knees and bow your head. Address God, Allah if you like, and ask Him whether Jesus died in your place. It is okay to do so; it is only reasonable that you do so. You have nothing to fear, nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

When you find yourself trusting solely in Jesus for salvation, I suggest you do the following:

  1. Obtain a Bible and begin reading the Gospel of John, the fourth book in the New Testament.
  2. Make a prayer list of concerns you have on your heart and in your mind. Find time to read your Bible and pray every day.
  3. Find a group of those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and be in fellowship with them.
  4. This group may be an organized church or not, but the main thing is that the Bible is taught and preached and that the Gospel message is proclaimed regularly and clearly.
  5. This gathering of believers in Jesus may be large or small, the people may be young or old, rich or poor, educated or not.
  6. This group should have an interest in communicating Jesus and His cross to others and be concerned about the poor and vulnerable around them.
  7. This group, to be healthy and strong, should be able to disagree among themselves but keep focused on Jesus.
  8. This group should identify with other Christians of whatever denomination and not see itself as the only correct and legitimate people of God.
  9. It may take some time to find a Christian group with whom you will be comfortable but keep trying.

[1]     It should be noted that Islam, or most of Islam, says Abraham and Ishmael built the Ka’ba, though some say it was built in heaven. Ishmael plays a relatively minor part in the whole Biblical story, so perhaps there is a need to artificially enlarge his role?

Leave a Reply