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Articles Section > Ka’bah – The Symbol of the Universal Message of God -- this year's (2000) Eid-al-Azha sermon by Nasir Ahmad Sahib

Ka’bah – The Symbol of the Universal Message of God:
[This year's (2000) Eid-ul-Azha (Eid of Sacrifice) sermon]
by Nasir Ahmad Sahib, B.A., LL. B.

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After ‘Id al-Fitr, the second major festival of the Muslims is ‘Id al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice). This festival is celebrated in commemoration of Prophet Abraham’s, peace be upon him, willingness to sacrifice his only son, Ishmael. ‘Id al-Fitr is generally called the minor festival and ‘Id al-Azha the major festival. The Encyclopaedia of Islam has considered it as ‘Id al-Kabir meaning the major festival. The Holy Qur’an has designated it as zibhin ‘azim, (a grand sacrifice).

Although ‘Id al-Fitr is celebrated after a full month’s rigorous spiritual training, while ‘Id al-Adha is only ten days of a sort of training camp in the form of the Pilgrimage during which there is no bar on eating or drinking, yet the former is called the minor festival and the latter the major one.

In this ritual worship, in addition to the obligatory prayers (salah), there is greater emphasis on extolling Allah’s greatness and celebrating His praise, and that is why if we study the Qur’anic verses relating to Hajj, the words fuzkurullah (so remember Allah) have been used five times for this act of worship, instead of the usual word, salah. The fact remains that in reality in Hajj, there is a continuous affirmation of tauhid, or the unity of Allah, and one’s complete readiness to obey Allah’s commandments. These rituals are indicative of a man’s extreme sense of servitude and perfect obedience to his Lord, and this is why this act of worship has acquired such an important position.

In this context, please also bear in mind that a dream is always subject to interpretation, because what one sees in a dream is all-symbolic and the underlying reality may be quite different. For instance, Joseph saw in a dream that eleven stars and the sun and the moon are making obeisance to him (12:4). Then during imprisonment one of his two companions saw in his dream that he was pressing grapes and the other saw that he was carrying bread on his head and birds were eating it (12:26). Again the king of Egypt saw in a dream seven fat cows devouring seven lean ones, and seven green ears of corn and seven dry ones (12:43). Now the interpretation of Joseph’s dream turned out to be that his treacherous brothers, the king and other members of the ruling class ultimately bowed to his authority. To one of his companions in prison he said that he would find deliverance and would be serving the king, and the other was told that he would be hanged on the cross (12:41). Similarly he told the king that his dream meant that there would be seven years of severe drought and famine and the way for survival was also described in the dream itself. In this context we give hereunder the Qur’anic version of the interpretation:

He said: You shall sow for seven years as usual, then that which you reap, leave it in its ear, except a little which you eat! Then after that shall come seven years of hardship that will eat away all that you have stored beforehand for them, except a little you have preserved! Then after that will come a year in which people will have rain and in which they will press (grapes) (12:47-49).

Now look at the apparent description or events shown in the dream and see how the sense or interpretation of it turned out to be something quite different. Again, also keep in mind that when Joseph narrated his dream to his father, Jacob, who himself was a prophet, he did not take the dream literally. Rather, the Holy Qur’an tells us that Jacob was given a hint about the events that were to overtake Joseph and the high spiritual station which was to be vouchsafed to him, though he was not made fully aware of it at that time. But all the same, he perceived the import of the dream that his son was to become later a prophet, so he advised his son accordingly and this has been recorded in the Holy Qur’an in the following words:

He said: O my son, relate not thy dream to thy brethren, lest they devise a plan against thee. The devil indeed is an open enemy to man. And thus will thy Lord choose thee and teach thee the interpretation of sayings, and will make His favour complete on thee and to the Children of Jacob, as He made it complete before to thy fathers, Abraham and Isaac. Surely thy Lord is Knowing, Wise (12:5,6).

The knowledge of the Unseen is given to the prophets and the righteous through dreams, visions, revelation and inspiration. At times these are hints in the form of a dream and at other times these may be explicitly stated through words and messages. But in all circumstances these people have firm belief and complete faith in Allah and their spirit of obedience remains firm and enduring. To wit, Allah kept on giving news to Jacob about Joseph, so that is why when Joseph’s brothers got their younger brother Benjamin arrested on a charge of theft and on their return they informed their father about this incident, the impact the news had on Jacob is stated in the Holy Qur’an thus:

And he turned away from them, and said: O my sorrow for Joseph! And his eyes were filled (with tears) on account of the grief, then he repressed (grief). They (the brothers) said: By Allah! Thou wilt not cease remembering Joseph till thou art a prey to disease or thou art of those who perish. He said: I complain of my grief and sorrow only to Allah, and I know from Allah what you know not (12:84 -86).

I have given a detailed explanation of dreams and their interpretation and the events that overtook Joseph and Jacob as stated in the Holy Qur’an in order to elucidate that dreams are always composed of hints and allusions and need to be interpreted and explained. But Abraham and Ishmael were so enthusiastic and were imbued with such an extreme sense of obedience and submission to the will of Allah that they took the dream literally and got ready to act upon it.

Now see how Allah appreciated this extremely praiseworthy resolve of Abraham - a resolve that was made in response to a difficult test set for him by Allah - and how He then rewarded him for such superb faithfulness:

Surely this is a manifest trial. And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice. And We granted him among the later generations (the salutation), Peace be upon Abraham (37:106-109).

And in the very next verse Allah gives an assurance that anyone who does noble deeds is always granted abundant reward by Him: Thus do We reward the doers of good. And it is a living reality that this sacrifice was so highly appreciated that the memory of this act of sacrifice by Abraham and Ishmael was given eternal recognition through making it an obligatory part of the rituals of the pilgrimage. Also, two raka’hs of salah to be offered at Maqam-i Ibrahim (the place where Abraham stood) were made an obligatory part of the ritual of pilgrimage as well. In addition to the making of circuits around the Ka’bah, sa’i (running between the two hillocks, Safa and Marwa) was also made obligatory.

The importance of this sacrifice can best be illustrated by an incident at the time of the peace agreement of Hudaibiyyah. The Holy Prophet [pbuh], relying on a dream, started off for Makkah from Madinah, along with his Companions [rta], to perform the pilgrimage but were stopped by the unbelievers of Makkah at a place called Hudaibiyyah outside Makkah. In view of the sanctity of the month, the Holy Prophet [pbuh] preferred to start peace negotiations instead of going to war and eventually a peace agreement was arrived at. In addition to other conditions, it was agreed that the pilgrimage should be postponed till the next year. Since the pilgrimage was not performed, the Companions [rta] were not prepared to offer their animals for sacrifice. On this occasion, the Holy Prophet [pbuh] had his wife Zainab [rta] with him, so he consulted her as to what should be done in order to persuade them to slaughter their animals.

At this point, notice should be taken of the Holy Prophet’s [pbuh] high regard for the intellectual capacity of the opposite sex in seeking advice from a woman. He consulted his wife regarding a very tense and delicate situation. And the credit goes to Lady Zainab [rta] for this most intelligent and beautiful piece of advice given by her:

"Sir, all the people love you extremely, so you should just quietly take your sacrificial animal to a distant spot and slaughter it. The faithful would follow suit with fervour and will be slaughtering their animals without fail."

History bears out that that is exactly what happened. This incident not only provides proof of respect and honour shown by the Holy Prophet [pbuh] to women, but also proves that women are capable of giving mature advice. It also highlights the unmatched spirit of obedience of the Companions [rta], an obedience that has become proverbial in the annals of history.

And now see in what glorious words Allah appreciates and approves of this noble example of the Holy Companions and their spirit of submission to and cheerful acceptance of the Will of Allah. This is recorded in the Qur’an in the following words:

Allah is well pleased with them and they are well pleased with Allah (5:119).

Islam has laid down four obligatory rituals by way of worship for the spiritual and mundane education and discipline of its followers, viz., salah (prayers), zakat (poor-rate), saum (fasting) and hajj (pilgrimage). There underlies a Divine wisdom in the order of these four ritual obligations of Islam. There is no denying the fact that by acting on these four practices in all sincerity a man can make progress both in self-purification as well as in spirituality.

For instance, take the ritual of the five obligatory prayers. During their observance, a man devotes some portion of his time five times a day for the remembrance of Allah in order to rid his mind and consciousness of the worldly dross of daily life to enable him to lead a pure life in compliance with the commandments of Allah and His Apostle (peace be on him) and thereby to become capable of serving others as well. This fact has been described beautifully by Allah in the Holy Qur’an thus:

He indeed is successful who purifies himself, and remembers the name of his Lord, then prays (87:14, 15).

In other words, the best means of self- purification is by engaging oneself in the worship of Allah. Hence the first stage of Divine proximity to Allah is attained through prayer. The second stage of divine proximity is attained by spending out of one’s earned wealth for the welfare and good of others. Then comes fasting, which is a means for attaining the third stage of proximity. It is a practice that teaches self-control, inculcates an urge to do good to others, and helps a person to achieve inner purification through a month of hard spiritual discipline. Thus the spiritual exercise of fasting offers opportunities for further progress in worship and sacrifice.

These various disciplines of worship are meant for the spiritual training of man during the normal activities of his daily life, but pilgrimage is a ritual of worship which is undertaken by leaving the business of daily life, leaving behind near and dear ones, spending wealth and undergoing the hardship of journey purely for the attainment of Allah’s pleasure and with a sense of complete obedience to Him. Thus wealth is spent and hardship is borne in order to achieve the highest point of worship of Allah and to attain the inner purification and spiritual exaltation that are mentioned in the verse: Successful indeed is he who purifies himself. In the next two verses, the reality of the worldly and other-worldly life has been elucidated and our attention has been drawn to the fact that such a spiritual training is necessary. In fact, Allah says in the Qur’an:

But you prefer the life of this world, while the Hereafter is better and more lasting (87:16,17).

If one casts a cursory glance over these pillars of Islamic worship it will become clear that the intention is to inculcate Allah’s love in man. And the reason why the ritual of pilgrimage has been placed last in order is that this is the culmination of man’s complete obedience to Allah’s commands and the desire for sacrificing in His way. While performing hajj, one’s mind is fully devoted to the remembrance of Allah and the desire to achieve closeness with Him. In this state, the pilgrim is in such a condition of absorption and preoccupation with the remembrance of Allah that in that ecstasy even the person of the Holy Prophet [pbuh] is left out of his mind and one expresses one’s servitude and obedience only to Allah. Please listen to the words of the talbiyya, and ponder over their meaning. While making circuits around the Ka’bah a pilgrim’s heart, mind, lips, nay, his entire person, keeps on reciting these words of praise to Allah.

Labbaika, Allahumma labbaika. Labbaika la shareeka laka. Labbaika innal hamda wan-ni’mata laka. Wal mulka laka. Laa shareeka laka. (Here I am in Thy presence, O my Lord, here I am in Thy presence! There is no associate with Thee. Here I am. Verily all praise and bounties and the Kingdom belong to Thee. There is no associate with Thee. Here I am in Thy august Presence.)

In fact, the special atmosphere that is obtained at this ritual pilgrimage, an atmosphere of total absorption and celebrating Allah’s praise and extolling His Name in congregation, is not to be found in any other act of worship in congregation. We all know that from the day of pilgrimage till the early noon prayer on the third day of ‘Id, all the Muslims of the world wherever they may be, chant the following words extolling His Name, known as Takbir-i Tashriq after each of the five obligatory daily prayers:

Allah-u Akbar Allah-u Akbar. Laa ilaahu il-lal laah. Wal-laaho Akbar Allahu Akbar wa lil-laahil Hamd. God is the Greatest. God is the Greatest. There is none worthy of worship except Allah! And God is the Greatest. God is the Greatest. And all praise is due to Him alone.

From the words of the talbiyyah (that is, labbaika, etc.) and the takbirs recited during the three days (called the tashriq days), one can vividly visualise the intensity of devotion with which Allah’s name is extolled and glorified and the fervent expression of humble bondage to Allah by Muslims in the holy precincts of the Ka’bah and all over the world.

One unique aspect of the ritual of pilgrimage is that in this high point of worship, no memorable event relating to the life of the Founder of Islam, the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, has been included in the ritual of hajj. The sacrifice of an animal offered is a tribute to the spirit of sacrifice shown by Prophet Abraham when he was ready to sacrifice his son Ishmael in obedience to the Divine command. The circuits around the Ka’bah are made as a tribute to Abraham and Ishmael for re-building the Ka’bah. The sa’i (running) between the two hillocks of Safa and Marwa is a tribute to the patience and fortitude shown by Lady Hagar (Hajira), the mother of Ishmael. The throwing of pebbles at Satan is a tribute to the resistance offered by Prophet Abraham to the attempts of Satan to dissuade him from sacrificing his son, while he was taking him to the place of sacrifice.

Again, while we recite the darud (invoking Allah’s benedictions) in favour of the Founder of Islam, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), at the end of each prayer yet we also recite the darud for Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) with the same zest and fervour.

The fact stands out clearly that the pilgrimage is a practical demonstration of the universal concept of Islamic teachings at this high-point of worship and Allah has registered His appreciation for the sacrifices offered by Abraham, Ishmael and Hagar. They indeed offered incomparable sacrifices in the re-building of the Ka’bah and in establishing its integrity as the living centre for the worship of the One and Only Divine Being. This gesture of the universality of Islam in according respect and recognition to all the prophets raised in the world is solid proof of the Holy Qur’an that Allah raised messengers proclaiming the Unity of the Divine Being to all the nations of the world, and it was the followers who later corrupted this pure concept.

A Christian writer, Chris Horrie, in his book, What is Islam? (published by Virgin Books, London (England), pays tribute to the historic role played by the Ka'bah in establishing the concept of tauhid (Oneness of the Divine Being) and in the struggle against polytheism in the following words:

"The Ka’bah is a cube-shaped stone building, believed to have been built at the beginning of time by Adam for the exclusive worship of Allah. The fate of the shrine is symbolically linked to Islam’s battle against mankind’s repeated reversion from true religion of Allah-worship into paganism. (p.38)

Thus the Ka’bah is a living monument to the monotheistic concept and the festival of ‘Id al-Adha is a reminder to man to work continuously for the inner and outer purification of his person through spiritual discipline and training, so that he should be able to lead a virtuous life. Further, he is to derive strength to empathise with others and serve them.

The rituals observed during pilgrimage furnish us with living proof of the fact that hardships undergone and sacrifices made for noble and virtuous ideals and for setting a noble example are always rewarded by God, the High. The greater the sacrifice, the greater and more abiding shall be the recompense.

May Allah give us the strength to tread along the path of righteousness and to do good to others. And may He also enable us to inculcate within us a spirit of submission and sacrifice in obeying His commandments. This is the important lesson ‘Id al-Adha tries to convey to us for leading a better and virtuous life. May Allah bless all of us.


Articles Section > Ka’bah – The Symbol of the Universal Message of God -- this year's (2000) Eid-al-Azha sermon by Nasir Ahmad Sahib


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