The Muslim world engaged on the only celebration of the Abrahamic sacrifice in the Hajj on Wednesday, and whereas the Arab world followed the Hajjis in sacrificing animals on Thursday in Eidul Azha, the Subcontinent, including Pakistan, marks Eid on Friday.
The vicissitudes of date apart, the Hajj represents a commemoration of the Abrahamic sacrifice that only Muslims engage in, even though it is perhaps more central to Judaism and Christianity than to Islam. It is interesting that neither Judaism nor Christianity celebrate the occasion, even though there is more history in their celebrations than in Muslim. Christians mark the birth and death anniversaries of Jesus Christ, which makes it most strongly centred on a personality. Within their belief system, that makes sense, for Christ is supposed to be the Son of God, and he is central to the process of salvation which is the Christian’s basic belief. Christians believe that the Abrahamic Sacrifice was a precursor of that of Christ’s, because like God, Abraham too offered up his only son. However, Abraham did not carry out the sacrifice, but God did.
The Jews mark the anniversary of creation (Rosh Hashanah), a day of atonement (Yom Kippur), the wanderings in the wilderness with Moses (Sukkoth), the liberation from the bondage of Egypt (Passover), the victory of the Maccabees over Antiochus Epiphanes (Hanukkah), the defeat of Haman (Purim) and the destruction of the First and Second Temples (Tisha B’ab). But they do not mark the Abrahamic sacrifice.
Islam, on the other hand, has two Eids. One marks the end of Ramadan, which means the end of fasting. As it marks a duty to the Almighty, it is as if the Eid is devoted to the Almighty. Then the Eidul Azha marks the Abrahamic sacrifice, and through Abraham, commemorates the Prophethood itself. This takes one to the first and second kalimas, or declarations of faith, which cannot be more pithily stated than: There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” However, it must be noted here that, while the three faiths tell the same story of how Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, the Jews and Christians disagree with the Muslims on which son: Ismail or Isaac.
This is significant: Muslims hold that Ismail was the ancestor of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), and there is the analogy drawn with the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), at Karbala. On the other hand, the Christians claim the Abrahamic sacrifice prefigured the crucifixion of Christ. Christ was descended from Abraham through Isaac, Imam Hussain through Ismail.
It is almost overpowering, the importance of Abraham to the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Not only did he name the only son born to him after he became a Prophet, but when he met the Prophets during his Ascension (Miraj) to Heaven, he addressed him (and Adam) as ‘Father’ rather than the ‘Brother’ he used for all others.
The Eid is already labeled the Greater Eid, though it is not celebrated any differently from the Lesser Eid, except for the sacrifice. Because of the sacrifice, and because those offering the sacrifice are only supposed to keep a third of the meat, giving meat to relatives and the poor means that all will feast. That means that Muslims end up taking part in the commemoration of the Abrahamic Sacrifice.
Pakistanis might feel that this Eid is bringing the message of sacrifice even closer. In Mecca itself, in the Haram, a crane collapse led to 15 Pakistanis being among the 107 killed. Closer home, in Badaber, militants killed 25 people on the Friday before Eid. All these deaths do not convey the message of sacrifice. However, one effect of the sacrifice of Eid is the comparative Muslim disdain for violent death.
That is what the Christian world envies, and fears the most. It is not the invasion by the hordes fleeing their homelands, which Europe is presently witnessing. It is also the militants’ willingness to give up their lives, which makes them refuse to see the logic of the situation. European extremists are warning that letting in the refugees means also letting in militants, that the children of today’s refugees are the militants of tomorrow. This may well be true, but what is the essential problem? The West is unable to handle people who are willing to die. And there is no greater sacrifice than one’s life: the Almighty has prescribed for it the immense reward of eternal salvation.
One aspect of the Hajj that the West does not have to handle is the political. The Rightly Guided Caliphs used to perform the Hajj not just because of the spiritual benefit, but so that they could also hear complaints against provincial governors. The governors would also be in attendance, and the Caliph could hold an annual Governors’ Conference. Of course, that cannot happen now. Muslims facing oppression at home will find no one to hear them with the power of doing anything about it.
Apart from hosting the Governors’ Conference, the Caliph would also have the privilege of leading the final prayer, or of appointing the person who led that prayer. Claimants to the Caliphate have always sought inclusion of the Harmain within their territories. The Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphs would either lead the Hajj Caravan in person, or assign this task to a member of the family. One of the perks was controlling the prayer at the end. From someone appointed by the Caliph of the Muslims, the task is now assigned to an appointee of the Saudi government. Thus the final prayer does not reflect the concerns of the ummah, but reflects the policy of the Saudi government. The Saudi dynasty is thus the first to claim the title of Khadimul Harmain for its King, but to treat the Hajj as an international event, not an internal one.
It is perhaps paradoxical that Muslims should be as fiercely persecuted by the West as at present. The War on Terror continues, as it has for a decade and a half, without any reduction in the incidents of terrorism, or of radicalisation on both sides. It seems as if the multiculturalism project, the belief that both native majorities and immigrant minorities could coexist side by side, so long as the minorities subsumed themselves in the Western nation they had migrated to. For Muslims, the Abrahamic tradition is a living reality, which will always be present as long as there is Haj and Eidul Azha. Christians prefer to focus on Christ, Jews on Moses. And that is the root of the conflict, ever since the Message was given to Muhammad (PBUH).
Part of the reason is that Christians have moved from the Evangelism of the 19th century, with its very real influence on imperialism, to the present paganism. That paganism has seeped into Judaism, where there has been a takeover by Zionism. Until some such accommodation is managed by Muslims, the enmity with Islam will continue, sacrifice or no Abrahamic sacrifice.

n The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.