The Review of Religions (English), October 1921
Delivered by our missionary, Maulvi Mubarik Ali BA, in London on the occasion of the last I‘d festival held on 14 August . After reciting the fifth ruku of the Chapter Al-Hajj, the Maulvi said:
Ladies and gentlemen!
We are celebrating today in this fatherland of free nations the greatest of the Islamic festivals, Idul-Azha. It is on this occasion that the great pilgrimage to Mecca is performed. Muslims from the four corners of the world assemble in the Holy City of Mecca as brethren, each clothed in a simple white robe, and bow down their heads in the service of their Great Maker and the festivity being similarly celebrated in the other parts of the Islamic world at the same time, manifests the fundamental unity of the brotherhood of Islam – a brotherhood which wipes out all distinctions of rank, race and colour, and is not to be found in other religions of the world.
This festival has a touching history well-known to the followers of the three great Semitic religions i.e., Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Briefly stated the Muslim version is this: Abraham, the father of the prophets, saw in a vision that under the command of his Lord he was to sacrifice his son Ishmael. He told Ishmael this dream and asked him what he thought of it. Ishmael who was ever ready to give everything for the sake of God, replied, “Father, do what you are commanded to do and you will find me obedient.” This dream was fulfilled and the sacrifice of Ishmael accomplished when Abraham left his wife Hagar and her son Ishmael in a solitary, dry, and sultry piece of land between the two hills of. Safa and Marwa near which stands today the Holy City of Mecca.
The story runs that when the little provisions and water left with them by Abraham were exhausted, Ishmael, the little child, began to cry for water. His mother ran first to the one hill and then to the other for water but found no trace of it. It is said that she ran seven times between the two hills. When she at last returned to the child in despair, she found him stamping on the ground with his little feet, and a spring of clear water gushing forth from underneath them. Tradition thus declares the origin of the famous well of Zemzem near the Kaaba, the Holy Temple of Mecca.
In course of time this solitary place became a pilgrimage of the children of Ishmael, a centre of trade and a flourishing city. The Arabs, who call themselves the children of Ishmael commemorated this great sacrifice of Abraham annually at a fixed time throughout the long period of their history until the advent of the greatest son of Ishmael, viz., the Holy Prophet Muhammad, on him be peace and blessings of Allah, who gave to the world the real significance of this great sacrifice of Abraham.
Today the Muslims, who whether assembled on the pilgrimage in the Holy City of Mecca or in their homes in different parts of the world, are performing the sacrifice of animals, not as a fetish worship as was the case among the pre-Islamic Arabs, but as they are emblem of the sacrifice which a faithful one has to make to approach his God, the only object of his worship. The injunctions given in the Holy Quran regarding sacrifice which I recited in the beginning of my address may be translated thus:
“And to every people have we appointed rites, that they may commemorate the name of God over the brute beasts which He hath provided for them. And your Lord is the one God. To Him, therefore, surrender yourselves; and bear thou good tidings to those who are humble – whose hearts, when mention is made of God, thrill with awe; and to those who remain steadfast under all that befalleth them and observe prayer, and give alms of that with which we have supplied them. And the camels have we given you for the sacrifice to God: Much good have ye in them. Make mention, therefore, of the name of Allah over them when ye slay them, as they stand in a row; and when they are fallen over their sides, eat of them and feed him who is content and asketh not and him who asketh. Thus have we subjected them to you, to the intent ye should be thankful. By no means can their flesh reach unto God, neither their blood; but piety on your part reacheth Him. Thus hath He subjected them to you, that ye might magnify God for His guidance and bear glad tidings to those who obey God and do good to others.” (Al-Hajj: 35-39)
The principle of sacrifice is accepted in one form or another by all the nations of the world. Like all other religious principles universally recognised, the principle of sacrifice finds a deeper meaning in Islam. The outward act is still there as of old, but it no more conveys the meaning attached to it in some ancient religions, viz., that of appeasing an offended deity, or that of serving as an atonement for sins, but signifies the sacrifice of the devotee himself and of all that is dear to him, and thus becomes an outward symbol of his readiness to lay down his very life if need be, and to sacrifice all his interests and desires in the cause of truth. Hence, it is that the words introducing the subject of sacrifice are immediately followed by the injunction to submit oneself entirely to Allah, the only Being Who deserves to be made the true object of one’s love and true goal of one’s life.
Further on the verses of the Holy Quran say that an animal is to be sacrificed only in the name of Allah and therein the Muslims are told that it is not an empty mention of a word which they are to make but they are to carry into practice the real lesson which the sacrifice of an animal is intended to teach. It is enjoined that at the very mention of that name their hearts should tremble which means that they should bear in mind that if to minister to their needs the animal which they have neither created nor could have controlled without Allah’s permission is made subservient to them, they in their turn must be ready to sacrifice at the altar of the Maker, their own lives and property.
Hence, the verse speaking of sacrifice is immediately followed by a verse which requires the exercise of great patience and endurance under hard trials by the faithful. In the sacrifice of animals, Islam thus gives to its followers a lesson of laying down their own lives in the cause of truth.
“There does not reach Allah their flesh nor their blood,” says the Holy Quran, “but righteousness on your part reacheth Him.” This verse settles conclusively that it is not the outward act of sacrifice which is accepted by God but the deep spirit of sacrifice which underlies it.
The Arabic word for sacrifice is قربانی which is derived from قرب meaning “nearness”. The significance is this that in his upward journey to truth, which is the will of God, man must sacrifice everything that stands in his way. The ultimate object of man’s life is to approach God i.e., to be God-like in His attributes and this is the highest of all goals and must be attained at any cost. Neither love of wealth, power, position, wife, children nor even of self should be allowed to stand between the devotee and his beloved Lord.
A great thinker very wisely says, “What gravitation is to the physical world love is to the spiritual world.” An apple has always a tendency to fall to the earth, but some other force; an obstacle, may stand in its way, and prevent it from falling. Similarly, the human soul is always attracted by the universal soul but the love of other things binds him down and prevents him from rising up to his beloved one. So these obstacles, whatever they may be, must be removed, in order that we may draw near Him, and herein lies the deep meaning of sacrifice.
The religion of the Muslims, according to the Holy Quran, is called Islam, and not Muhammadanism as it is popularly called. The word Islam is derived from salam which means peace, resignation and entire submission to the will of God. So the central idea in Islam is entire submission to the Divine will which cannot be performed without sacrifice.
This idea found its highest expression in Abraham. In his dream referred to above, he was required by God to sacrifice his own beloved son and without the slightest hesitation he was ready to carry out this Divine behest. In the Holy Quran Islam is also declared to be the religion of Abraham which no doubt points to the great submission on the part of this great patriarch to the Divine will, and thus illustrates the real meaning of religion.
This principle is embodied in every act of devotion of the Muslims. The Moslem bows down and prostrates in his prayers to indicate that he humbles himself before his Master and that he is prepared to lay down his life in His service. During the month of fasting he abstains from food from sunrise to sunset to indicate that if he can abstain from lawful things under the command of his Lord, he will be much more readily prepared to abstain from that which is unlawful. He gives money in charity to show that the service of God and His creatures is dearer to him than wealth. Thus, can it be plainly seen that every institution of Islam expressedly or impliedly contains lesson of self-sacrifice, for it is through sacrifice, that self-realisation is possible. In this connection, the Holy Quran says:
لَنۡ تَنَالُوا الۡبِرَّ حَتّٰی تُنۡفِقُوۡا مِمَّا تُحِبُّوۡنَ
“You cannot attain to piety until you give what is dear to you.”
As the Quranic verse says, the flesh or the blood of the animal does not reach God, it is the spirit of submission that reaches Him, similarly the outward acts of devotion do not reach God, but it is the spirit of devotion that reaches Him. A spirit is expressed through forms, and thus there is the necessity of forms, but the spirit is the essential thing. This is expressly taught in the Holy Quran in the following verse:
فَوَيۡلٌ لِّلۡمُصَلِّيۡنَ۔ الَّذِيۡنَ هُمۡ عَنۡ صَلَاتِهِمۡ سَاهُوۡنَ
“Woe unto those who worship and are negligent of its real object, who make a show of their religion.”
The Islamic idea of sacrifice, i.e., the sacrifice of the lower for the higher, is a grand truth implanted in the nature of man, and we find it illustrated in everyday life, and in every sphere of human activity. So this sacrifice can be easily distinguished from other kinds of sacrifice to appease an offended deity or to make an atonement for sins.
A deity which is offended without a just cause and demands a sacrifice to grant immunity from punishment is not worthy of adoration; and as regards the doctrine of atonement even if we grant that this doctrine could avail humanity anything it would be more in keeping with natural experience that the lower should be sacrificed for the higher, and not the higher for the lower as is taught in some other religious systems. Thus, the Islamic idea of sacrifice is quite natural and consciously or unconsciously individuals and nations recognise it.
I have already said that the principle of sacrifice is the central idea in Islam. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of God be upon him, not only preached it but practiced it throughout his life, and fired his followers with it. The early Moslems were embodiments of this spirit, and so they became “a nation of heroes” as an English writer justly says. Here I have used the word “hero” in the highest sense of the word. Because they were such heroes that they became the foremost people in the world in such a short space of time as has no parallel in the history of the world, and remained the foremost people for hundreds of years as long as they were true to this principle. They fell from their high pedestal not because they followed Islam but because they neglected it.
The latter-day Muslims might neglect Islam but God is its protector as He says in the Holy Quran:
اِنَّا نَحۡنُ نَزَّلۡنَا الذِّكۡرَ وَ اِنَّا لَهٗ لَحٰفِظُوۡنَ
“Verily we have sent down the Reminder, i.e., Islam, and verily We shall protect it.”
Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, says, “When my followers will sink to the lowest depth of degradation after a thousand years, a Messiah or Mahdi will rise from among my followers, who will give a new life to Islam, and will spread it in the four corners of the world.”
More than a thousand years have passed, and the degradation of the Moslems has reached its lowest depth, the world has felt the tribulation of the birth of a new era, and in God’s good time a man has appeared from among the Muslims as the Messiah and the Mahdi, who was long and anxiously expected. He has purged Islam of the dross which had accumulated around it. He has explained the Quran in the light of modern thought, and has exhorted the Moslems to go direct to the word of God and not to look at it through the spectacles of commentators of the middle ages. He has demonstrated to the world that God exists, that He is a living God and that He hears and speaks today as He heard and spoke in the days of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, peace be on them. He was Ahmad[as] of Quadian, Punjab, India. He has revived Islam and with it the idea of sacrifice, the central idea of this faith.
To be his disciples, one must take the vow of دين كو دنيا پر مقدم كرنا, “preferring the service of religion to all worldly interests”. Since Islam offers a system of the highest kind of self-culture and philanthropy, I have no doubt that the day is not far off when the world will admit its truth.
Islam offers the highest kind of self-culture in this way that it enables a man to realise God, to see Him, to hear from Him in this life and in this world. It offers the highest kind of philanthropy as it upholds the principle of justice and establishes real brotherhood of humanity by wiping out all distinctions of race, colour and rank, and it gives laws which strike right at the root of the greatest social evils, i.e., drinking, gambling, and other immoral practices, and inequality of the distribution of wealth.
It requires a great sacrifice on the part of the followers of Ahmad[as] to spread the truth of Islam but it requires also a sacrifice on the part of the people to whom the message is given. The sacrifice to be made by the latter is that of pride and prejudice. Their hearts must be cleared of this before they can understand truth.
The British people made a supreme sacrifice to drive away their human enemies and I need not ask them to open their eyes to see that there are other enemies of different kinds under their feet which are far more dangerous than the Germans. Faith gives vitality to a nation and the want of it produces social diseases which ultimately prove fatal to it. The loving and the living God never fails to send a messenger of His to infuse a new life among the people by means of faith whenever there is a want of it, just as He never fails to send down rain when the heat of the summer parches the face of the earth.
The rain gives new life to the earth and fills it with fresh, green and rich vegetation. Admittedly this is an age of materialism and indifference to religion is the order of the day. What is wanted is divine rain from heaven – i.e., new revelation, in order that the dryness of heart may be removed by the fresh water of faith. In different ages God sent Abraham, Jesus, Krishna and Buddha for the regeneration of faith. The religious idea found expression through them and in a latter age found its highest expression through Muhammad, peace be on him.
The modern world is dying for a saviour, but a saviour has come who has confirmed the truth of Islam and the truth of all the prophets of all the nations. The seed of Islam re-sown by him has already grown into a tree, has spread over the land of Hindustan and has sent out branches to other parts of the world.
This mission is one of its branches. Will England sacrifice her pride and prejudice, see and understand, and rise to the height of the occasion? Her children, in an earlier age made great sacrifice for truth. Will they be wanting now?
(Transcribed by Al Hakam from the original in The Review of Religions [English], October 1921)