Ghareeb-o-sada-o-rangeen hai daastan-e-Haram
Nihayat iss ki Hussain, Ibtada hai Ismail – Iqbal
(Vague translation: History of Haram is simple, wretched and bloodstained. While the terminus is Hussain, the outset is Ismail)
Sacrifice is among the most tempting of human attributes and most beautiful of words collective human consciousness has ever developed in lexicon. At its lowest, sacrifice translates into giving away one’s own possessions and at its paramount the most precious of human asset turns up insignificant. The characters of history deemed as venerable and esteemed were largely those who relinquished their comforts for the sake of collective good of humankind and didn’t even cherish their lives in the lanes of devotion. Sacrifice is more of a dedication than a ritual.
As for the dark era of primitive human cultures, the idea of sacrifice was lined with the feelings of fear, repudiation and intimidation. According to Walter Burkert, a scholar on sacrifice, Greek sacrifices derived from hunting practices. Hunters, feeling guilty for having killed another living being so they could eat and survive, tried to repudiate their responsibility in these rituals. That in the succeeding times led to the Human Sacrifice. Human sacrifice has been practiced on a number of different occasions and in many different cultures. The various rationales behind human sacrifice are the same that motivate religious sacrifice in general. Human sacrifice is intended to bring good fortune and to pacify the gods. Human sacrifice can also have the intention of winning the gods’ favor in warfare. In Homeric legend, Iphigeneia was to be sacrificed by her father Agamemnon for success in Trojan War.
As with the evolution of human consciousness, with the associated developments in religion (the Axial Age), human sacrifice was becoming less common throughout the Old World, and came to be widely looked down upon as barbaric already in pre-modern times (Classical Antiquity). The narration of Prophet Abraham and Ismail is an example explaining the abolition of human sacrifice. Quran further consolidates the abolition as:
“Lost are those who slay their children, from folly, without knowledge, and forbid food which Allah hath provided for them, inventing (lies) against Allah. They have indeed gone astray and heeded no guidance.” (Quran 6:140)
The decree was against then prevalent ritual of human sacrifice betokening that that is not blood and flesh God asks from humanity and that that is not ritual dear to God, but the devotedness and love of the humanity for the humanity that is essence of sacrifice. That was not Ismail (A.S) or the ram for that matter called for by God but allegiance of Ibrahim (A.S). This is not the ritual but the message that must be apprehended. As God Himself speaks:
“Their flesh and their blood reach not Allah, but the devotion from you reacheth Him.” (Quran 22:37)
Many instances can be found in Islamic history when prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions upheld the actual spirit of sacrifice while laying aside the ritualistic displays. One of these instances is associated with the sacrifice that has not been surpassed even after fourteen centuries – the sacrifice of grandson of Prophet (PBUH) Hussain ibne Ali (A.S). While in Mecca, Husain ibn Ali realized a deep conspiracy that Yazid had appointed `Amr ibn Sa`ad ibn al As as the head of an army, ordering him to take charge of the pilgrimage caravans and to kill Husain ibn Ali (A.S) wherever he could find him during Hajj. Hence he decided to leave Mecca for Karbala on 08th Dhu al-Hijjah 60 AH (12 September 680 AD). Hussain (A.S) left the state of consecration (broke Ahraam) just a day before Hajj and was contented with Umrah, due to his concern about potential violation of the sanctity of the Kaaba. The decision upheld the actual message of sacrifice over the ritual. On his departure, he delivered that historic speech that encompasses pith of spirit of sacrifice.
“All praise is due to Allah, The Will of Allah be done. There is no might except in Allah, Allah has blessed His Messenger. Death is inscribed on Adam’s children like a necklace on a girl’s neck. My passion to be reunited with my ancestors is like that of Jacob for Joseph, and the demise I shall soon meet is better for me. I see my limbs being torn by speeding steeds in the desert between al-Nawawis and Karbala’, so they shall fill, through my death, hollow bellies and starved pouches. There is no avoiding a day recorded by the Pen. Whatever pleases Allah also pleases us, we Ahl al-Bayt. We shall be patient as we face His trial, and He shall give us in full the rewards due to those who persevere..”
Present era lined with social and economic upheaval, drastic turmoil and ravaging natural calamities necessitates revitalization of that spirit of sacrifice that is independent of extravagancy, ostentation and ritualistic displays. Intentions may or may not be pure, but at the end of the day the ritual of animal sacrifice is turning more and more pretentious with each passing day given the prevalent social trends. There’s much distress in society that may be taken care of to some extent by succoring the flood effectees, Internally Displaced Persons, terrorism victims and destitute ones in dire need; the act that corresponds more to the spirit of sacrifice than its appearance envisaged by the ritual of animal sacrifice. Slaughtering doesn’t necessarily correspond to sacrifice and blood is not always part of the equation. And as far as the acceptance of God is concerned, He knows what in the hearts and He surely is the best knower.