Sallah: The significance of the sacrifice

Eid al adha, which is called Ileya festival in Yoruba language, is one of the important feasts in Islam. Every year, Muslims celebrate this feast which commemorates the sacrifice of Abraham/Ibrahim. It is usually a time of celebration and feasting for all Muslims around the world. As we wish Muslims a happy celebration, it is good for both Muslims and Christians to know the significance of this feast.

This Muslim feast, Eid al adha, traces its origin to the Quran, but Muslims believe that it has a Biblical connection, as Quran, Sura 37:100-110 narrates the sacrifice of Abraham (Ibrahim). According to these verses of the Quran, Abraham had a vision to sacrifice his son. He narrated the vision to his son who agreed that both of them must submit to Allah. “Abraham said to his son, ‘O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I am slaughtering thee. So consider, what thou thinkest of it!’ His son replied, ‘O my father, do as thou art commanded; thou wilt find me, if Allah please, of those who are patient’” (Sura 37:103).

However, when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, Allah stopped him from killing his son and praised him for his obedience. Then, the boy was ransomed by Allah with a “great sacrifice.”  “We called to him: ‘O Abraham, thou hast fulfilled the dream.’ Thus indeed do we reward those who do good” (Sura 37:105-106). Although the Quran did not mention the name of the son who was to be sacrificed, most Muslims believe that that son was Ismail (Ishmael).

This Quranic story is related to the Biblical account of the sacrifice of Abraham (Genesis 22:1-18). According to the biblical account, God called Abraham and asked him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah. He obeyed and took his son to the place of sacrifice. When he was about to kill his son, an Angel was sent to stop him from doing that.  God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son.

The feast commemorating the sacrifice of Abraham is very significant to the faith of Muslims. In both Biblical and Quranic narratives, the call of Abraham to sacrifice his son was a test of his faith. In fact, chapter 22 of Genesis begins with the motive of the narrative: “After these things, God tested Abraham…” (Genesis 22:1). For the Christians, Abraham is regarded as the “Our father in faith” (cf. Romans 4:16). Anyone who believes in God must be prepared for a test of faith. The test is to help the faith to grow and not to destroy the faith.

The sacrifice of Abraham is also a call to remind all those who share the faith of Abraham about his obedience to God. He was obedient to God in his readiness to sacrifice his son. Muslims and Christians are also called to live a life of obedience to God. They are called to obey his commandments and laws. Obedience to God is their proof of love and reverence for Him.

It is important to note that by calling Abraham to sacrifice is son, God was not permitting human sacrifice or murder. That was why God provided a ransom in place of the Abraham’s son. That ransom, which is called a “great sacrifice” in the Quran, is identified in the Bible as a ram. Here, it is possible to see God’s condemnation of all forms of human killing in His name. He would not permit Abraham to kill a human being in obedience. In the same vein, he will not permit anybody to kill a fellow human being in His name. In fact, God’s command in the Bible, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13), rings a bell loud and clear.

The sacrifice of Abraham has a special meaning for the Christians. God spared Isaac, Abraham’s son and provided a ram to be sacrificed in his place. But God did not spare his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who was sacrificed for the sins of the whole humanity. The ram provided as the ransom in Abraham’s sacrifice story is a symbol of the real ransom which God would provide much later for the redemption of the whole world. He did this because of the love He has for each human being whether Muslim or Christian. “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).

Therefore, as the Muslims celebrate the Eid al Adha, it is a time for all Christians and Muslims to reflect on the obedience of Abraham and endeavour to imitate that obedience. It is when this is done that the real meaning of the feast will not be reduced to eating and drinking.


  • Reverend Father Adedigba sent in this article via [email protected]