by Ayesha Zaka
Some parts of this article are based on a lecture delivered by the late Dr. Israr Ahmad.
When I was in Primary School, we had this tradition of classmates signing each others’ ‘autograph diaries’ at the end of the school year. Using coloured markers and glitter pens, we would write clichéd messages on our friends’ diaries and sign our names underneath. Our young brains could usually not grasp the essence of the message, but it was trendy to write stuff like, “Life is an icecream; eat it before it melts”, or “Life is a journey; enjoy it before it ends.”
As we grow up, the question of what life is and what its purpose is takes a backseat as we get busy living, or rather just existing. Because we cannot truly live life to its fullest until we have a correct understanding of what exactly is the purpose of our lives. In trying to unravel the mysteries of life (and death) philosophers have only managed to complicated matters further, and have tried to mask their ignorance under seemingly big, scholarly terms. It is only Allah, the One who gives life and death, who knows the reality of the matter, and explains it in the simplest of terms.
Allah says: He who has created death as well as life, so that He might put you to a test [and thus show] which of you is best in conduct (Surah al-Mulk, ayah 2)
He also says: Verily, it is We who have created man out of a drop of sperm intermingled, so that We might test him [in his later life]: and therefore We made him a being endowed with hearing and sight. (Surah al-Insaan, ayah 2)
Life is a test. Full stop. Simple as that. Every day, every event, every moment in our lives is nothing more but a test for us. This understanding puts everything into perspective. Our joys and sorrows all fall into their proper place when we realize the intent with which Allah has set the stage of life. He says:
“And We test you [all] through the bad and the good [things of life] by way of trial” (Surah al-Anbiya, ayah 35)
Passing the test of life demands sacrifices again and again. All other loves must be sacrificed whenever they clash with love for Allah. Love for Allah must reign supreme in our hearts. We must also be ever willing to sacrifice our will when it clashes with Allah’s Will. The tests also demand that we sacrifice our time, wealth and even our lives in the Path of Allah.
Soon, the Muslim Ummah will be sacrificing animals for Eid. These days of Hajj and Eid ul Adha remind us very strongly of the great Prophet of Allah, the Khaleel (Friend) of Allah, the Imam of people, the father of Prophets, our father Ibrahim (‘alaihis salam). There is so much that we can learn from his mesmerizing personality and life. The most overwhelming thing that we notice in his life: is this pious man, this special friend of Allah that he was tested in seemingly every possible way, and he aced every test! This is what earned him his unique prestige and honour.
Allah testifies to this: “And [remember this:] when his Sustainer tested Ibrahim by [His] commandments and the latter fulfilled them. He said: “Behold, I shall make thee a leader of men. ” (Surah al-Baqarah, ayah 124)
Some times in our lives, we are tested in our thought process and priorities. We have to prove where our actual loyalties lie. Ibrahim passed many such tests, when he openly rejected the belief system of his nation. At the risk of death, he spoke out against the religious and political shirk prevalent in his times and declared that: Behold, unto Him who brought into being the heavens and the earth have I turned my face, having turned away from all that is false; and I am not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside Him.” (Surah al-An’aam , ayah 79)
We are also tested in many dimensions in the practical realm. These tests, big and small, fall into different categories. The essence of these tests is sacrifice. We must be willing to sacrifice what we love for the sake of Allah, because love for Allah must always reign supreme in the heart of the believer.
In the life of Ibrahim, we see all these tests being thrown at him one after the other. Through his sacrifices, he proved practically that he loved Allah more than anything else. Every other love was sacrificed at the altar of love for God.
He was tested in his love for his parents. He chose to stay loyal to Allah and do what pleased Allah. Allah says: But when it was made clear unto him that he [i.e. his father] had been God’s enemy, [Ibraham] disavowed him – [although;] behold, Ibrahim was most tender-hearted. most clement. (Surah at-Taubah, ayah 114)
He was tested in his love for his home, and he happily accepted being thrown out but stayed ever true to Allah. Allah says:
He answered: “Do you dislike my gods, O Ibrahim? Indeed, if you desist not, I shall most certainly cause you to be stoned to death! Now begone from me for good! [Ibrahim] replied: “Peace be upon you! I shall ask my Sustainer to forgive you: for, behold, He has always been kind unto me.” (Surah Maryam, ayah 46-47)
He was tested in his patriotism. He proved through his words and actions that for him, love for Allah superseded love for his nation and people. Allah says:
“Indeed, you have had a good example in Ibrahim and those who followed him, when they said unto their [idolatrous] people: “Verily, we are quit of you and of all that you worship instead of God: we deny the truth of whatever you believe; and between us and you there has arisen enmity and hatred, to last until such a time as you come to believe in the One God!” (Surah al-Mumtahinah, ayah 4)
He was tested in the matter of his own life, and he was willing to sacrifice it for Allah. He was thrown in the fire but he did not renounce his belief. His love for Allah superseded his love for his own self. Allah says:
“They exclaimed: “Burn him, and [thereby] succour your gods, if you are going to do [anything]![But] We said: O fire! Be thou cool, and [a source of] inner peace for Ibrahim!” (Surah al-Anbiya, ayah 68-69)
He was tested in his love for his wife and offsprings. He obeyed Allah in their matter, and chose to leave them in a barren land to establish prayer, in obedience to Allah’s Command.
Allah quotes him saying:
“O our Sustainer! Behold, I have settled some of my offspring in a valley in which there is no arable land, close to Your sanctified House, so that, O our Sustainer, they might devote themselves to prayer.” (Surah Ibrahim, ayah 37)
And finally, the zenith of these tests was reached when he was tested in his love for his only son- a son he got in his old age after years of Duas. He was ordered to sacrifice that son. Allah says:
“[Ibrahim said:] My Lord, grant me [a child] from among the righteous.
So We gave him good tidings of a forbearing boy.
And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he said, “O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think.” He said, “O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.”
And when they had both submitted and he put him down upon his forehead,
We called to him, “O Ibrahim,
You have fulfilled the vision.” Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good.
Indeed, this was the clear trial.
And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice,”
Ibrahim successfully passed even this extreme testing phase. His lifelong sacrifices earned him the title of Khaleel Ullah, Imam un Naas, and Abul Anbiya! He became free from Shirk in all its forms, and became a Muslim (one surrendered to Allah) in the truest sense of the word. Allah says:
“When his Sustainer said to him, “Surrender thyself unto Me!” – he answered, “I have surrendered myself unto [Thee,] the Sustainer of all the worlds.” (Surah al-Baqarah, ayah 131)
It is the greatest and purest sacrifice of Ibrahim that we commemorate every Eid ul Azha when we offer a symbolic sacrifice. We must remind ourselves this Eid that life is a test. Just like Ibrahim was tested, every man and woman in this life will be tested again and again. We must recognize the tests that confront us daily. Success lies in sacrificing for Allah whatever the trial of the hour demands- be it our desires, our egos, our sleep, our time, our wealth or even our lives. Because after all, we claim, as the words of the Du’a of Qurbani remind us:
“I have turned my face to that Being who has created the skies and the Earth
in the state of the Straight Deen of Ibrahim –
and I am not amongst the Mushrikeen.
Definitely, my Salaat, my Ibadat and my living and dying is all for Allah,
who is the Lord of the worlds, and who has no partner.
This is what I have been ordered
I am amongst the Muslimeen (the surrendered).
O Allah this sacrifice is due to You granting us the ability to do so and it is for You”. (Abu Dawood)
May Allah accept from us all. May Allah enable us to understand the purpose of life and to internalize the spirit of sacrifice for His Sake.