Judaism, Christianity and Islam are considered Abrahamic faiths. All three spring from the same fountainhead which is the patriarch Abraham (a great Prophet for Muslims and designated as a close friend of God, peace be upon him). While Judaism and Christianity trace their lineage to Isaac, Islam traces its line to Ishmael, the firstborn of Abraham.
The Abrahamic religions claim descent from the practices of the ancient Israelites and the worship of the God of Abraham.
Abrahamic religion spread globally through Christianity being adopted by the Roman Empire in the fourth century and Islam by the Islamic Empires from the seventh century. Today, the Abrahamic religions are one of the major divisions in comparative religion and the major ones in chronological order of founding are Judaism in the seventh century BCE, Christianity in the 1st century CE, and Islam in the seventh century CE.
Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are the Abrahamic religions with the greatest numbers of adherents. An estimated 54 per cent of the world’s population adheres to an Abrahamic religion.
It is the Islamic tradition that Muhammad (peace be upon him), as an Arab, is descended from Abraham’s son Ishmael. Jewish tradition also equates the descendants of Ishmael, Ishmaelites, with Arabs, while the descendants of Isaac by Jacob, who was also later known as Israel, are the Israelites.
This week the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims commemorate the life of Abraham and around three million of them are retracing his steps and the steps of his wife Hajar in the barren wilderness of the Arabian Peninsula. The ‘Hajj’ or pilgrimage is the fifth pillar of Islam and takes place annually in the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. For those who can afford the journey it is compulsory on them at least once in a lifetime. This five-day event takes place in the holy city of Mecca and the surrounding cities of Mina, Muzdhalifa and on the plains of Arafat. This year, a record 60+ pilgrims from Barbados undertook the journey and travelled for the ‘Hajj’.
For Muslims who did not travel for the Hajj they will celebrate ‘Eid-ul-Adha’, the second major festival on the Islamic calendar. As described in a 2018 New York Times article, Sacrifice, Obedience and Enlightenment by Mustafa Akyol: “…Eid al-Adha, a four-day feast that usually includes communal prayer, presents for children and visits to family members and cemeteries. But the key ritual will be what gives the holiday its name: “Adha” means “sacrifice” in Arabic.
“Most families who can afford to do so will slaughter an animal — perhaps a sheep, goat, cow or camel. The animal will be blindfolded, gently put down and then slaughtered while the name of God is praised. The meat is consumed by the family and also distributed to neighbours and to the needy.
“For some non-Muslims, it may seem puzzling that Muslims engage in such a bloody ritual. But Jews and Christians should be able to relate to the holiday’s origin: the biblical story of the sacrifice of Isaac.
“This story is in both the Book of Genesis and, with some interesting variations, the Quran. In the story, Abraham receives a shocking injunction from God: He must offer his beloved son as a sacrifice. As a devoted servant of God, he agrees to obey and takes the child to Mount Moriah to slaughter him. At the last moment, God, satisfied with Abraham’s devotion, saves the boy by sending a ram as a substitute sacrifice.
“There are minor differences between how the story is told in Islam and how it’s told in Judaism and Christianity — such as the name of the child which the Quran doesn’t mention and Muslims gradually accepted as Ishmael. But the moral lesson is the same: Abraham’s piety should be celebrated. He was willing to obey God’s order, even if it meant killing his son.”
The centrality of Abraham in Islamic teaching and the practices of Muslims are reminders of how Islam is deeply connected with the Abrahamic faiths and teachings.
The Hajj and its rituals, Eid-ul-Adha and the sacrifices and the related activities happening this week in the Muslim world and in Muslim communities all revolve around Abraham, his wife Hajar and their son Ishmael, peace be upon them all. Additionally, the holy city of Mecca and its surroundings will also feature prominently this week as the major days of the pilgrimage are observed.
An overview of the story is found in the below adapted from Wikipedia:
“Ishmael and Hagar being taken to Mecca by Abraham in Islamic texts is an important part in the story of Ishmael, as it brings the focus to Mecca and is the beginning of Mecca’s sanctification as a holy area. Islamic tradition says Abraham was ordered by God to take Hagar and Ishmael to Mecca, and later Abraham returned to Mecca to build the Kaaba. In many of these accounts, the angel Gabriel (Jibral) guides them to the location of the Kaaba, at which point Abraham builds it and afterwards, leaves the other two there (other versions say the construction of the Kaaba occurred later and that Ishmael took part in it). Generally, it is said that Hagar asks Abraham who he is entrusting herself and Ishmael to as he leaves them. He answers that he is entrusting them to God, to which Hagar then makes a reply that shows her faith, stating that she believes God will guide them. Hagar and Ishmael then run out of water and Ishmael becomes extremely thirsty. Hagar is distressed and searches for water, running back and forth seven times between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah. Hagar is later remembered by Muslims for this act during the Hajj, or pilgrimage, in which Muslims run between these same hills as part of the Sa’ee. When she returns to Ishmael, she finds either him or an angel scratching the ground with their heel or finger, whereupon water begins flowing and Hagar collects some or dams it up. This spring or well is known as Zamzam.”
The story of Abraham is mentioned in several places of the Holy Quran and during this week Muslims will be reminded in various ways of these accounts and the life of Abraham and his son Ishmael. Abraham’s story is worth reporting and in it are many lessons for all generations – sacrifice being the main and key lesson throughout Abraham’s sojourn on this earth earning him the beloved title of ‘close-friend of God’. And as Aykol points out: “And that is why, in the next few days, hundreds of millions of Muslims will honour Abraham with their sacrifices. “Oh our God,” they will also say during their daily prayers, “bless us as you blessed Abraham, and the family of Abraham.”
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI.