A legacy to learn from

Published: October 2, 2015
The writer is a barrister with an interest in psychology

The writer is a barrister with an interest in psychology

This year, I celebrated Eidul Azha with some Turkish friends in London. Whilst the fantastic spread of choicest Turkish dishes was as marvellous as any I could have expected at a Pakistani gathering, the air of festivity was dampened by the memory of the very recent and sad deaths at Hajj. Whilst one of my friends vociferously argued that as the hosts of the event, the Saudi government was responsible for providing appropriate and adequate security to the Hajis, another wondered whether the Hajis themselves were liable for the stampede. Another friend still was simply sceptical and asked, “Why was there such a crowd at this particular spot anyway?”

My Turkish friends had grown up under Ataturk’s secular policies. Therefore, whilst they celebrated and even enjoyed Eid, it was little more for them than a family tradition and they did not know the significance behind the rituals. For me, however, the situation was rather different. I had grown up on stories from the Holy Quran and the lessons contained in them. Almost immediately, therefore, I found myself sharing with my friends the complex relationship amongst Hazrat Ibrahim (A S), Hazrat Sarah (R A) and Hazrat Hajra (R A); Hazrat Ibrahim’s (A S) journey to and arrival in Makkah with Hazrat Hajra (R A) and Hazrat Ismail (A S), their frantic search for water and finally Hazrat Ibrahim’s (A S) sacrifice of Hazrat Ismail (A S) in obedience to the will of God.

Although my friends listened to me with both interest and surprise, I could not help feeling that they viewed these stories as forgotten history rather than living truths that could still guide their paths. At first I was saddened by this thought. Later, however, I realised that, in essence, the reaction of my Turkish friends was not too different from that of their Pakistani counterparts. Isn’t it true that Pakistani Muslims, despite their vociferous claims of being holier than any other Muslims anywhere, are also more interested in the ritual of the Hajj rather than the spiritual journey it represents? And on acquiring the best goat, cow, camel they can afford rather than understanding the trust and total submission that the sacrifice symbolises?

These thoughts remained with me even as I walked home after dinner and made me uneasy. I was upset by the fact that Hazrat Ibrahim’s (A S) extensive legacy should be reduced to a single ritual, when there was so much more to know, understand and admire about him. I recalled then my earliest impressions of Hazrat Ibrahim (A S). One memory of him was that of a benign grandfatherly figure who was so close to God that he had been given the epithet of “Khalil-ullah” — the friend of God. In another memory, however, he was a rebel who could defy his father for faith. In yet another memory, he was the common progenitor of Hazrat Musa (A S), Hazrat Isa (A S) and Hazrat Muhammed (Peace Be Upon Him) and, therefore, of Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Perhaps, my favourite of all memories of him is from a book of Sufi anecdotes: Hazrat Ibrahim (A S) would feed one person every night in the name of God, before sitting down for dinner himself. One evening he had been waiting at his doorstep but no passerby came his way. Just as he was beginning to despair, he saw an ancient man approaching. He happily invited him in and fed him. When the man thanked him, Hazrat Ibrahim (A S) said that all thanks are due to God alone. To this the man replied that he was a fire-worshipper and did not believe in God. Hazrat Ibrahim (A S) was incensed and was about to throw him out when he heard the voice of God: Ibrahim (A S), if I can feed a man for a hundred years, could you not do so for one day?

As our dinner had come to an end, one of my friends had remarked that she had not fully appreciated that Hazrat Ibrahim (A S) was a common ancestor of Jews, Christians and Muslims. “If we are all cousins why do we hate one another?” she had asked. I did not have an answer for her immediately and it was only later that I realised that we Muslims, who considered ourselves the true, most legitimate heirs of Hazrat Ibrahim (A S), had all but forgotten the depth of his faith that had turned into a garden the burning cauldron into which his father had thrown him. We had neglected his legacy of devotion to God, steadfastness in faith and tolerance for all — attributes without which a re-enactment of his actions is perhaps, meaningless.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2015.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Dinesh Bahuva
    Oct 2, 2015 - 11:10AM

    The world over such massive tragedies occur with loss of human lives. Let us learn from past tragedies. I suggest establishment of an organization under UNO. This organization should be totally apolitical and membership of countries should be voluntary. The organization will formulate a structure of experts from all over the world and study each and every tragedy in great details and suggest appropriate responses with focus on systems, and not the scapegoats. The report should be made public so that further discussion on all media print, electronic and social will take place making people and governments aware and avoid pitfalls in future.Recommend

  • riaz ahmad
    Oct 2, 2015 - 2:10PM

    In my opinion the utmost preferences in every religion is to bring humanity. And the best principle of humanity is to like for others what you like for yourself. Considering human nature and the current status of the world and keeping hold of humanity it appears prudent that u start from yourself then your family and then you spread your circle correspondingly.
    And to the writer i would say, i wish you could give a practical solution to some of the problems you mention in your article according to your opinion. These r just my thoughts so no offence.

  • Ali S
    Oct 2, 2015 - 3:17PM

    I doubt even most devout Muslims even know the words they recite during Namaz five times a day and the meaning behind those words, let alone the Hajj. It’s sad that we have narrowed down a beautiful, insightful religion to little more than a public display of rituals.Recommend

  • Shahbaz Asif Tahir
    Oct 2, 2015 - 6:27PM

    Muslims are the victims of intolerance and brutality, more than any other.
    Palestine belongs to the Muslims only, yet it is under forceful occupation of an
    illegitimate regime, fully supported by the west. Similarly Kashmir should have been
    part of Pakistan. Yet it has been brutally occupied by India, and the Muslims are being
    deprived of their basic rights of self determination. In Afghanistan thousands of Muslims
    have been killed either by the west, or groups who are allied with western support.
    Through out the Muslim world dictators allied to the west have been forcefully appointed
    to implement anti Islamic western agenda.
    Therefore pointing out at Muslims is rather incorrect and thoroughly biased opinion.Recommend

  • observer
    Oct 2, 2015 - 10:42PM

    @Shahbaz Asif Tahir:

    So true Brother.

    History tells us that Muslims owned Jerusalem even before Jews and Christians came around.

    Zoroastrians violently tried to take control of Persia from peaceful Muslims who had been around since ages.

    Hindus have occupied Muslim lands called Hindustan.

    As Sovereignty of the Universe has been vested in Muslims all others must be kicked out of the Universe.

    Moderator ET- I assume this space is not reserved for Mr Tahir and his profound views.Recommend

  • Parvez
    Oct 2, 2015 - 11:27PM

    After reading this, what struck me was you, an educated enlightened person would advocate MORE religion……..instead of more humanity. You seemed to be fixated on stories from the scriptures as a ticket to a better existence……almost like clutching at a straw to stop you from going under. I normally agree with much that you say……this time its different. Recommend

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