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.