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The spirit of sacrifice
The history of Haj is unique both in character and spirit. It relates to a life of tests and trials by Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim to Muslims) and his son Ismail.
Prophet Abraham had left his home in Iraq and migrated to other lands to preach the message of Allah, the message of peace and amity to people who were sunk in ignorance and evil. He had also sent his son Ismail to the wilderness of Mecca to carry on the mission there.
The son was yet to grow to be a man when one day Prophet Ibrahim had a vision wherein he was asked by Allah to sacrifice his son in His name. With a heavy heart the Prophet got ready to obey his Lord’s command. He also told his son about what Allah had asked for. Ismail too was was as ready as the father to obey Allah’s command.
However Satan tried to dissuade Ibrahim thrice. It asked him "how can you sacrifice your own son, your own flesh and blood?" Prophet Ibrahim threw a stones at Satan to drive him away all the three times. Even today in memory of this, Haj pilgrims perform the ritual of throwing stones at the three stone pillars representing Satan.
Finally when Ibrahim laid his son on the altar to be sacrificed, Ismail, asked his father to blindfold himself lest he weaken in resolve at the sight of his son's face. So Ibrahim tied a cloth over his eyes and as he brought the knife down on his son's neck to his greatest surprise he found that the head that lay severed was the head of a sheep brought down by the angels at Allah'a command from Heaven. Ismail was standing by as hale and hearty as ever. Pleased at Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his own son Allah made him the leader of mankind.
In commemoration of this incident it became mandatory for all Muslims to sacrifice a sheep in the name of God on the day of Bakrid.
Later the Prophet was commanded to build the Kabah, which was eventually to become the centre of the universal Islamic movement. Thus commanded Allah: 'Oh, Ibrahim, make a proclamation to the people to come for Haj from far and near, on foot and on camels, so that they may witness the benefits that have been made available to them.”
And the faithful came chanting: Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik, Labbaik Laa Shareekalaka Labbaik (I have come in answer to your call, my Lord, I have come!) Muslims of all nationalities took up this cry as they wended their way along the streets of Mecca, towards the ‘Kaabah’. Just before the morning prayer starts the procession of Hajis to the Kaabah.
Thus the symbolic sacrifice of a sheep by a Muslim signifies that all he possesses actually belongs to Allah and therefore should be willingly given away for His sake to help the poor and the needy. One who is in Mecca to perform Haj has to make this symbolic sacrifice in Mina, near Mecca, where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims offer their sacrifices every year. The deeper and larger significance of the sacrifice lies in carrying forward this spirit in our everyday life and translating it into acts of sacrifice to help the poor and the needy.