Retelling the story of festival of sacrifice – Part I
In the name of the Almighty, the Beneficent, the Merciful
“O! Ibrahim, you have indeed fulfilled the vision; this indeed is how We reward the good-doers (Quran 37: 105).
As we count down to this year’s festival of sacrifice in Islamic spiritual annals. I thought it is important we refresh our memories about the inner meanings of this occasion. Let us begin from the beginning; from the story of Prophet Ismail (a.s).
Baby Ismail had a mother by the name Hajar (upon her be peace). Hajar was the young bondmaid of Sarah, the story goes, who eventually became the second of two wives of Prophet Ibrahim (a.s). How the young woman actually became the second-wife is of no interest to the Glorious Quran- the last testament. To ask that type of question, I would argue, is to ask this other question- how does the sperm that gets mixed up with the egg become a child? How do twins, born of the same womb travel different pathways in life- one to success and long-life, and the other to a life of penury and poverty and ultimately to an early exit from the world?
Contemplated more closely, one discovers that the above question did not arise or may not have arisen for Prophet Ibrahim (a.s). This is probably because the vocation of prophethood is all about the interaction between the knowable and the unknowable; it is all about this constant connection between celestial and terrestrial realities. Yes. Prophethood is all about doing the ordinarily unreasonable in the reckoning of subjects whose reasoning is fallible.
Besides that, you would recall that prophets of the Almighty, particularly of the Islamic tradition, were mostly polygynous though the first in the line, Prophet Adam (a.s), actually had only one wife. Yes. Prophet Adam was monogamous. But could he have had two wives? No. Hawwah could equally have had no other husband. She could not have had another man at a time when only one man existed. No!
In other words, the start-off in humanity’s primordial biological experience was monogamy. This marriage tradition -monogamy, however, represents, quite ironically, the point of departure along which polygyny usually find reference and credence. In other words, polygyny, without prejudice to the eclecticism and polemicism in Muslim jurists’ approaches to this issue, is the exception, while monogamy is the norm. Marriage of one man to not more than four, in line with Islamic law, functions as the corrector of the errors that monogamy usually leaves behind as it ‘travels’, like travelling traditions, from one society to the other.
Thus it came to pass that Ibrahim, the Prophet (a.s), married Hajar, the bondmaid and both were blessed with Ismail. The inspiration that led to that union later took Ibrahim away from the far remits of Arabia to the drylands of Makkah. But he was told he would not be going alone. Prophet Ibrahim was told he would have to travel together with his young wife Hajar, and baby Ismail. Imagine travelling around the Arabian Peninsula in the primordial times, in those undated-for-undatable seasons and times. The young family travelled all alone- father, mother and their baby. How long did it take them to get to their destination? We will never get to know. What challenges did they encounter on their path? Only the Almighty knows.
Eventually, they arrived at their destination. It was a deserted landscape. It was an acreage that was bereft of bread and butter; it was a terrain that lacked illumination and light. As if on yet another mission, the husband- prophet Ibrahim – soon bid his wife, the mother of baby Ismail, bye. For him, it was one mission accomplished. Both mother and child were to be left all alone on that landscape to fulfil a mission known only to the Creator, the Almighty.
“Was it your Lord who told you to bring us here”, the dutiful wife, Hajar, was said to have asked her husband. The latter replied, according to the report, ‘Yes’. For the woman in Hajar, an awareness of divine presence in a locale of loneliness and in moments of trepidation was enough a consolation. Soon, thereafter, Prophet Ibrahim went away. He left his wife and son in the care of the Almighty who caters to the needs of the smallest ants even under darkness.
But now we know, after the fact, that it was good that Prophet Ibrahim actually left. Sometimes, absence has its advantages; it has its own ‘value’. The man who constantly sits around his wife will soon lose his respect. Despite the bond that ties the mother to her child, motherhood actually craves separation. Women do experience this strange desire for dissociation from the fruits of their womb; they sometimes experience feelings of fulfilment and relief only when the umbilical cord is put to the blade.
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Afis Ayinde Oladosu is a professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural Studies. Dean, Faculty of Arts,
University of Ibadan, Nigeria