Muslims Celebrate how God Ransomed Abraham’s Son with a Sacrifice
Many Christians are unaware that Muslims have an annual celebration that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son and God’s merciful provision of a substitute ram in his place. The celebration is called Eid-al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice). The celebration takes place at the end of the Hajj or pilgrimage. Everyone who is financially able purchases an animal to sacrifice. The animal must be killed in accordance with Islamic law in order to be considered Halal or permissible. This entails a short prayer of blessing while slitting the animal’s throat, giving careful attention to drain all the blood. The meat is then shared with family, friends and the poor. The celebration happens all over the Muslim world but it is certainly not limited to Muslim countries. Here in the United States I have seen goats and even a cow sacrificed to celebrate Eid. It is always a treat to see the interaction of my Muslim friends with rural South Carolina farmers negotiating the purchase price of an animal.
Several years ago, I memorized the story of Abraham and Isaac so that I could go to the Mosque and share it with my Muslim friends during this celebration. As I entered the mosque my friends greeted me with excitement, “Eid Mubarik” or “happy Eid!” The atmosphere reminded me of Christmas celebrations. The food was abundant. Everyone had on new clothes. The mood was genuinely joyous. I sat down with a small group of guys I knew fairly well from previous mosque visits. I told them how I had memorized the story concerning Abraham and his son and asked if they would like to hear the story. Everyone wholeheartedly agreed and so I began: “God told Abraham to go to a mountain and sacrifice his son…” but before I could continue, a young man interrupted, saying, “I have heard this story, it’s about Abraham and his son Ishmael.” Someone else in the group replied, “no, the story is not about Ishmael, it’s about Isaac.” Within seconds people began taking sides. My friends looked to me and said, “Well, which is it?”
We create an enormous barrier to communication if our starting point is, “You Muslims are worshipping a different god from the God we worship. We worship the true God; you are therefore worshipping an idol or something that doesn’t exist.” Even if we don’t state it quite as bluntly as this, if we assume it and communicate it, there is a huge barrier to overcome. How much better to start with…
Why the Polarization Concerning Islam and Violence?
Few questions regarding Islam are as salient to current events and public discourse as the relationship between Islam and violence, and few questions are as polarizing. Outsiders looking into the house of Islam have reached conflicting conclusions, with American Presidents defending “the religion of peace” while others connect acts of terrorism and violence directly to “the traditional, orthodox, and classical version of Islam…”
Islamic traditions about Jesus are one indication of how much Muslims respect Jesus. When Muhammad took over Mecca in AD 630, he cleansed the Ka’aba of idols, and destroyed all icons except the Virgin Mary and her son. Those he covered with his coat. Another tradition says that in all humanity only Jesus and his mother were not touched by Satan at birth. Muslims say they honor Jesus more than Christians who claim he was crucified by the hands of cruel men. They reject the cross for these reasons: theologically it need not happen; morally it should not happen; historically it did not happen. As someone succinctly put it: “Without the cross, there is no Christianity, and with the cross there is no Islam.” This article suggests that by building on what is known of Christ in the Qur’an, Christians can lead Muslims to consider God’s plan of redemption in the Bible. Jesus had to die and Easter is God’s vindication. We have a message of hope for Muslim friends.
Missionaries among Muslims often testify that the most effective apologetic the Christian worker has is the power of the simple gospel, rooted in Old Testament prophecies. Thus, when Jesus faced the cross, he appealed to Scripture. In talking to Muslims, Christians must stress that the cross was not a mistake, or a defeat, but the redemptive act of Almighty God, planned before the world began (Gen. 3:15; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28; Mt. 1:21).
Prior to the cross, Jesus said to his mystified disciples: “We are going up to Jerusalem and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled . . . They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again” (Lk. 18:31-33). In witness, Christ must never be left in Galilee, when he set his face toward Jerusalem. Only there “by his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:6). We must not join those who say, “Come down from the cross” (Mt. 27:40). After his passion, Jesus asked a penetrating question of two disciples on the way to Emmaus: “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Lk. 24:26). This is the same question we must ask Muslims. Later, in order to convince some in the “upper room” who doubted, Scripture says he showed them his hands and his feet (Lk. 24:40).
In conclusion, Christians have much in common with Muslims, but in the end, we must focus on the message of Easter. Samuel Zwemer’s comment bears repeating, that the Qur’an leaves the door open for dialog, and that a loving but bold presentation of the surpassing grandeur and beauty of Jesus will not alienate the Muslim heart. We can make much of titles and miracles that describe the person and work of Jesus in the sources of Islam, but must move on to terms, like “Light of the World,” “Bread of Life,” and “Resurrection and the Life.” We must stress that through his death and resurrection, Christ defeated Satan and triumphed over the last enemy, death (I Cor. 15; Heb. 2:5-18). The cross is central to the Gospel (I Cor. 1:23; 15:3-4). In the Qur’an, Jesus is embryonic and mysterious, but Muslims can be encouraged to seek Christ above and beyond their own book: “We made her [Mary] and her son a sign for all peoples” (21:91). I will never forget a Pakistani Muslim villager who gave three reasons why he thought Jesus was greater than Muhammad: “Your Prophet was a Prophet from birth, ours became one at age 40; your Prophet did miracles, ours did none; your Prophet is alive, ours is dead.”