Lessons from Ibrahim: Sacrifice and Islamic Schools
By Imam Jawad Rasul
Ibrahim is mentioned 69 Times in the Quran. He is the only person other than the Prophet Muhammad who has been presented to us as an example to follow. As Allah says in the Quran:
“You already have an excellent example in Abraham and those with him, when they said to their people, “We totally dissociate ourselves from you and ˹shun˺ whatever ˹idols˺ you worship besides Allah. We reject you. The enmity and hatred that has arisen between us and you will last until you believe in Allah alone.” The only exception is when Abraham said to his father, “I will seek forgiveness for you, ˹” adding, “but˺ I cannot protect you from Allah at all.” ˹The believers prayed,˺ “Our Lord! In You we trust. And to You we ˹always˺ turn. And to You is the final return.” (60:4)
He is an example for us in so many different aspects, such as his dawah techniques, his forbearance, his duaas, and his wisdom. But let us take a closer look at his sacrifice, and particularly, his sacrificing of his family.
Most of us are willing to make sacrifices for the things we want, but we have our limits of how much and what we are willing to sacrifice. I have heard people say, “I can sacrifice anything but I cannot sacrifice my family.” We work hard for our families, and particularly our children. We love them more than anything else. Ibrahim also loved his family very much, especially his son, Ismael .
According to some scholars, Ibrahim was in his 80s when Allah gave him Ismael through Hagar. His first test with his family came when Allah commanded him to leave his son Ismael and his mother Hagar in the barren valley of Makkah. Ibrahim fulfilled the command, sacrificing his young child and Hagar by leaving them in the place Allah commanded. After leaving them, when they could not see him, he stopped and called out to Allah saying,
“Our Lord, I have established some of my offspring in an uncultivated valley, close to Your Sacred House, Lord, so that they may keep up the prayer. Make people’s hearts turn to them, and provide them with produce, so that they may be thankful.” (14:37)
In order for the house to be populated, someone had to make the sacrifice and be the first to set up camp in this area. Allah commanded Ibrahim and he readily sacrificed his family to establish what was going to become Umm-ul-Qura. It is said that wild animals inhabited this area, and at night Hagar started to hear the animals howling nearby. Arabian leopard, desert lynx, striped hyena and Arabian wolves are just some of the wild animals that are known to have existed in the land now known as Saudi Arabia.
After a few years, another test came. When Ismael grew old enough to start working with his father and accompanying him to places, Allah showed Ibrahim a dream,
“And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he said, “O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think.” He said, “O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.” (37:102)
Ibrahim once again readily fulfilled the command of Allah and took Ismael to the place where he intended to sacrifice him. Iblees (Satan) appeared to him at three different points on the way, trying to dissuade him from sacrificing his son and was pelted by Ibrahim . Ibrahim laid his son down, covered his eyes, and started to slaughter his son. Allah called out to Ibrahim,
“O Ibrahim, You have (already) fulfilled the vision. Indeed, this is how We reward the good-doers. That was truly a revealing test. And We ransomed his son with a great sacrifice.” (37:104-107)
When Ibrahim opened his eyes, he saw that a ram from Jannah had been slaughtered by him, while Ismael was standing next to him with an angel accompanying him. Ibrahim sacrificed his own family and literally offered a human sacrifice. However, our Lord and the Lord of Ibrahim is not one who is merciless. Rather he is the most merciful of all. When he commanded a sacrifice, he rewarded those who offered the sacrifice with the greatest of rewards in this dunya and in the akhirah.
As a result of Ismael and Hagar being left in Makkah, Allah gave them Zam Zam and sent Jurhum to settle there. Makkah became the mother of cities and its founders were the family of Ibrahim . Allah saved Ismael and sacrificed a ram from Jannah instead. Allah also gave Ibrahim the great status of Khalilullah (The Close Friend of Allah) and made his actions a must do ritual to be followed and imitated by millions of people until the Day of Judgment.
Let’s reflect on how well we are following the example of Ibrahim . It is not uncommon that situations arise in the work of dawah that require serious sacrifices. Imams, teachers, presidents, and other volunteers often find themselves in these situations.One such example is when it comes to starting and running Islamic schools. I have had the honor of being involved in starting two full-time Islamic schools and I have seen the extreme ups and downs that come with that. Hypocritical double standards of parents and community members as well as the unwillingness to sacrifice are two things that bother me the most.
Hypocritical Double Standards
It is completely understandable that parents want the best teachers, the best facility, the best curriculum, the best security, the best extra-curricular activities, and so on. Many parents choose to not support an Islamic school due to the inability of most (if not all) Islamic schools to be able to provide the most perfect experience for a child. The thing that bothers me is when a parent is willing to forego so much of those demands when it comes to choosing a regular public or private school. One would think that perhaps having to pay tuition is the reason, but I have seen quite a few parents paying more for a private school and demanding less from them. However, Allah describes this dilemma clearly in Surah Al-Baqarah as he says:
“Shaitaan threatens you with poverty and orders you to immorality, while Allah promises you forgiveness from Him and bounty. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.” (2:268)
Parents feel that they will go broke and lose their children to something really bad if they send them to Islamic schools, but the same parents have no problem spending the same or more money on things which have no lasting benefit for this life or the next. The day parents apply the same standards to both Islamic and secular schools is the day they will realize that Islamic schools, in most cases, are a better deal, even with all their shortcomings, in this world and the next.
Unwillingness to Sacrifice
Closely related to the above point is the unwillingness of parents to sacrifice for the greater good. Ibrahim must not have wanted to slaughter his child, but he did it knowing that if Allah is asking, it must be for something good. Parents in our time also need to understand that investing their money and their children in Islamic schools, and helping with constructive feedback, is no less than a sacrifice for the greater good. It is similar to supporting ethical businesses and giving them business for the sake of their survival, even though we may not need a particular product of theirs. Also, just the way Ismail was NOT actually sacrificed; your children will also come out better than their peers, if the intentions are in the right place.
In conclusion, I would like us all to reflect on how much we are willing to sacrifice for Allah, His Messenger, and for Islam. If we are willing to sacrifice only what’s extra, that may not cut it. We must be willing to sacrifice that which we love the most. This is our Jihad in this time and place here in the west. Allah says in Surah Tawbah:
“Say, [O Muhammad], “If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your relatives, wealth which you have obtained, commerce wherein you fear decline, and dwellings with which you are pleased are more beloved to you than Allah and His Messenger and jihad in His cause, then wait until Allah executes His command. And Allah does not guide the defiantly disobedient people.” (9:24)
Disclaimer: I am fully aware that some Islamic schools have some serious problems. I am not advocating blind sacrifice. I am simply advocating that each person consider the local Islamic school to be his or her OWN project that must succeed. Instead of just criticizing, offer constructive criticism with the purest of intention. Also, support your local Islamic school even if you have to make some sacrifices.
Imam Jawad Rasul was born in Pakistan and grew up in New York City. He memorized the Quran at Muslim Center of New York between the ages of 13-15 and then began Islamic Studies privately. He was Imam of Masjid At-Taqwa in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he remained four years. Imam Jawad also holds a bachelor’s degree in Media and Communications Arts from City College of New York. He is currently the Imam of the Islamic Society of Augusta.