This four-day celebration begins at daybreak on the first day with the ritual slaughter of animals. In many places, make-shift butchers are set up in the streets in order to accommodate the many participants. Thus, we had been told to expect rivers of blood pouring down the street and mountains of animal carcasses lining the sidewalks. Our curiosity was quickly satisfied as those realities manifest themselves. We had been properly warned.
However, I am not sure that we were adequately prepared to encounter the spiritual darkness of this holiday. This article, then, is an attempt to prepare you to engage in meaningful conversations with your Muslim neighbors as Eid al-Adha occurs on August 10th this year. I pray it can be used to prepare you to encounter the darkness of a distorted ritual with the light of the gospel. To do so, we’ll begin with a brief snapshot of the role the holiday plays in Islam, and then three questions that can prompt gospel conversation.
What is Eid al-Adha?
Eid al-Adha is an Islamic holiday that commemorates Abraham’s faithfulness to offer God his son as a sacrifice (Qur’an 37:99-111). While the story bears some similarity to the account of Abraham and Isaac recorded in the Bible (Genesis 22:1–19), it lacks significant details and plays a different role in Islam. In fact, the annual sacrifice is part of the ritual that God gave to Muhammad in order to identify and commend Islam as a true heavenly religion (Qur’an 22:34 & 67).
As Muslims participate in this ritual, then, they are recognizing and affirming what Qur’an 5:3 says: “Today I have perfected your religion for you, and I have completed my blessing upon you, and I have approved Islam as your religion.” Most of your friends will also understand their participation in this holiday to be an act of solidarity with Abraham who—along with his son—was blessed for submitting to God (Qur’an 37:110–111).
The sacrifice is part of the annual Hajj pilgrimage season, and observing the sacrifice in the sacred region of Mecca is a highlight of the event. Yet for those who are not participating in the Hajj, sacrifices are also offered—either directly or via proxy—throughout the world. As your Muslim neighbors observe this holiday, I suggest that you ask the following three questions in order to open up gospel conversations.
1. Why Is Abraham Important in Islam?
It is common to hear Judaism, Christianity, and Islam lumped together under the title, “Abrahamic faiths.” This is because each faith views Abraham as a key character in the development of their religion. For Jews, Abraham received the original covenant that led to the formation of God’s chosen people (Genesis 12:1–3). For Christians, Abraham provides an example of one who was counted righteous by faith apart from works (Romans 4:3).
For Muslims, Abraham is viewed as a proto-Muslim (hanif) who submitted to God before there were Jews or Christians (Qur’an 3:67). He does not feature as the recipient of God’s promise to bless the nations, nor does God advance redemptive history through him. Rather, he is just another mouthpiece for the message of Islam. This understanding, however, proves problematic when the following question is posed.
2. Why Did God Provide a Sacrifice if It Was Just a Test?
The qur’anic account of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son includes the following statement: “O Abraham! You have indeed fulfilled the vision. Thus indeed do we reward the righteous. This was indeed a manifest test” (Qur’an 37:104–106). And yet immediately following this account, Qur’an 37:107 states, “Then We ransomed him with a great sacrifice,” which most Muslim commentators take to be a reference to God’s provision of a sacrificial ram.
Islam rejects the idea of substitutionary atonement (Qur’an 35:18). In fact, when the Qur’an discusses sacrifices, it clearly states that sacrifices are merely expressions of piety not propitiation: “It is not their flesh or their blood that reaches Allah. Rather it is your Godwardness that reaches Him” (Qur’an 22:37). Yet, since the Qur’an itself declares that Abraham was being tested, why would God conclude this test with the presentation of a sacrificial animal?
For the Christian, it is clear that this story prepares the reader for the sacrificial logic contained in the Levitical sacrificial system (See especially the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16–17). Furthermore, it also finds its fulfillment in Christ who is the fullness of which the Mosaic system was but the shadow (Hebrews 7-10). In conversation with your Muslim friends, then, you might have a chance here to show that the Abraham story fits better in the biblical narrative.
3. Why Does God Command Sacrifices Today?
Within Islam, Abraham’s sacrifice stands strangely out of joint with the rest of the religion. Abraham is viewed as one of many prophets to proclaim Islam, and his life does not contribute to a broadening understanding of God’s redemptive purposes. Yet his sacrifice remains the focal point of the annual Eid al-Adha celebration despite its apparent dislocation from the rest of the story. I would encourage you, then, to push your Muslim friends to consider what purpose sacrifice might have in the story they believe Islam to be telling about the world.
Though there is a heavy, spiritual darkness that attends the slaughter of animals in service of an idolatrous religious system, I believe these questions can help expose your Muslim neighbors to the fact that their annual ritual belongs in a different story—one in which the perfect and eternal sacrifice has already been offered. May the Lord allow us to exalt Christ even in the face of a system that would obscure him!
Editor’s Note: Originally published in Sept. 2019. If you want to learn to share your faith with a Muslim Friend, be sure to check out our free guide!