The Holiday of the Sacrifice

On Oct. 4-5, 2014, over 100 million animals will be slaughtered in the Muslim world. Muslim cities will be filled with blood during the second most important holiday in the Muslim world, called “Eid al-Adha” or “Holiday of the Sacrifice”. During this holiday, Muslims worldwide celebrate from 3-5 days in remembrance of the prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Abraham is remembered for his complete submission to God. The Qur’an says about Abraham,  “Surely Abraham was an example, obedient to Allah, by nature upright, and he was not of the polytheists. He was grateful for Our bounties. We chose him and guided him unto a right path. We gave him good in this world, and in the next he will most surely be among the righteous.” (16:120-121)

During this holiday, Muslims remember Abraham’s sacrifice today by mimicking the sacrifice themselves. From Munich to Mecca to the Maldives, Muslims all over the world gather together in families and communities to fast, pray special prayers, listen to a special sermon, and sacrifice a goat, lamb, cow, or another animal considered clean under Islamic law. They shed its blood as a symbol of Abraham’s obedience to (nearly) sacrifice his son. This symbol reminds kids and adults alike that life is a test from God and we must submit and obey like Abraham in order to gain God’s acceptance.

This weekend, over 100 million animals will be slaughtered in the Muslim world. @vergenations



The Qur’an, as well as the rituals of this holiday emphasize Abraham’s submission to God. Even at the cost of his own son, Abraham obeyed God. As in the Bible, the Qur’an teaches that the calling of Abraham to sacrifice his son was a “test”. Abraham and his son passed the test. By virtue of passing this test he was confirmed as righteous. Abraham is righteous because he submitted to God and passed God’s test. Therefore, he gets remembered and honored in this holiday.  In the same way, our life is one great test from God. If we submit to God and obey Him then – if God wills – we will pass the test and have a greater chance of God “accepting” us on the day of judgement and entering paradise.

While in the Qur’an Abraham was praised for his submission and obedience to God, he is praised in the Bible for his faith in God. In the Qur’an, Abraham acted out towards God in righteousness and therefore he was approved by God. In the Bible, Abraham’s faith is accredited with an alien righteousness. His faith was counted righteous actually before the trial of sacrificing his son (Gen. 22) when he believed that God would give him a son of promise who would be the father of many nations.

Gen. 15:1-6, “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’  But Abram said, ‘O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.’ And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

Isaac was the son of promise and Abraham believed God would keep his promise to raise up a nation through his line through Isaac.  So if God called Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, he will be faithful to raise Isaac from the dead and keep his promises. This is why after the even Abraham called the place where he nearly sacrificed Isaac, “The Lord will provide” (Gen. 22:14). So, whereas the Qur’anic story highlights Abraham’s righteousness by works, the Bible intentionally shifts our attention away from Abraham and Isaac and towards God who is always faithful to keep and fulfill His promises.

Was Abraham confirmed righteous or counted righteous? @vergenations



In the Bible, Abraham’s obedience is also praised, but it is not central to the narrative either in the Old Testament or the New Testament.

Gen. 22:15-18, “And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

The story of Abraham and his son illustrates faith working itself out in obedience to God. Contrary to the Qur’anic account, Abraham’s obedience was not the basis of God’s blessing of Abraham. Rather, his obedience was a fulfillment of his faith. James 2:21-23, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God.”  Thus, Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac was a fulfillment the Scripture which says he was counted righteous (Gen. 15:6). If Abraham didn’t follow through obediently with Isaac, then the Scripture would have been proven false because it had already testified that Abraham was counted righteous because of his faith in the God who would give him a son of promise.

According to the Qur’an, Abraham’s inherent righteousness was tested; in the Bible, Abraham’s faith is tested. His faith was tested to see whether it was genuine and would work itself out in obedience to God. Heb. 11:18-19: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” Abraham’s faith passed the test of genuineness and thus the righteousness of which he was credited in Gen. 15:6 was evidenced in his faith driven obedience. Abraham’s faith was not a contribution to his righteousness. But faith is counted – credited – as that which unites Abraham with God in Christ. God justified Abraham on he basis of his faith and not his work of obedience in the story of his near sacrifice of his son.


Why don’t Christians “remember” Abraham’s binding of Isaac by yearly slaughtering of animals like Muslims? Are Muslims more connected to their history than we are? Perhaps. I met a Salafi Muslim who talked clearly about how their sacrificing an animal today connects them as a people of God to Abraham. Abraham, after all, supposedly ascended Mount Arafat which is just east of Mecca. Today, millions of Muslims from all over the world ascend Mount Arafat to pray to God as a part of their Hajj – or religious pilgrimage – ritual. For my Salafi Muslim acquaintance, the Holiday of the Sacrifice connects him spiritually not only with the righteous prophet Abraham, but also with his spiritual brethren all over the world.

But for many Muslims, this yearly festival is merely a cultural artifact with connects the people to their ancient religious heritage, in the same way that Christians ritually wash each others feet to symbolize humility and service in a manner reminiscent of the first century feet. Many Muslims do not think theologically about this holiday of the sacrifice. They don’t mentally or emotionally connect their killing a goat today with their standing before God, even when they attend the mosque and perform their ritual prayers. Many of them do it primarily as a cultural ritual which comes with lots of blessings – like family time, new clothes, parties with friends and family, good food, and an opportunity to serve the poor.

Certainly Christians can join in the general cultural celebration that happens each year. We should see this Holiday as an opportunity to connect with Muslim friends and share in common service projects to the poor. Christians living in Muslim contexts might also wisely celebrate with their Muslim friends a shared awe of the prophet Abraham’s faith. He is “father Abraham” to us all, after all.

But as born again Christ followers, we are very sensitive to any kind of religious blood sacrifice because blood sacrifice is right at the center of the Gospel. Jesus’ offering of His life to the Father as a sacrifice for our sins was sufficient, final, and perfectly effective. The blood of Christ was a totally sufficient sacrifice for our sins. Therefore, there is never again a need for us to present any sacrifice for our sins to God (Hebrews 9:25-28). Christ’s sacrifice of Himself was final. He died once, he rose from the dead once and now and forever he reigns as Victor forever (1 Pt. 3:18).  Christ’s sacrifice was perfectly effective in accomplishing its intended goal, namely, the full redemption of His people from slavery to sin and death to an eternal life of good works glorifying God (Rom. 8:32-34, Hebrews 9:11-14).Thus, it’s nearly impossible for me (and I think for most Christ followers) to interpret the IslamicHoliday of the Sacrifice as merely a cultural ritual.

Approximately 100 million animals are sacrificed during this Holiday and with each there is a remembrance of Abraham and his son. Sadly, most Muslims do not naturally connect the incredible parallels between the story of Abraham and his son and the story of the Cross, where God the Father sacrificed His Son. So that is what we must pray for in this time. That with each goat/lamb/camel/cow neck slit, there will be a supernatural and transformative intervention of the Holy Spirit bringing conviction of sin and enlightenment about “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29)!

We must make sense of these stories of sacrifice for our Muslim friends. We believe that God provided His Son Jesus Christ as our sacrificial lamb. And we also have a Holiday of Sacrifice wherein we remember the greatest sacrifice ever made by the most righteous Prophet of them all.

We call it The Lord’s Supper.


Photo Credit: The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio