Living Abraham’s Legacy: Relevance of Rites and Rituals in the Modern Age
Why Do Rituals Exist?
...all societies are equally ritualized; they merely practice different rituals. If most people in industrialized societies no longer go to church regularly or practice elaborate rituals of initiation, this does not mean that ritual has declined. All that has happened is that new types of ritual—political, sporting, musical, medical, academic and so on—have taken the place of the traditional ones.4
Rituals in the Spiritual Realm
Purpose of Islamic Rituals
Ritualized devotion (‘Ibadah) is the convention of fulfillment of one’s love of the Divine, paired with the fulfillment of one’s humility towards the Divine. The ‘abd is then the humbled lover (of God).10
Ritualized devotion (‘Ibadah) is the highest station of love. It is a popular saying that: ‘Love has enslaved him (‘abdahu) as though he is property’ and this is the true love of the Divine.11
Hajj: Abraham’s Legacy
There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white....
During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept in the same bed (or on the same rug)—while praying to the same God with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of the blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the actions and in the deeds of the ‘white' Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana. We are truly all the same—brothers.14
The Symbolism Of The Hajj Rituals
The Symbolism of Tawaf
As for Tawaf around God’s House, then know that it is a form of prayer, so fill your heart with the same reverence, fear, hope and love that we have described in the book of prayer. And recognize that in your Tawaf, you are emulating the honorable angels encircling the Divine throne, making Tawaf around it. And do not presume that the point is merely the Tawaf of your physical body, but rather what is intended is the Tawaf of your heart with the remembrance of the Lord of the House, until your thoughts in life start and finish with His remembrance, just as the Tawaf of the House is the beginning and the ending of Hajj. Recognize that the sacred Tawaf is the the Tawaf of the heart with the presence of God’s Lordship, and the Tawaf around God’s House is merely the symbolic representation in the physical world of that spiritual process in the unseen realm. This is similar to how the body is the representation in the physical world of the qalb (spiritual heart) which exists in the unseen world.16
Righteousness is not about turning your faces toward the east or the west, but rather true righteousness is about one’s faith in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets. And it’s about giving one’s wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask for help, and for freeing slaves; it’s about establishing prayer and giving zakat in charity and being those who fulfill their promise when they promise and who are patient in poverty and hardship and times of peril. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous. (Qur’an 2:177)
The Symbolism of Sa’i
The Symbolism of ‘Arafah
And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam—from their loins—their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” [This]—lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, “Indeed, we were of this unaware.” (Qur’an 7:172)
The Symbolism of Muzdalifah
When you depart from 'Arafah, remember Allah at al-Mash'ar al-Haram (the sacred site). And remember Him, as He has guided you, for indeed, you were before that among those astray. (Qur’an 2:198)
The Symbolism of Udhiya
The benefit in commanding His friend Abraham to sacrifice his son was not so that the sacrifice would occur, but rather so that both the father and the son would submit firmly and completely to His commandment. Once that benefit occurred, the [actual carrying out of the] killing became harmful for them both. Therefore, God abrogated it [and commanded Abraham to sacrifice a lamb instead]. This is the true and curative answer in this matter.55
When Abraham positioned Ishmael for the sacrifice, a call from the direction of the Mountain informed him, “O Abraham, you have fulfilled the vision,” thus making his fulfillment based solely on his firm resolve (to perform the deed) despite not actually performing the sacrifice. That’s because he went as far as he could, and what was intended was just for both of them (Abraham and Ishmael) to surrender and submit to God (not the specific act of ritual slaughter), which they successfully performed.57
The Symbolism of Jamarat
1 Bell, C. M. (1997). Ritual: Perspectives and dimensions. Oxford University Press, 252.
2 Kevin Edward Schilbrack, Thinking through rituals: Philosophical perspectives (New York: Routledge, 2004), 72.
3 Bell, C. M. (1997). Ritual: Perspectives and dimensions. 198, 254.
4 Peter Burke and Roy Porter, The social history of language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 223.
5 Bell, C. M. (1997). Ritual: Perspectives and dimensions, 82.
6 Kevin Edward Schilbrack, Thinking through rituals: Philosophical perspectives (New York: Routledge, 2004), 48.
7 Sahih Bukhari, 1804.
8 Sunan ibn Majah, 1680.
9 Ibn Manzur (d. 711 H). Lisan al-Arab. (Beirut: Dar Sader 1955). vol. 3, p. 274.
10 Ibn Taymiyyah, Jami’ Al-Rasa’il (Maktabat Al-Turath Al-Islami), 284:2.
11 Ibn Al-Qayyim, Madarij Al-Salikeen, (Ihya Al-Turath Al-Arabi), 3:28.
12 Abu Hilal Al-’Askari, Al-Farooq Fi Al-Lugha, (Dar Al-’Ilm), 215.
13 Sunan An-Nasa’i, Hadith #3014.
15 The Qur’an mentions that the foundations of the Ka’bah were raised by Abraham and Ishmael (Qur’an 2:127); however, scholars have differed over whether this was the very first time it was constructed. A narration from Ibn Abbas states that the foundations were already present before. Moreover, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ stated that the time between the construction of the Ka’bah and Bayt al-Maqdis was 40 years (Sahih Bukhari 3186), which doesn’t correspond to the time between Abraham and Solomon (i.e., thousands of years), and on the basis of this point, Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597 H) suggested that both were actually originally constructed by Prophet Adam, 40 years apart. Ibn Hajar al-’Asqalani (d. 852 H) cites and supports this conclusion and lists a number of evidences and arguments that indicate that the Ka’bah was first built by Prophet Adam himself. He cites a report from Qatadah ibn Di’amah (d. 117 H) that states, “Allah founded the Ka’bah with Adam when he descended. Adam missed the voices of the angels and their tasbeeh. So Allah said, ‘O Adam I have designated a House around which humanity will make tawaf just as tawaf is performed around my Throne, so journey to it.’” (See Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, Cairo: Dar al-Rayan l’il-Turath, 1987. vol. 6, pp. 467-471).
16 Al-Ghazali, Ihya Ulum al-Deen, (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm 2005), p. 318.
17 The Black Stone marks the eastern corner of the Ka’ba, and is said to be a stone from Paradise sent down to Earth and blackened with the sins of mankind (Sunan al-Tirmidhi, 877). There is also a weak narration attributed to Ibn Abbas that states, “The Black Stone is (a symbol of) God’s right Hand on Earth, so whoever greets it and kisses it, it is as if they have greeted God and kissed His Hand” (Ibn Adi, al-Kamil 1/336). Ibn Qutaybah al-Daynuri (d. 276 H) states, “This is just an analogy, the basis of which is that when one greets a king, one kisses his hand, so it is as if the Black Stone has the station of the right hand of The King” (Ibn Qutaybah, Ta’wil Mukhtalif al-Hadith, Cairo: Dar Ibn Affan, p. 406). He also mentions a report from Aisha (ra) that when God took the primordial covenant from humanity, He placed it in the Black Stone (ja’ala dhalika fi’l-hajar al-aswad). Thus, the symbolic significance may also extended to humanity renewing their covenant with God when kissing the Black Stone.
18 Sahih Muslim, 1270.
19 Sahih Al-Bukhari, 3364.
21 Sahih Bukhari, 3179. This expression highlights Hajar’s importance to the ummah (followers) of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, and it has diverse interpretations. One possibility is that it indicates that this ummah was born at that moment of God’s answering Hajar with the spring of Zamzam.
22 Al-Ghazali, Ihya Ulum al-Deen, p. 319.
23 The name ‘arafah comes from the linguistic root word “to recognize” and a plethora of conjectural suggestions have been made as to why this name originally was chosen. Some suggestions include that it was here that Abraham recognized the rituals of Hajj after being taught by Angel Jibreel, or it was here that Adam was reunited on Earth with Hawwa, and so on. See Tafsir al-Baghawi (verse 2:198).
24 Abu Dawud, 1949.
25 Sahih Muslim, 1348.
26 Al-Dhahabi, Mizan Al-I’tidal, 4:381.
27 Al-Ghazali, Ihya Ulum al-Deen, p. 319.
28 Qur'an, 38:16.
29 Qur'an, 22:55.
30 Qur'an, 19:39.
31 Qur'an, 2:85.
32 Qur'an, 50:42.
33 Qur'an, 40:15
35 Sahih Bukhari, 1674.
36 For instance, an error confusing intravenous vincristine and intrathecal methotrexate resulted in the deaths of patients with leukemia. Dyer Clare. Doctors suspended after injecting wrong drug into spine BMJ 2001; 322 :257.
37 There is a classical difference of opinion over whether it is an obligation (Hanafi school of law) or an emphasized recommendation (Shafi’i, Maliki, Hanbali schools), and also a difference of opinion over whether it is prescribed for everyone (Shafi’i), only for non-travelers (Hanafi), or only for non-pilgrims (Maliki), along with other positions in between.
38 The other being Eid al-Fitr (festival of ending fasting) which follows the month of Ramadan.
39 The Prophet ﷺ said, “When you slaughter, you should use a good method, for one of you should sharpen his knife, and give the animal as little pain as possible” (Sahih Muslim 1955).
40 Qur'an, 22:28.
41 Qur'an, 22:36.
42 Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi (d. 620 H), al-Mughni (Riyadh: Dar Alam al-Kutub 1999) vol. 13, p. 381.
43 Musannaf ibn Abi Shaybah, 10494.
44 In the Islamic tradition, the son is identified as Ishmael according to the predominant opinion amongst scholars based on indications in the Qur’an, as articulated by Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728 H) in Majmu al-Fatawa (Dar al-Wafa’ 2001, vol. 4, p. 204). Meanwhile, exegetes like Ibn Jareer al-Tabari (d. 320 H) and al-Qurtubi (d. 671 H) supported the viewpoint that it was Isaac (see their respective commentaries on 37:101-2).
45 Qur'an, 37:100-101.
46 Qur'an, 3:108.
47 Sahih Bukhari, 5999.
48 It has been stated in Tafsir al-Qurtubi (37:102) that he witnessed these visions for three consecutive nights, and in Islamic theology the visions of prophets constitute revelation, as related in Sahih Bukhari (refer to Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Fath al-Bari 6581).
49 Most of the objections have the underlying epistemological presumption that the one making the claim about what God has commanded him to do is probably deluded or insane, because in reality there is no God telling him to do this or that. However, if it is established with absolute certainty that God has in fact commanded a deed to be performed, a deed which seems to conflict with our ethical sensibilities, what then is the correct course of action? On Ash’arite theology, by Divine command theory, the ethical is defined as whatever God has ordained so this becomes the ethical course of action, while on Hanbalite-Salafist, Maturidite and Mu’tazilite theology, fundamental ethical realities are rationally discernible, so God’s commandments always correspond with what sound reasoning identifies as truly ethical. If something seems otherwise, it’s because we haven’t studied it sufficiently. The Qur'an states that when people attempt to justify immoral actions by stating God commands it, the correct response is to state, “Verily, God does not command evil” (Qur'an 7:28).
50 Qur'an 21:69.
51 Qur'an 2:260.
52 Qur'an 6:75.
53 Qur'an, 37:102. The Qur'anic exegete, Mahmud al-Alusi (d. 1270 H) notes that this demonstrates the humility of Ishmael in not boldly asserting that he was personally patient, but rather saying that he would be amongst those who are patient if God wills.
54 Qur'an 37:103-105.
55 Tallal M. Zeni, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya on Knowledge: from Key to the Blissful Abode (Miftah Dar al-Sa’ada), p. Xxii. Cited as Miftah, p. 392.
56 Alastair Hannay. Homing in on Fear and Trembling. In: Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling: A Critical Guide. (Cambridge University Press 2015) edited by Daniel Conway. p. 13.
57 Al-Shawkani, Fath al-Qadir, (Beirut: Dar al-Marefah 2007) p. 1246. There is a classical theological debate between the Mu’tazilah and the Ashaa’irah on this issue which Al-Razi (d. 606 H) recounts (Mafatih al-Ghayb 37:102). The Mu’tazilah hold that Abraham was only commanded by God to perform the steps leading to the sacrifice, not the sacrifice itself, and thus he fulfilled the vision despite never sacrificing Ishmael. Meanwhile the Ashaa’irah contend that the actual sacrifice itself was what he was commanded to perform.
58 There is one other element of the New Atheist critique of the story that is logically fallacious—when one is committed to the idea that humans are mere biological animals without special status or sanctity, why is human sacrifice morally objectionable but animal sacrifice is not? If human life is categorically no different from an animal life, what gives humans the right to take the life of an animal for consumption? For Muslims, this right comes only from Divine permission (with the condition that the animal is not killed for sport but that we consume the meat and slaughter the animal in a humane manner), and thus Divine blessing is sought before slaughtering any animal in order for it to be halal (permissible).
59 Musnad Ahmad, 2791. This hadith was authenticated by Ahmad Shakir while Nasir al-Din al-Albani declared it weak. Some scholars adopting al-Albani’s view have also opined that since there is no conclusively authentic source to link the practice to Abraham’s pelting the devil, the Jamarat bear no relation to this event. However, they fail to provide an alternative for the origin of the ritual of pelting the Jamarat.