Eid ul Adha — the Festival of Sacrifice — is one of two important religious festivals in the Muslim calendar (the other being Eid ul Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan). It occurs after the conclusion of the Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca), but its function is to specifically recall the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, in submission to a command he received from Allah.
The story of Ibrahim and his son is related in the Qur’an.
And he (Ibrahim) said “Indeed I am going to my Lord. He will guide me. My Lord, grant me of the righteous.” So We gave him glad tidings of a boy forbearing. Then when the he attained (balagha) the effort/striving/working with him, he said “Oh my son, I have seen in the dream that I am sacrificing you, so look what you see.” He said, “Oh my father, do what you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, amongst the patient.” Then when both of them had submitted (S-L-M, root with connotations of both peace and submission) and he put down him down upon his forehead, and We called out to him that “Oh Ibrahim, certainly you have fulfilled the vision. Indeed, We thus reward the good. Indeed this was sure the clear trial.” We ransomed him with a great sacrifice. And we left for him among the later generations. (37:99-107)
While all Prophets deliver the same warning, each Prophet has a particular prophetic function, what the Quran refers to as their “favours/preferences/degrees”:
These, the Messengers. We preferred (favoured) some of them over others. Allah spoke among them and He raised some of them in degrees. (2:253)
All prophets, and their respective “favours”, relate to each other according to lineages of transmission, (non-linear) lineages defined according to their functional composition. Each prophet is bound to each other prophet according to a skeletal nexus of favours/functional relationships/co-predication/composition, in continual technicolour fluctuating relay. This nexus of relay, taken as an entire network in action, constitutes the primordial Body of Man. Depending on one’s perspective, it is also known as the Tree of Life, the Miraj or the Sa’ee. (Muhammed and Christ have a special, distinguished relationship with entirety of this nexus as we shall shortly intimate.)
Ibrahim’s nature is love/submission: the best form of human love is his Prophetic function. Love as tawhid: absolute adoration/submission/affirmation of the Unity of Love. This form of human love is sometimes called Islam.
Because we know that Allah is Love, the purest, unadulterated, most direct form of submission to Love is also nothing but the purest, unadulterated, most direct form of love (as a relationship). Ibrahim’s function is the relational archetype of this form of submission — he is the archetype of the true Muslim — he is the archetypical submitter, the archetype of the lover. (This is why Muslims commonly pray for the replicated conference of the blessings given Ibrahim and his family and followers into Muhammed and his family and followers: they are praying for effective, completed application of the Ibrahimic function within the Prophetic nexus.)
He enters into this relational archetype at the moment he breaks the taghut of his ancestors: for taghut are normally understood as various forms of idolatry (spiritual, political, material), but their essential sin is that they adulterate the nature of love, so that the subject’s love, the subject’s Islamic nature, is deferred, differentiated, temporarily redirected or (at worst, often as a consequence) blocked from loving the Love. Of course this archetype is then repeated and perfected in the form of Muhammed, with his conquest of Ibrahim’s house, the Kaba, in Mecca and the destruction of the taghut therein.
This is the undifferentiated Love we find in the Meccan surahs: in a way, Ibrahim nature is the Meccan surahs. He is tawhid of Ikhlas, surah 112 of the Qur’an.
Say: He is God, the One and Only,
Allah, the Eternal, Absolute.
He does not beget, nor is He begotten,
And there is none comparable to Him.
When we fully grasp this nature of tawhid, we are lovers after the Ibrahimic function. It is the centre of the nexus (or the top of the Miraj) because the station of unadulterated love is the ultimate Truth of our existence, existence as the unbounded pleasure of Tawhid’s circularity: there is nothing in between us and Love, and life is nothing more than the relation of love, formed from Love’s Loving, with the sole purpose to love Love.
For this reason we find Ibrahim occasionally behaving in ways that appear harsh or heartless, particularly to his family members: for example, the abandoning of his wife Hajar and their son to their own devices in the desert, the superficially scandalous “loan” of his other wife Sara to both Pharoah and then Abimelech, the willingness to sacrifice his son. These certainly would be harsh actions if the stories concerned ordinary man living an ordinary life. But Ibrahim’s nature is unadulterated, undifferentiated Love. Meccan Love. So any act he makes is, in fact, innocuous, innocent and loving. His treatment of his wives and son is nothing but compassionate.
Now this Eid, I’d like to remove an image from your heads, because imagery often leads to taghut. Depictions of prophets in particular are dangerous in this respect. I’d like to break down an image of an old bearded man, heartlessly dedicated to a harsh God. A Freudian, Oedipal God, harsh enough to test the man’s faith in such a cruel fashion, demanding his child’s human sacrifice. Consider the picture above, for example, from Rembrandt. Or even worse, the drama of the following Caravaggio:
This is a common image within Christian depictions of Ibrahim and Issac (where the sacrifice has a particular pre-emptory resonance with the crucifixion) but also equally common for the average religious Muslim. It has a number of consequent religious questions associated with it. God knows everything: he knows his slave is loyal. Why test him with such a choice? Surely this is a nightmarish world for Ibrahim if the God he loves and trusts absolutely now demands human sacrifice after the fashion of the pagan gods of that region. Why propose that nightmare to Ibrahim and his son — even as a test? And what is the value of such a faith if it is so blind as to accept a God that demands the sacrifice of our children?
I say to you that this image is taghut. It is a kind of blasphemy because it acts as a fixation that impedes us from getting the meaning of the story, the meaning of the sacrifice.
It defers, differentiates, temporarily redirects or (at worst, often as a consequence) blocks our ability to read the Love that is shining through at us in these words. The image impedes us from reading it correctly: from the possibility of our becoming Ibrahimic. This form of taghut delays our becoming Muslims.
All images we might draw of these verses lead to taghut. Any image has the potential to impede us from grasping what is meant by “sacrifice”, “submission”, “a clear test”, “Ibrahmin” and his “son” are for us. All images drawn of these verses will prevent us from reading it correctly.
But this is a problem: any attempt to explain what these aspects of the verses mean will be doomed to failure, will lead to potential taghut.
For example, imagine I were to say that the sacrifice is a Sufi metaphor for our abandonment of all attachment (even to children and family and wordly loves) and our entry into a state of fana (oblivion into the unity of God), while the “ransom” and release at the end is a kind of baqa (a re-entry into the word of difference and the material, but with a consequent full God consciousness). Such an explanation will still lead to taghut: potentially equally destructive taghut. The most destructive taghut often involve a breakdown in love, a cessation rather than a deferral. Amongst a number of destructive possibilities, we could conceive of a Sufi-styled nut, employing this interpretation as justification to abandon his duties to his family, to shut down his local forms of love and to make utter detachment, absolute “oblivion” his idol.
Let’s try, instead, using a tantric technique. Rather than removing the veil of imagery, let’s exchange it for another image of the sacrifice, another veil over the naked signs to be read. The image I am about to describe is ontologically equivalent to the previous two I have given in its fallibility. But I will attempt to make it preferrable by incorporating an automatic self-destruct (or rather, self-sacrifice) mechanism into it: that’s what I mean by trantric terrorism.
The meaning of the sacrifice is apparent when we realise that Ibrahim’s boy has “attained” years, and is now 37 years old at the time of sacrifice. He is not a little child by any means, he is married and has children of his own probably: he is a willing adult. He has “attained” an age when he can “work” with his father. What does this mean? His father is in the business of prophesying/preaching: by “prophet”, we mean he is a kind of nomadic spiritual minister, the leader of a new ecstatic itinerant religion of Love and Peace. He has spent much of his life travelling between cities, establishing this new religion in the Middle East, constructing houses of worship (shrines or churches) wherever he goes. The Kaba is one of these shrines, but he built many others. This business of prophecy is his “work”.
Ismail has reached the age of working/walking with his father in the sense that he is spiritually developed enough. So Ismail, a middle aged man, has now reached a spiritual station where he is able to walk with his father in the work of worship and dissemination, of reflecting God’s love. This is what it means to say he has “attained” the effort/striving/working/walking with his father.
The sacrifice is not a physical sacrifice: it is a code word for ordination into the highest level of Ibrahim’s ministry, of becoming Ibrahim’s prime spiritual representative in these (to be) Arab lands. The sacrifice is his “ordination” as a prophet, so to speak. “Son” means less a biological son, but more a successor prophet. And hence we have an explanation for why Torah says Issac was sacrificed while the hadeeth claim it was his elder son Ismail. Both men were “sacrificed”, because Ibrahim’s religion spread far enough to warrant the initiation of both sons as prophets in ministry for his church, with jurisdiction over different lands and peoples.
Ibrahim’s church is one of ecstatic tawhid: his message, carried by his two initiated successors, is one of Love and nothing but Love. When Ibrahim receives the command to sacrifice, he is filled with joy because the ordination — the sacrifice — of his son means that Ismail will also be filled with nothing but submission, with nothing but Love. What greater gift to bestow? The only gift that is itself not potential taghut is the gift of Ibrahamic ordination, of being like Ibrahim.
But the ordination rite is difficult, fearful and can rightly be called a test, for both father and son. It requires Ismail to “look” what he can “see”. He tells Ismail to look/glance into another realm, the same visionary space of dreams that Ibrahim occupies. This space is where the Angel Jibreel abides: it is the space in which signs are confronted in the raw, so to speak, in Divine metonymy (signs in free relationship to one another, the speech of God, the signs of Love, the Cosmos itself, viewed and read as a prophet sees and reads, rather than interpreted according imposed conceptual frameworks). It is a space that we have little control over, that we enter and move through involuntarily, falsity and truth intermingling. But it is a space of vision and revelation that the prophets have 45/46ths comprehension over us.
Ibrahim has encountered the sign of his son’s “sacrifice” in this space — and as the Prophet of Love, he grasps its meaning in such a way that the Love he adores shines through this sign immediately, unadulerated, undifferentiated. And his request of his son is to look into the same space and encounter the same sign in the same direct, unadulerated, loving relationship: as a sign of Love. Ismail “looks” at what he can “see”: he now considers the sign of his own sacrifice/ordination. What does it mean, really? Entry into his father’s Prophetic function of Love? But what is a function? What does entry into that function mean?
Time suddenly slows down and the process of Ismail’s looking/considering/seeing/reading passes through three phases, plus 7.
First, he accepts the direction of the sign of sacrifice: he accepts that it has an outward direction from the source of Love to himself and his father, that it has an origin, that it is a “command” of Love.
Second, with his father, he commits himself to submit to this command, to love this sign as a command of Love, to love this directed form of Love Loving.
And in third phase, he finds his (unseen) Body — not some fictional biological body but his True Body, the Body of prophetic nexus, his Body as the Tree of Life, his body as universe — now in cosmic salat, the “forehead” of his body now resting against the prayer mat, held by his father’s hand. At this point, his “sacrifice” is finally comprehended, seen, considered clearly. To be sacrificed is to perceive clearly, to pass the clear test. Here Ismail looks at what he can see: and becomes Prophecy. He enters the Ibrahimic function, is predicated upon by his father’s archetype, is completed in his ascent and becomes Muslim.
The 7th phase of the son’s reading clearly involves the successive verse: the meaning of the “clear test” and the fearful and terrifying aspect of its Loving nature. Not terrible in the mundane sense of terrible, of a nightmarish threat of a God that demands human sacrifice, never the Oedipal terror of a Freudian Father Figure. From the beginning the test is ordination, as we have said, the sharing of tawhid at its highest level of ascent, the sharing of Islam from father to son. And it is the experience of seeing/reading/comprehending/becoming that is the passing of the test. The test itself is the offer of bounty, a joy, a love from father to son by the command of Love, while the passing of the test is to become Muslim.
But the test and its successful completion is terrible. It is terrible in the awesomeness of in its clarity. The Qur’an tells us it is a clear test. It is Ismail’s experience of looking clearly that is, for both father and son, fearful in its awesome Truth. Why?
Because in undergoing it, Ismail realises that everything I just wrote about Ismail and Ibrahim is an illusion.
37 year old Ismail (3 phases + a fourth phase of 7), in seeing things clearly, reflects back on his nature. He realises that the sacrifice is not an ordination, not an ordination in the religious sense of the word. Ibrahim is not running a Church. Or at least, not a Church in the religious sense of the word: his “Church” is the body of belief itself, the Real Body, your Real Body. This Church is Ismail’s Body — the Real Body, your Real Body in upward growth, becoming, unfolding in Time. Your Body, becoming Muhammed. This Body has developed “legs” to work/walk: it has mastered the diamond dialectic (the Harunic/Musaic principles) of the priesthood (slavery) and of vision (messaging).
Prior to the commencement of the sacrifice, this Body had passed from being born of Ibrahim into a differentiated (Medinan) state of relationship to God, of the negotiation God’s Sakina through its immanence of in logic, experience of its immanence according to dual poles of slavery and messaging, of reception and transmission in relation to the Love. That is, it exists in a Northern, Medinan, differentiated, state of knowing God’s Love through continual dialectic, loving to be known through experience of differential nature of Shariah, of Deen, of Laws of difference. Of Doctrines. The body of Ismail attained this differentiated state, this caliphate of Shariah, by waging jihads of interpretation, by gathering harvests of interpretation and judgement from the signs of Allah: looking at, for example, the contrast between the the interpretations of the verse of sacrifice you are currently reading and the previous interpretations according to fluctuating moments of opposition/affirmation, permitting the “triangulation” of the Light of Love in their target signs. Love is known not through direct unadulterated Islam but through dynamic Shariah: through discursive negotiation and re-negotiation of difference and judgement. It is a lower state, but a necessary state. It is a tantric state, one we employ right now, self-referentially, with our story. It is the attainment of of walking/working with the father.
But now is the time for that Body to re-enter the Meccan state of undifferentiated Love from which it was born (being the son of Ibrahim, after all, the son of Mecca).
“My” Ismail realises he is not a man about to become a minister prophet in that Church. He realises that was just a fable. Rather, in undergoing this comprehension, in “looking” at what he can “see”, “my” Ismail here realises “he” is a character in a rather unorthodox (Medinan) interpretation of a particular verse of the Qur’an. He realises everything I just wrote is a Middle Eastern historical fantasy, without any basis in fact whatsoever.
“My” Ismail realises he is, in fact, a stand in character for the Real “you”, the you reading this blog entry right now, the one who directed your browser to The Good Garment to see what the Tailor has to say about the Korban. Ismail realises in his clear vision that his body is your Body. He realises that he is you, your forehead down on the prayer mat, held by Ibrahim. That’s you, being him, or him, being you. And that is the clear test, the test of clarity, the test of seeing things as they are.
And that test, that ordination, that sacrifice, that korban, that ascent is terrible: it is a Body terror of absolute corporeal re-unification, an ummah of submission in unison, finally. Terrible because there are a lot of “you” out there to take on, because that’s a lot of Church to be, because that’s a whole lot of people poised to “re-enter” the Mecca of undifferentiated Ibrahimic Islam/Love.
If you could grok how big a deal that korban is, then you’d be inside the verse, and you would become Muslim. For the sacrifice to be complete, you (reading this blog entry) would realise that you are a stand-in for the son of Ibrahim, and the clarity of his sight would become bidirectional: you would be sacrificed.
All humanity would become Muslim in an instant, because I’d be you and you’d be me and we’d be all together. That Body would become whole, in love with Love. Christ would return early, so to speak. This would mean a lot of journeys would cease to be, prematurely. No more generations, no more illusion of individual journey, no more illusion of the story I have been writing regarding the sacrifice.
But the sacrifice is not completed. Why? Because Allah’s mercy extends infinitely, even to the essential illusion of those journeys, because prolonging Christ’s return means the possibility of Muhammedean becoming. God grants the children of Adam a reprieve from immediate Islam and instead, in Love over Love, allows us to be generations, becoming Muslim individually. There is no compulsion in the religion.
The full sacrifice itself is stalled, rendered premature by the entry of the ransom (the scapegoat) of the “great sacrifice”. This is a delay to unification of the “Church”: in the place of a Body unified in an instant, we have becoming Islamic. We, as we stand today, are a cosmic ransom: our lives, our process of generation. The nature of generation that is in essense the transmission from Ibrahim and son becomes a template for continual, later (A-K-R) cycles of of generation, through which Ibrahimic love and Ismailic sight/sacrifice bifurcates and runs. The ongoing process of generation of Truth, generations as journeys to Truth — this is the “great sacrifice”. We are the scapegoat.
We are permitted to continue our journeys. We are permitted generations over which the Ibrahimic-Ismailic nexus runs its four phases in cycles, from Mecca to Medina back to Mecca, the cycles gradually harvesting the Truth of Love via continual growth/interpretation/differentiation followed by momentary Ibrahimic entrances/sacrifices/ordination/harvests. The grain is then brought back to the Medina and the process continues on. This process is sometimes known as following the sunnah of Muhammed.
The (factually, historically false) story I related is part of that cycle, or a fractal micro-cycle within a larger cycle, a micro-generation of three phases, over which its fourth phase (of 7) is intended to constitute a micro-harvest, a micro-ordination into the Church of Love. As such, its ultimate ontological status is the same as all good Sufi stories: to form part of the ransom process, part of the great sacrifice.