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, Islam) 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)
This verse can be read within the emotional/poetic movement of the overarching surah: from monotheism to the messenger, to the threat of not following the Islam once warned, to the exemplary behaviour of earlier Biblical prophets.
The surah opens with an exaltation of tawhid (absolute monotheism), then reinforces the threat of hellfire to those who do not follow Muhammed after he has warned them. There is an image of two people conversing in the afterlife, one of them realising his passage to heaven was a narrow escape, as he sees a close friend of his suffering now in hellfire. (It’s a striking image because it illustrates an aspect of Muhammed’s image of the afterlife, that it is is porous with respect to heaven and hell.) There is the image of people who are mocking Muhammed, and God’s threat of what will consequently befall them as punishment.
Then there is the description of the sacrifice.
The message of the test of Abraham is clear: it is reinforced in other places within the Qur’an. Children are often equated with material wealth. Allah often warns that “your children” and “your wealth” will not avail you of the judgement day: material existence, including the bonds of family, are temporary. There was never any threat to the son, but Allah demands full submission, total, undiverted love of Him by the Islamic seeker: that’s the nature of the test. Muhammed’s Allah provides a shariah that intimates how the seeker should care for his family and maintain his material existence, but, much deeper, reminds the Muslim that his function is to love Allah above all else. To, ultimately, abandon his egoistic attachment to his family and wealth and enter into a fana of total servitude to the One True God.
This verse is not merely one principle amongst many, it is the seeker’s entrance into the religion of Islam. The entrance follows the opening of the door of tawhid (God alone), follows the tension of outsider/insider with respect to new new belief system, delivered as a threat of punishment for mockery and disbelief (Prophet versus the group). The door of the new religion opens, its aperture formed of the threat’s tension, and the seeker enters that door by replicating (across space and time) the exemplary Abrahamic acceptance of Islam (“Then when both of them had submitted”, SLM, the root of Islam).
The Abrahamic entrance into Islam: it’s nature is to curtail or circumcise the natural genetic disposition to defend one’s own family unit and property, and a substitution of that natural bodily protectiveness (human love) for the love of the technology of tawhid. Islamic fana, obliteration of genetic, bodily attachment to the family: it is the formation of a cyborg, the body connected to tawhid, substitution of local family for the Muhammed’s Allah.
This is a group entrance, because the preceding threat was leveled against groups of disbelievers. Thus the entrance is a group replication, a machine for production of seeker-cyborgs (reproduction of the sunnah of preceding prophets). The natural body is a circumcised, cyborg hybrid: but then this enters the DNA of the body, and is transmitted as a cultural interception across families. This is what a religion does, this is the religious moment of the surah. Biological evolution, the bonds of attachment that span familial ancestry, are cut, intercepted by the Islamic tawhid-implant. The father and son submit: conversion-by-fana of entire genetic lines, so that Islamic conversion of bodies now runs across time as well as space.