Udhiya Qurbani in a time of COVID-19

Udhiya is an Islamic act of worship which reminds Muslims of the great act of sacrifice Prophet Ibrahim and Prophet Ismail were willing to make for the sake of Allah. It is ordained upon Muslims – as long as they can afford it. One can order a lamb, a goat or 1/7th part of a cow, and the Udhiya/Qurbani offering will then be performed in accordance to Islamic Jurisprudence.

This results in both a family and local community celebration here; and a charitable act for others by distributing the meat to benefit some of the world’s poorest and vulnerable people including people in: Bangladesh, India, Iraq, Myanmar (Rohingya), Nepal, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen etc.

The Udhiya/Qurbani can also remind Christian, Jewish and Muslim believers that Prophet Abraham is unique among all God’s prophets because he, and he alone, is subjected to the awesome test of submitting to the Devine will by his willingness to sacrifice his own son. By passing this test, Prophet Abraham becomes the archetypal “Man of Faith” for pious believers among not just one; but three different monotheistic religious faiths.

Most religious thought has focused on Abraham, the “Friend of God”, as the “Man of Faith” and not on the question of why no other prophets have been tested in this manner.

Prophet Abraham was not the only one in his era to believe in monotheism. And there were many religious leaders, both long before and long after the time of Abraham, who thought that their God could and did demand of a believer that he or she sacrifice a child.

Prophet Abraham’s action, and God’s refusal to allow the child to be killed, explicitly taught all future believers in the religion of Abraham, that human sacrifice was an abomination to God, and must be rejected.

There is, I believe, also an implicit teaching in Prophet Abraham’s action, that forms a major feature of each of the three religions that revere Prophet Abraham as the genesis of their own faith.

To understand how Prophet Abraham’s offering of his son is an archetype for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, one has to understand the insight of monotheism.

For the majority of human history, the overwhelming majority of human beings have been polytheists. Polytheists do not see harmony in the natural and social world around them.

Polytheists see conflicts and strife throughout the world; and rationally conclude that the spiritual world is the same. Animals and humans have families, so it is reasonable to think that the gods also have families. Different gods clash and produce conflicts both in heaven and on earth.

How does a monotheist explain the clash of natural forces like floods, famines, earthquakes, and pandemic diseases like Covid-19? Even more important, how do monotheists explain why, if there is only one God, weren’t humans created to do God’s will instinctively?

Why can thousands of bees live in a hive, and millions of termites live in a mound, all working in harmony, without fighting among themselves while even a few hundred humans can’t seem to live in a small village without disagreements and strife?

The answer is that God wanted to create a species of self-conscious individuals who could think and feel for themselves. “Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation, but He allows whom He wills to stray, and He guides whom He wills. (Qur’an 16:93)

Tafsir Ibn Kathir says this means, ”If Allah had willed, He would have made all of Humanity one Nation. This is like the verse: ‘Had your Lord willed, all of those on earth would have believed together.’ (Qur’an 10:99), meaning He could have created harmony among them, and there would not be any differences, conflicts, or hatred between them.

This would seem to indicate that hatred between human as nations, religions and individuals will always exist. This is not correct. ‘And if your Lord had so willed, He would surely, have made mankind one Ummah [nation or community], and they will never cease to disagree. Except him on whom your Lord has bestowed His mercy, and for that did He create them.’” (Qur’an 11:118-119)

Although God made Homo Sapiens to be a species of self-conscious individuals who could think and feel for themselves, with God’s help/mercy humans can learn to live in harmony and peace with others.

But God pays a price for our freedom to choose evil as well as good. God sees the evil that humans do, and since God’s mercy cares, it hurts. God must self-restrain from micromanaging human society and life.

According to the rabbis God created the possibility of human repentance even before creating the universe, because He knew self-conscious human individuals, who could think and feel for themselves, would do both good and evil; and so needed to always have the power of repentance instilled into their hearts.

Rabbi Isaac Luria, a 15th century Egyptian born Kabbalist mystic, called this process of Divine Self-restraint Tsimtsum. As a result of Tsimtsum, when the universe was created it was fractured, and that’s why nature and human society are so often lacking in fairness and mercy.

Thus, God will not make everything good all by Himself, and we cannot make everything good all by ourselves, but together with God’s mercy we can make ourselves and our communities better as God’s will demands.

For Jews, this joint venture results in submitting to the Torah covenant between God and the Jewish people at Sinai.

For Christians, this results in believing in Jesus, the son who is willing to be sacrificed, who connects Christian believers with God’s grace.

For Muslims, this results in submitting to the will of Allah as delivered by Prophet Muhammad.

For Jews and Christians, the place of Abraham’s sacrificial offering of his son Prophet Isaac was Jerusalem where Solomon would build God’s sanctuary for offerings, and where Jesus offered to sacrifice his life.

For Muslims, the place of Abraham’s sacrificial offering of his son Prophet Ishmael was Makka, where Abraham and his son would rebuild the Ka’ba.

God helps the people of each monotheistic religion through the way God’s holy scriptures has offered them. All of these ways can lead those who sincerely follow them to Allah:

“To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation, but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so, race to [do all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ.” (Qur’an 5:48)

Perhaps this Rumi like poem of mine expresses the larger picture we need to have during a time if testing our faith:

Before the beginning of Allah’s creating
There was nothing but God’s will.
There was harmony, peace, Divine perfection, and unity.
Allah was all knowing, all-powerful, all present, perfect,
and all alone.

There was no challenge, no change, no relationships,
No feelings, no creativity, no vision,
And no partner to love.

So Allah decided to create the heavens and the earth.
Not just space and time
Billions of galaxies over billions of years,
The laws of physics and math,
But also uncertainty, probability, and randomness
To evolve creatures with free will
To inspire, love, redeem and relate to.

In order to accomplish this God chose Tsimtsum to self-limit.
To offer some of the Divine power,
knowledge, freedom, and creativity to others,
So they could learn, change, create, and love.

Able to choose each other and God.
In committed personal relationships and
tribal commitment covenant partnerships.

The creatures created in God’s image would engage in
competition, cooperation, and consciousness
Growth and decay, good and evil, love and hate,
War and peace, success and failure, illness, and health,
Good deeds and evil acts.

Yet God created our world and saw that it was good
And added blessings, and holiness
So that it would be very good.

When the Infinite One decided to become a creator.
The Infinite One underwent self-limitation – Tsimtsum,
contracting into an infinitely small singularity.

Then it was possible to create space/time and matter/energy.
Then it was possible to create the laws of nature, both invariable and variable.
Then it was possible to create feeling and thinking creatures.
Then it was possible to create self-conscious and religious creatures.

Then God was no longer alone.

But since creation must be finite,
limited by the laws of nature and free will, 
creation was flawed.
And filled with fractures, tears, and cracks.

Challenge and change meant that harmony
 was replaced with competition and conflict.
Free will meant that errors and evils replaced perfection.
Limits were imposed on knowledge and life.

It would be the duties of all the creatures in the universe
 created in the image of God
to mend the fractures, tears, and cracks in the universe
and restore its unity.

In the process both the Divine One,
and the creatures created in the Divine image,
 would grow together.
So that at the end of time all would be in harmony
as it was before the beginning and God’s name would be One.

For each individual life form, shortly before a soul is embodied
is asked if it wants to be able to attach itself to its children,
to feel the pain of becoming detached from one it loves,
and in general, to love and be loved.

If it says yes it is embodied in a mammal.
If it says no it is embodied as a fish or an insect.

Then the soul is asked if it desires to be
 independent and responsible only for its own survival
or if it desires to be part of a group or a pack 
with a social structure.
If it desires to be only an individual
 it is embodied as a solitary hunter.

If it desires to belong to a tribal community
it is embodied as a social insect such as a bee, 
if it did not want to love,
or as a social mammal such as a chimpanzee or a dog
if it desired to love and be loved.

Finally, the soul is asked if it wants to be self-conscious
of its need to struggle with social and moral choices,
with duties and responsibilities to others,
and a spiritual connection to the greatest reality of all.

If it says yes it is created as a human being or a Jinn extraterrestrial
and informed that humans and Jinn extraterrestrials
are God’s Khalifa/Vicegerents;
duty bound to increase righteousness,
and decrease selfishness
on all 18,000 of Allah’s inhabited worlds.

This essay appeared on the Islamic web site Islamicity.com on July 11,2020

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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