According to Islamic tradition, approximately four thousand years ago, the valley of Mecca (in present-day Saudi Arabia) was a dry, rocky and uninhabited place. Allah instructed Abraham (?Ibr?h?m in Arabic) to bring H?jar (H??ar), his Egyptian wife, and Ism?’?l (Ishmael), his only child at the time, to Arabia from the land of Canaan.
As Abraham was preparing for his return journey back to Canaan, Hajar asked him, “Did Allah order you to leave us here? Or are you leaving us here to die.” Abraham turned around to face his wife. He was so sad that he could not say anything. He pointed to the sky showing that Allah commanded him to do so. Hajar said, “Then Allah will not waste us; you can go”. Though Abraham had left a large quantity of food and water with Hajar and Ishmael, the supplies quickly ran out, and within a few days the two began to feel the pangs of hunger and dehydration.
Hajar ran up and down between two hills called Al-Safa and Al-Marwah seven times, in her desperate quest for water. Exhausted, she finally collapsed beside her baby Ishmael and prayed to Allah for deliverance. Miraculously, a spring of water gushed forth from the earth at the feet of baby Ishmael. Other accounts have the angel Gabriel (Jibrail) striking the earth and causing the spring to flow in abundance. With this secure water supply, known as the Zamzam Well, they were not only able to provide for their own needs, but were also able to trade water with passing nomads for food and supplies.
Years later, Abraham was instructed by Allah to return from Canaan to build a place of worship adjacent to Hagar’s well (the Zamzam Well). Abraham and Ishmael constructed a stone and mortar structure —known as the Kaaba— which was to be the gathering place for all who wished to strengthen their faith in Allah. As the years passed, Ishmael was blessed with Prophethood (Nubuwwah) and gave the nomads of the desert his message of submission to Allah. After many centuries, Mecca became a thriving desert city and a major center for trade, thanks to its reliable water source, the well of Zamzam.
One of the main trials of Abraham’s life was to face the command of Allah to devote his dearest possession, his only son. Upon hearing this command, he prepared to submit to Allah’s will. During this preparation, Satan (Shaitan) tempted Abraham and his family by trying to dissuade them from carrying out Allah’s commandment, and Ibrahim drove Satan away by throwing pebbles at him. In commemoration of their rejection of Satan, stones are thrown at symbolic pillars signifying Satan during the Hajj rites.
When Ism?’?l was about 13 (Abraham being 99), Allah decided to test their faith in public. Abraham had a recurring dream, in which Allah was commanding him to offer up for sacrifice – an unimaginable act – his son, whom Allah had granted him after many years of deep prayer. Abraham knew that the dreams of the prophets were divinely inspired, and one of the ways in which Allah communicated with his prophets. When the intent of the dreams became clear to him, Abraham decided to fulfill Allah’s command and offer Ishmael for sacrifice.
Although Abraham was ready to sacrifice his dearest for Allah’s sake, he could not just bring his son to the place of sacrifice without his consent. Ishmael had to be consulted as to whether he was willing to give up his life in fulfillment of Allah’s command. This consultation would be a major test of Ishmael’s maturity in faith; love and commitment for Allah; willingness to obey his father; and readiness to sacrifice his own life for the sake of Allah.
Abraham presented the matter to his son and asked for his opinion about the dreams of slaughtering him. Ishmael did not show any hesitation or reservation even for a moment. He said, “Father, do what you have been commanded. You will find me, Insha’Allah (Allah willing), to be very patient.” His mature response, his deep insight into the nature of his father’s dreams, his commitment to Allah, and ultimately his willingness to sacrifice his own life for the sake of Allah were all unprecedented.
When Abraham attempted to cut Ishmael’s throat, he was astonished to see that Ishmael was unharmed and instead, he found a dead ram which was slaughtered. Abraham had passed the test by his willingness to carry out Allah’s command.
This is mentioned in the Quran as follows:
“O my Lord! Grant me a righteous (son)!” So We gave him the good news of a boy, possessing forbearance. And when (his son) was old enough to walk and work with him, (Abraham) said: O my dear son, I see in vision that I offer you in sacrifice: Now see what is your view!” (The son) said: “O my father! Do what you are commanded; if Allah wills, you will find me one practising patience and steadfastness!” So when they both submitted and he threw him down upon his forehead, We called out to him saying: O Ibraheem! You have indeed fulfilled the vision; surely thus do We reward those who do good. Most surely this was a manifest trial. And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice. And We perpetuated (praise) to him among the later generations. “Peace and salutation to Abraham!” Thus indeed do We reward those who do right. Surely he was one of Our believing servants.
As a reward for this sacrifice, Allah then granted Abraham the good news of the birth of his second son, Is-haaq (Isaac):
And We gave him the good news of Is-haaq, a prophet from among the righteous.
Abraham had shown that his love for Allah superseded all others: that he would lay down his own life or the lives of those dearest to him in submission to Allah’s command. Muslims commemorate this ultimate act of sacrifice every year during Eid al-Adha.