It had been close to ten years since Abraham had left his wife and baby in Makkah in the care of God.
After a two-month journey, he was surprised to find Makkah a lot different than how he had left it.
The joy of reunion was soon interrupted by a vision which was to be the ultimate test of his faith; God commanded Abraham through a dream to sacrifice his son, the son he had had after years of prayers and had just met after a decade of separation.
Abraham consulted his son to see if he understood what he was commanded by God:
So We gave him the good news of a forbearing son. And when (his son) was old enough to help in his daily affairs, (Abraham) said: O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice you. So look, what think you? He said: O my father! Do that which you are commanded. God willing, you shall find me of the patient. (37: 101-02)
Greatest Test Ever
Indeed if a person was told by their father that they were to be killed due to a dream, it would not be taken in the best of manners; one may doubt the dream as well as the sanity of the person.
Yet Ishmael knew the station of his father; the pious son of a pious father was committed to submit to God. Abraham took his son to the place where he was to be sacrificed and laid him face down. This is why God has described them in the most beautiful of words, painting a picture of the essence of submission; one which brings tears to the eyes:
And when they both submitted (to the command of God), and he (Abraham) laid him (Ishmael) face down upon his forehead (in order to be sacrificed). (37: 103)
Just as Abraham’s knife was poised to descend, a voice stopped him:
We called to him: O Abraham: You have indeed fulfilled the vision. Lo! Thus do We reward the good. Lo! That verily was a clear test. (37: 104-106)
Indeed, it was the greatest test of all, the sacrificing of his only child, one born to him after he had reached an old age and years of longing for progeny. Here, Abraham showed his willingness to sacrifice all his belongings for God, and for this reason, he was designated a leader of all humanity, one whom God blessed with a progeny of Prophets.
And when his God tested Abraham with various commands, and he proved true to each one.” He (God) said, indeed I have made you a leader of humanity. He (Abraham) said (requesting of God), ‘and from my progeny. (2: 124)
Ishmael was ransomed with a ram:
…then We redeemed him with a momentous sacrifice. (37: 107)
It is this epitome of submission and trust in God which hundreds of millions of Muslims reenact every year during the days of Hajj, a day called Yawm-un-Nahr – The Day of Sacrifice, or Eid-ul-Adhaa – or the Celebration of Sacrifice.
Abraham returned to Palestine, and upon doing so, he was visited by angels who gave him and Sarah the good news of a son, Isaac,
Lo! We bring you good tidings of a boy possessing wisdom. (15: 53)
It is at this time that he is also told about the destruction of the people of Lot.
The Honored House of God
After a separation of several years, again the father and son met. It was on this journey that the two built the Kaabah on God’s command as a permanent sanctuary; a place laid for the worship of God.
It was here, in this same barren desert where Abraham had left Hagar and Ishmael earlier, that he supplicated to God to make it a place where they would establish the prayer, free from idol worship. (Quran 14: 35-41)
Thus, the honored House of God was to be established to be the center of worship to which direction people would face when offering prayers, and make it a site of pilgrimage. Many beautiful verses in the Quran describe the sanctity of the Kaabah and the purpose of its building:
And when we assigned to Abraham the place of the House: ‘Do not associate with Me anything, and purify My House for those who circumambulate it, who stand in prayer, and who bow, and prostrate themselves (all in prayer).’
And proclaim the Pilgrimage (Hajj) among people, and they shall come to you on foot, and on every lean camel. They shall come to you from every deep and distant mountain highways. (22: 26-27)
The building of a sanctuary to be held by all latter generations was one of the best forms of worship men of God could ever do. They invoked God during their feat:
Our Lord! Accept from us (this duty). Lo! You, only You, are the Hearer, the Knower. Our Lord! And make us Muslims (submissive to You) and of our seed a Muslim nation (submissive to You), and show us our ways of worship, and forgive us. Lo! You, only You, are the Forgiving, the Merciful. Our Lord! (2: 127-28)
Abraham also prayed that a prophet be raised from the progeny of Ishmael, who would be the inhabitants this land, as the progeny of Isaac would inhabit the lands of Canaan:
And raise up in their midst a Messenger from among them who shall recite to them Your revelations, and shall instruct them in the Scripture and in wisdom and shall purify them of their sins. Lo! You, only You, are the Mighty, the Wise. (2: 127-29)
Abraham’s prayer for a Messenger was answered several thousand years later when God raised Prophet Muhammad among the Arabs, and as Makkah was chosen to be a sanctuary and House of Worship for all humanity, so too was the Prophet of Makkah one sent to all humanity.
It was this pinnacle of the life of Abraham which was the completion of his purpose: the building of a place of worship for all of humanity, not for any chosen race or color, for the worship of the One True God.
Through the establishment of this house was the guarantee that God, the God to Whom he called and for Whom he made endless sacrifices, would be worshiped forever, without the association of any other God with Him. Indeed it was one of the greatest of favors bestowed upon any human.
Yearly, Muslims from around the world gather from all walks of life, the answer to the prayer of Abraham and the call to Pilgrimage. This rite is called Hajj, and it commemorates many events of God’s beloved servant Abraham and his family.
After circling the Ka’bah, a Muslim prays behind the Station of Abraham, the stone on which Abraham stood to build the Ka’bah. After the prayers, a Muslim drinks from the same well, called Zamzam, which flowed in answer to the Prayer of Abraham and Hagar, providing sustenance for Ishmael and Hagar, and was the cause for the inhabitation of the land.
The rite of walking between Safa and Marwah commemorates Hagar’s desperate search for water when she and her baby were alone in Makkah. The sacrifice of an animal in Mina during Hajj, and by Muslims around the world in their own lands is after the example of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God’s sake.
Lastly, the stoning of the stone pillars at Mina exemplifies Abraham’s rejection of satanic temptations to prevent him from sacrificing Ishmael.