"O my father," said the young boy. "Why do you worship a thing that neither hears nor sees and can be of no avail for you?"
His father was taken aback at his young son's question.
"O my father," the boy continued. "Behold, there has indeed come to me [a ray] of knowledge that has not come to you. Follow me, then, and I will guide you onto a perfect way. O my father! Do not worship Satan, for verily, Satan is a rebel against the Most Gracious."
His father was shocked that his son would reject the idolatry of his people. The father, in fact, made his living out of fashioning gods for people to worship. He said to him, "Do you dislike my gods?" The father continued, "Indeed, if you do not desist, I shall most certainly cause thee to be stoned to death! Now begone from me for good!"
His son responded by saying, "Peace be upon you," and prayed for his father. Yet, he was not swayed by his father's rejection. He devised a plan to show his people the error of their ways. When he "cast a glance at the stars," he declared "verily I am sick." He then secretly went to their idols - while his people were away - and said to them: “What! You do not eat [of the offerings placed before you]? What is amiss with you that you do not speak?”
Then, when one fell swoop, the young boy "fell upon them, smiting them with his right hand." His people soon realized - in utter shock - that their gods have been destroyed and "came towards him hurriedly [and accused him of his deed]," to which he answered: “Do you worship something that you [yourselves] have carved, the while it is God who has created you and all your handiwork?”
His people realized that the young boy was correct, but they responded with arrogant defiance, exclaiming: “Build a pyre for him, and cast him into the blazing fire!” Yet, God saved the young boy from being burned. After this, he declared "Verily, I shall [leave this land and] go wherever my Sustainer will guide me!”
Decades passed. The young boy became a man, and the man later married. He deeply yearned to have a son, but no son came. Finally, when the man was in his 80s, a son finally came. And when that son was a young baby, God commanded the man to take his wife and son - his only son, for whom he waited for decades - and leave them in the desert; a barren desert with neither food, water, or civilization. And the man complied with God's command.
As the man turned to walk away, his wife said to him: "What are you doing?" He did not answer and kept walking. His wife called to him again: "What are you doing? There is no food here; no water; no people. Are you leaving us to die?" He did not answer and kept walking. Finally, his wife asked him, "Did God command you to do this?" He said, "Yes." To this, his wife replied, "Then, He will not lead us astray," and they both went their separate ways.
The small amount of food and drink soon ran out, and the young baby began to cry from hunger. The cries grew more frantic, as did the angst and panic of the young mother watching her little son starve. Out of sheer desperation, she left her crying baby and frantically ran between two hills seven times seeking to find any sign of water or help. Alas, she found none, and when all hope seemed to be gone, she came back to her son to find a spring of water bubbling up from the ground.
The Angel had come and dug the well with the edge of his wing. Both the baby and the mother were saved. God be praised.
A number of years had passed, and the young boy grew and became strong. At that moment, God gave the old father another command: take your son - your only son - and sacrifice him for Me. The father went to his son and said “O my dear son! I have seen in a dream that I should sacrifice you: consider, then, what would be your view!”
His son answered: “O my father! Do as you are commanded: you will find me, if God so wills, among those who are patient in adversity!” In fact, his son told him that, when the time comes, his father should turn his son's head down so that he will not lose resolve. On the way to sacrifice his son, Satan appeared to the father to try to dissuade him. The father stoned him three times.
When the fateful day arrived, and the man did as his son told him, the knife would not cut his son's neck. He tried several more times, and finally, a voice cried out and said to him "you have already fulfilled [the purpose of] that dream- vision!" and the son was "ransomed...with a tremendous sacrifice." God be praised.
This story is common to both the Judeo-Christian and Muslim traditions: it is the story of Abraham (pbuh) and the enormous tests he underwent as Prophet and Patriarch. It is this story, in fact, that is re-enacted during the Hajj rituals, and the Eid-ul-Adha festival commemorates this story.
Yet, the fundamental question underlying this entire story is this: How strong is your connection to God?
Abraham's (pbuh) connection to God was very strong: it was so strong that Abraham (pbuh) was willing to leave his infant son in the desert and then later sacrifice him on a slaughtering block. In fact, I do not think there is a human being living on this earth that could do what Abraham (pbuh) did, and that is why the Qur'an says that "God took Abraham as a close friend." (4:125) God knows that I could not do what was asked of Abraham (pbuh).
Yet, still, we need to ask ourselves each and every day: how strong is our connection to God? How strong is our relationship with God? How strong have we made the bond of friendship with God? With the unique placement of the Eid-ul-Adha festival close to the New Year, it is a great question with which to ring in 2008.
And if our connection with God is not strong, then let us resolve to make it stronger throughout this coming year. If our connection is already strong, let us resolve to get even closer to God this coming year. And the ways to achieve this are many: prayer, fasting, reflection, remembrance, study, acts of kindness, or acts of charity. The ways, in fact, are infinite, just as our Lord is Infinite.
And once we start on the path to God, we will find Him waiting for us with open arms. Once we get to His Door, we will find that it will not be locked, and it will open with the gentlest of pushes. Once we come back to Him, we will find Him saying to us, "Welcome home." He will be a Loving Friend, a Merciful Sustainer, a Beautiful King. We will find true peace in His presence, and we will wonder how we could have ever lived life without the Lord God by our side.
The heart can be filled with many lights: fame, fortune, wealth, sexual fulfillment, or power, to name only a few. Yet, not one of those lights will truly satisfy the heart. The only light that will bring true tranquility to the heart is the Light of God, and all we have to do to get it is turn towards Him.
So, as we celebrate the passing of one year and the start of another, let us think about our connection to God, and let us work to make the relationship stronger. The essence of religion is to foster and foment a strong bond with the Creator; everything else flows from that. And know ye all that our Creator is an Awesome Creator. Our God is an Awesome God.
In the hadith tradition, collected by both Bukhari and Muslim, is a Sacred Hadith that sums up the Beauty and Majesty of God. It tells us that, if we take just one step towards God, we will find him running towards us:
I am as My servant thinks I am. I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assemble better than it. And if he draws near to Me an arm's length, I draw near to him a fathom's length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.
Truly, our God is an Awesome God.