Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Pondering similarities between Eid and Passover

Roland Clarke

Eid ul Adha is the most important festival of the Islamic calendar. Muslims commemorate the ordeal where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. I have found it interesting to explore three parallels with the annual Jewish festival called Passover.

  1. Both celebrations involve slaughtering a sheep.

  2. Both sacrifices commemorate a perilous situation where the life of a first born son hung in the balance.

  3. Last but not least, the idea of ransom-redemption is key to understanding both sacrifices. The Bible explains Passover saying, “In days to come, when your son asks you, 'What does this mean?' say to him, 'With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the LORD the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.'” (Exodus 13:14-15) As for Muslims, the Qur'an explains Abraham's ordeal, “We ransomed him with a great sacrifice.” (Surah 37:107)

Interestingly, just a few verses after this statement the Qur'an says Allah saved Moses from slavery in Egypt which alludes to the miraculous rescue at the Red Sea. (Surah 2:50)

It is significant to notice a close similarity between the words redeem and save as seen in Psalm 106:9-11, “He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert. He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them. The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived.”

This dramatic rescue marked a milestone in the history of the Israelites. When Moses' father-in-law Jethro heard about it he declared that Israel's God was greater than all the gods of Egypt. (Exodus 18:8-11) In fact, this rescue was so important that God saw fit to include it in the first of the 10 commandments, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3)

Furthermore, it was mainly because of this momentous event that the Jewish people acknowledged God as Saviour and Redeemer. (Hosea 13:4; Isaiah 60:16; 63:8)

There is, however, an important detail of the Exodus story that we may easily overlook if we're not careful. You recall that Pharaoh continued hardening his heart, even while God increased the pressure by sending a series of worsening plagues. Finally, the Lord unleashed the most severe judgement – a death plague that killed all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, including the heir to Pharaoh's throne. This devastating blow broke Pharoah's pride and he agreed to let the slaves go free.

But notice, it was not only the Egyptian firstborn sons who were threatened by the death angel, the Israelite families also knew their lives were imperilled! They heeded the warning which Moses gave about the death angel going to every home in Egypt. In fact, they took this warning so seriously that each Israelite family made sure they sacrificed a Passover lamb and put its blood on the doorposts as Moses commanded them.

This scenario raises a thought provoking question: “Why did the Lord threaten the Israelites? Was he not mainly concerned to break Pharaoh's pride so the slaves could go free?” The fact is: God is impartial and just in all his ways. (Deut. 10:17; 32:4) Surely, God would be unjust if he treated the Israelites as though they had done no wrong. It was necessary, therefore, to make it clear that it wasn't just the eldest sons of the Egyptians who deserved to die. Scripture makes clear that the death angel was commissioned to go to every home, including the Israelites. There was only one way Moses and his people could avert this judgement – obey God's command by sacrificing the Passover lamb!

If God/Allah is Redeemer, as these epic stories imply what does this mean from an ecumenical or “interfaith” perspective? As a Christian who honours the Jewish prophets, I would respectfully ask, “Considering how the early prophets revered God as Saviour and Redeemer, do you as a Muslim also acknowledge these attributes?” At first glance, you may not see any reason to object since the Qur'an says, Muhammad did not see himself as “a new innovation among the messengers” but rather confirmed what the prophets taught. (Surah 49:6)

But now consider this: “What if, after taking a closer look, you come to the realization (as I did) that Redeemer is not among the 99 beautiful names of Allah?” The question naturally arises, “How did these honourable titles disappear or become obsolete?”

I trust you don't feel I'm raising these concerns to be argumentative. I'm just perplexed. Also I want to hear your understanding of how these principles fit into the bigger picture of all that the prophets taught.

If you are interested to explore these things further let me encourage you to read another eye-opening article, titled, God our Saviour, Redeemer.

All Bible quotes are taken from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

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