More than 50 years have passed since I first encountered Muslims. I was teaching English at a Catholic school in Akure, a provincial capital in southwestern Nigeria, when one of the Muslim students at the school took me into town for one of the two great festivals of the Muslim calendar. In Arabic that festival is called Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Oblation. It occurs at the climax of the annual hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca.
The oblation referred to is the sacrifice that Abraham was willing to offer of his only son, a story told in the Qur’an as well as Genesis. The relevant verses in the Qur’an are from Sura 37:
[Abraham] said: “My son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice you. Look, now, what do you think?” [The son] replied, “Do what you have been commanded. God willing, you will find me among the patient.” When they had both surrendered themselves [to God] and [Abraham] had laid his son face down, We [God] called out to him, “O Abraham, you have proved true to the vision.” Thus do We reward those who do good. (Qur’an 37:102–105)
A particularly important phrase in this passage is “when they had both surrendered themselves.” In Arabic that is only two and a half words: fa-lammā aslamā. Literally it says (in the dual form of the verb from which the verbal noun islamderives) “when [the two] submitted.” The submission or islam of both Abraham and his only son, thought to be a fully grown man in later Jewish tradition and in Islamic tradition as well, is the ideal of faith for all Muslims.