Aug 15 2018
God named Ishmael ‘God hears’ before he was born. Years later, God heard Ishmael’s cry when he was perishing in the wilderness and opened his mother’s eyes to see a spring of water from which she gave him drink – and he lived!
Islam claims Ishmael as a spiritual forefather. Today’s Muslims are in the wilderness perishing and crying out for living water. Let the Church pray to the Father to reveal the well of living water, Jesus, so they might live!
A pilgrimage is a journey or expedition in which a pilgrim travels to a sacred place for religious purposes. That word, “religious,” usually reminds me of empty rituals such as Jesus described in Mark 7:5-9. At the same time, I recognize that ritual doesn’t have to be empty – it can be full of meaning.
From August 19-24, 1.5 million Muslims will perform the Hajj, a yearly pilgrimage to Islamic religious sites in Mecca required once in their lives of all Muslims who are physically and financially able. This year, Canadian Muslims planning to perform Hajj are stymied by a spat between the Saudi and Canadian governments. Some who may have saved up many years for this once in a lifetime pilgrimage may be unable to get there, or if they do, to get back to Canada. What to do?
The festival primarily commemorates the patriarch Abraham, his son Ishmael and Ishmael’s mother Hagar. (Many Muslims trace Muhammad’s ancestry to Ishmael.) It centres on the Kaaba, a cuboid structure towards which all Muslims pray, reputedly built by Abraham and Ishmael as a place to worship the one God. Rituals of the Hajj include “stoning the devil” who tempted Abraham and drinking water from Zamzan, the well Muslims believe Hagar discovered while frantically racing about to save Ishmael’s life.
On the last three days of the festival, all Muslims observe Eid al-Adha (the Festival of Sacrifice) to celebrate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son Ishmael. They sacrifice animals to symbolize God’s alternate provision and share with the poor. The sacrifice is essentially a thank offering completely unrelated to blood atonement.
Did you catch that – Abraham’s only son was Ishmael? He almost sacrificed Ishmael? Islam, which claims to be the completion of Judaism and Christianity, does not complete the history of the Torah but alters it. According to the Bible,
- Abraham (reluctantly) sent teenage Ishmael away with his mother Hagar before the sacrifice incident (Ge 21:8-14);
- Hagar sat down and cried a distance from the dying boy, and God opened her eyes to see a well (Ge 21:15-20);
- Abraham proved his faith by almost sacrificing Isaac, who was by then considered his only son (Ge 22:2, 12, 16).
If we believe the biblical account, meticulously recorded and transmitted by the Hebrews, instead of the story developed about 2800 years later by Islamic scholars*, then the Hajj appears to be a tragically empty ritual.
Blood atonement – that one could die for another, and particularly that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Co 15:3-4) – is incomprehensible to Muslims. How could any of us understand it without Holy Spirit revelation of (1) the eternal love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit among each other and for humanity, (2) the affront of our sin to God’s holiness and (3) God’s decree that “the life is in the blood” (Lev 17:11)? Love, holiness and sin are not significant in Islamic thought.
Let’s pray for Muslims on pilgrimage, seeking spiritual experience and favour with God:
- In this season when more Muslims are turning to Jesus than in the previous 14 centuries of Islam, declare over them the word of the Lord from 2 Corinthians 6:2, “‘In the time of My favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.”
- Ask the Holy Spirit to remove the veil and reveal to Muslims the necessity of Jesus’ blood atonement as God’s perfect sacrifice for their sins.
- Pray Canadian Muslims whose Hajj is cancelled will have a pilgrimage of the spirit and encounter Jesus Christ here at home.
* In The Gentle Answer, pp 339-343, Gordon Nickel explains that in the earliest versions of the Muslim account, scholars assumed the son was Isaac and that the sacrifice took place in Jerusalem. Beginning in the 10th century A.D., Muslim accounts began to name Ishmael as the son almost sacrificed.
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