In the last few days, our Muslim friends have celebrated the “Feast of Sacrifice” or Eid ul-Adha. Earlier this year they celebrated the end of Ramadan with a celebration of Eid al-Fitr, or the celebration of the end of fasting and the opening of the next month. At each of these feasts they frequently wish each other “Enjoy a Blessed Feast” [Ar. Eid Mubarak].
In this short piece, I would like to suggest that there is a feast which is truly blessed and it looks forward to the most blessed feast of all: the marriage supper of the Lamb. I will compare and contrast the Muslim idea of a blessed feast with the truly blessed and the most blessed one.
Why say “Eid Mubarak?”
At the end of Ramadan, at Eid al-Fitr, Muslims will say the following: Taqabbal Allah minna wa minkum:“May Allah accept [the deeds done] from us and you!” This tradition comes from a Hadith (reported by Ibn Hajar) that said that this is what Muslims—and especially the companions of Muhammad—would say to each other at Eid al-Fitr when Muhammad was alive.
So just what are these deeds? These deeds include keeping the fast, giving special alms [Zakat al-Fitr] which both help the poor and expiate any wrongdoing during Ramadan, wearing the best clothing for the feast, and attending morning prayers that day, and then having a feast. A Muslim tradition suggests that angels on the pathways to the morning prayers say, “Rush to the Generous Lord who gives great blessings and forgives great sins.”
In short, these deeds serve to increase the merit of Muslims, and there is a hope that Allah will accept them, bless them, and forgive even their great sins. Thus saying ‘eid mubarak’ hopes for a blessing, also in Paradise, as according to the Qur’an, faithful Muslim believers will be told to “Eat and drink with happiness because of what you used to do” (Qurʾān 52: 19).
With the feast of sacrifice, Eid ul-Adha, which is known as the “greater eid,” [Eid al-Kabir] Muslims also say “blessed celebration” or Eid Mubarak. In this feast they re-enact the sacrifice of an animal by Ibrahim [=Abraham] and Ismail (in place of the Biblical Isaac).
The story is related in Surah 37: 83-111 of the Qur’an and ends with these words:
And We ransomed his son with a great sacrifice, (107)
and blessed Abraham [with a legacy] among later generations: (108)
“Peace and salutation to Abraham!” (109)
This is how We reward the good-doers. (110)
He was truly one of Our faithful servants. (111)
The commentator al-Maududi suggests that the main point of this account is to highlight that it is a “unique event signifying faithfulness and devotion” [on the part of Ibrahim and Ismail] who were said to be model Muslims. The commentary of al-Jalalayn, renders 110 as “So in way that We rewarded him, do We reward those who are virtuous to their own souls” and Ibn Abbas as “(Thus do We reward the good) with good praise and safety.”
Thus we can safely say, that when a Muslim says “eid Mubarak” at the feast commemorating the piety, devotion, submission and obedience of Ibrahim and his son as model Muslims, they too are hoping that they will also be rewarded with praise from Allah—and the Islamic community—with a similar legacy as being one of the doers of good.
Following the tradition related by Sunan Ibn Majah (Hadith 1315) Muhammad would have a bath on both of these feasts. At the latter he would slaughter a sacrifice. This happened after the morning prayers of Eid ul-Adha. Even the weight of the meat is meritorious. Here is an Islamic tradition that indicates such:
`Allamah Shaykh ‘Abdul Haq Muhaddis Dihlvi has said, ‘The Qurbani [the animal sacrifice] will be placed on the pan of the scale containing good deeds, due to which the weight of the pan of good deeds will be heavier. (Ashi’a-tul-Lam’aat, vol. 1, pp. 654)
Similarly, (according to Tabarani), “Whoever slaughters his animal for sacrifice with a satisfied heart hoping rewards from Allah; this will save him/her from the hell fire.” Another tradition suggests that the animal that was sacrificed will give that person a ride over the razor-wire bridge (Siraat) that separates heaven and hell.
All in all, these traditions promise the potential blessing of freedom from hell-fire and a safe passage to paradise.
At the two major Islamic feasts, Muslims wish each other “eid mubarak” or blessed feast. It appears that it has two senses, namely, “I hope that may you be blessed by this celebration” or “may the celebration of your (and our) pious actions cause you (and us) to be blessed.” This leads us to introducing two other feasts that are also said to be sources of blessings. In spite of some initial similarities, we will see that they are fundamentally different.
The feast of the Lord’s Supper
There is a Christian feast known by various names, such as Eucharist, Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. Regardless of the name, it celebrates Jesus’ complete and once and for-all sacrifice of His body and his blood, sufficient to gain the permanent favour of All-Mighty God for those who put their trust in Him.
At the first Lord’s Supper by Jesus, He broke bread to symbolize his broken body as the sacrificial Lamb who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29) and drank wine to symbolize drinking the cup of the wrath of God (Luke 22:42, cf. Jeremiah 25:15-16).
The Apostle Paul summarized this celebration to the early church at Corinth in these words:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (I Cor 11:23-26)
In the same letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul refers to drinking from this cup as a source of blessing. He states, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). What we see here is that this cup, which figuratively speaking was the way that Jesus drank down the full portion of the wrath of God against sin, has now become a source of blessing.
How is that possible? One of the missions of Jesus was to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). That is to say, he came to completely fulfill all the requirements needed for being in right relationship with God. Someone like Abraham/Ibrahim, pious as he was, could not do this. Someone who has completed all of the requirements of the Hajj or Ramadan could not do this. That is because they are inherently sinful, just as the Qur’an describes all if the prophets, except Jesus, who was perfectly obedient throughout all of his life. That is why the cup of blessing that Christians celebrate, is not about what they have done, but about what He has done. This is not a wishful thinking “Eid Mubarak” but it is a “eid” with a guaranteed blessing. It gets even better, however.
The marriage supper of the Lamb
If we want to speak of an “Eid al-Kabir” we can point to a feast that has even greater blessings than the eid which drinks the cup of blessing on this earth. This is the great feast in heaven which is referred to as the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19: 6-10). Just as we saw that Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, He is now pictured as the bridegroom of the true Church of God.
An angel pronounces, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”That is to say, for them, this is truly “eid Mubarak.” We can say that because of the few verses that precede this one, which describe why they got there, how they got there, and what they say and even wear. We read:
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
In this picture, we see that the Lamb has paid the bride price with his own precious blood. These are people who God the Father chose in love before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1: 4), and as a response to this outpouring of love, and paying the bride price, it says that she clothes herself. She does not clothe herself with self-congratulatory garments for what she has achieved, but she adorns herself with “fine linen, bright and pure” which is defined as “the righteous deeds of the saints.” Again, this is not due to their piety, but due to the perfect obedience of the Lamb, and this right standing before God is a gift to them.
So what is the same and what is different in these feasts?
The same or similar:
- In the Muslim and Christian feasts there is celebration and blessings.
- In both of them, the actions of someone are celebrated.
- In both of them there is sacrifice.
- In both of them, there are references to food and drink.
- In both of them there are references to special clothing.
- In both of them there are references to Paradise.
Whereas the Muslim Eids celebrate the pious deeds of noble ancestors like Ibrahim, Muhammad, and also present-day Muslims who have fasted, given alms, or made an animal sacrifice, the Christian Eids celebrate the perfect sacrifice of the perfect God-man, who lived a perfect life and who is the cause of the celebration. In the Muslim Eids, a wish of blessing is extended from one person to another and it includes congratulating that person for their piety. In a fashion, it is wishful thinking that the deeds that have been done by that person will be acceptable to Allah. There is also the hope that just as father Ibrahim was said to be blessed and rewarded for his submission, obedience, and piety as a model Muslim, so the Muslim hopes that he/she too will be blessed for doing good. Of course the question that always remains, is, “What is good enough?”
In the Muslim Eids, there is ample food and drink as part of the celebration. Largely speaking, the person will have bought this food themselves. In contrast, the food and drink of the Christian Eids is the body and blood of Jesus the sacrificial Lamb. It is Him who paid the ransom to set people free, he bought them with his precious blood, and in so doing paid the bride price for entry into His marriage supper. That is to say, this spiritual food is a gift of grace and is not bought, earned or merited.
In the Muslim Eids, there is sacrifice. Either it is the sacrifice of having abstained from food and drink during the daylight hours of Ramadan, or it is the sacrifice of the animal which the person purchased. In contrast, the Christian Eids celebrate the perfect, complete and finished sacrifice of the spotless Lamb. In a response of gratitude for what He has done, Christian believers also want to live sacrificially (Romans 12:1-3).
The special clothing of the Muslim Eid, according to one Islamic source represents “spiritual renewal.” In the case of Eid-al Fitr, “the person leaves Ramadan, a month of self-discipline, in a more beautified spiritual state.” Thus the clothing represents the effects of their own righteous deeds. In contrast, at the wedding supper of the Lamb, the “eid al-Kabir” the people are dressed in the finest linen robes, but they are robes that are given to them. These robes are a symbol of righteousness, but it is the right standing with God that has been merited by the life of complete submission of the spotless Lamb. In the Old Testament, in the prophet Isaiah (61:10) foresaw this day, saying “He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
In both cases, the Eids point to Paradise. In the Muslim version there will be sumptuous buffets and Muslims will be told to “eat and drink” (Quran 52:19). Space does not permit other descriptions of the Islamic Paradise, but suffice it to say, a large question remains, which always lives in the mind of a Muslim: “Did I do enough, and were my deeds righteous enough to outweigh all of my bad deeds?” For entry into the Christian Paradise and the marriage supper of the Lamb, just as the angel said, it is by invitation only. By definition, a person who is invited to such a feast is there because of the merits of another, and not one’s self.
Finally, and perhaps, most importantly, the culminating point of the marriage supper of the Lamb is an almost deafening chorus in the wedding song of a mass of people whose own actions would demerit them from attendance. By sheer grace they are now enjoying the presence of God, also as we see in the New Jerusalem described in Revelation 20 and 21, where we read, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
A couple of questions to ponder:
- There are clearly two different versions of what ‘Eid Mubarak’ means. One depends on human righteous deeds, to be blessed, and the other on the righteous deeds of the Perfect One to be blessed. Which version gives more assurance?
- There are clearly two different versions of the ‘Eid al-Kabir’. In the first, there is a hope---bordering on wishful thinking---that the sacrifice of the animal will gain the favor of Allah. In the second, there is a celebration because the favor of Almighty God has already been gotten. Which version gives more assurance?