The years have passed, and his long-desired heir has not come. He and his wife have not been able to bear any children, and as his bones age and his hair grays, hope fades. Seeing that her husband has an ardent desire for a child, and she cannot bear him one, his loyal wife encourages him to take on another wife. Immediately, she is with child and bears him the son he has long desired. His joy is overwhelming.
Yet, hardly has the joy been expended when he takes his wife and their newborn son on a journey through the hot sands of the desert. After a long journey, the man stops at a barren valley and leaves his wife and son. Startled, she runs after him: "What are you doing?" He does not answer.
"Why are you leaving us?" He continues on without looking at her.
"There is no food, no water, no life here. Do you leave us to die?" He does not answer.
Then she says, "Did God command you thus?"
Finally, he says, "Yes."
"Then," she replies, "He will not lead us astray." His wife turns away, and the man continues to the place from whence he came.
Soon, the small amount of food and drink that the man left with his family ran out, and the baby began to cry from hunger. Frantic, the mother searched near and far for any sign of food, water, or a coming caravan. There was nothing but barren and hot desert. She lost all hope and went back to watch her child die. To her surprise, a well had sprung at the spot where her son was crying, and she cried for joy. They were saved by a miracle.
The wife and child settle in this valley called Paran, which later blooms into a desert metropolis. The man has come many times to visit his wife and son in this city, and the man loves his son very much. On one of theses visits, the man has a dream in which he was sacrificing his son. He awakens with the realization that this was no idle dream, but a command from the Lord Himself. He consults his son about the dream, and his son replies, "Father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, God willing, among those who are patient."
On the appointed day, he takes his son in order to kill him. The boy tells his father to place his face down toward the earth, so that he will not weaken and fail to fulfill the Lord's command. Yet, the knife would not cut his son's neck. Time and again, he tried to kill his only son, his flesh and blood for whom he waited many years, but the knife's sharpness failed. Just then, a voice called out to him: "Abraham! You have indeed fulfilled the vision." And in his son's stead, an animal was presented to Abraham for the sacrifice to the Lord. Once again, the son was saved by a miracle.
This is the story of the Prophet Abraham, his wife Hagar, and their son Ishmael, as told by Islamic tradition. It is this story that is the inspiraiton for the rituals of the Hajj, or once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim must perform, if able to do so. And what is unique about Hajj this year is that it is right in the middle of the Thanksgiving holiday.
If there is ever a tale that is about thanksgiving, it is the tale of Abraham.
For years, he was deprived of a child and heir. Finally, the Lord blesses him with a son, Ishmael, and almost immediately the Lord tells Abraham to take his wife and son and leave them in the barren plain of Paran, in Arabia, which later becomes the city of Mecca. Faithfully, the Patriarch obeys the command of his Lord, but naturally, it must have been difficult for him to leave his newborn son in the middle of nowhere. Indeed, the Quran recounts the prayer that Abraham made to the Lord after he left Ishmael and Hagar:
Our Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Thy Sacred House; in order, O our Lord, that they may establish regular Prayer. So fill the hearts of some among men with love towards them, and feed them with fruits: so that they may give thanks. (14:37)
What a wonderful feeling it must have been to know that the Lord saved them by the miracle of the spring of Zamzam, which was dug by the Angel Gabriel himself. Then later, the Lord asks Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son - who, in Islamic tradition, is widely believed to be Ishmael and not Isaac - and once again, the Patriarch obeys without question. In fact, on the way to kill Ishmael, the Devil tries to dissuade Abraham, and the Patriarch stones him seven times. This is the basis of the stoning ritual during the Hajj. And so, when the time came, and the Prophet Abraham actually put knife to flesh, the Lord saved his son once again and told the Prophet: "You have indeed fulfilled the vision." And just as Abraham sacrificed the animal that day in thanks to God, so do Muslims sacrifice animals on Eid-ul-Adha, which is November 26, the day after Thanksgiving.
Indeed, the whole story of Abraham and his son is about thanksgiving: giving thanks to the Lord for his bounty. Yes, the tests of faith that Abraham had to endure were very difficult. But, as the Quran says, he passed them with flying colors: And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain commands, which he fulfilled. And in return for this undying faith, the Lord decreed: I will make thee a Leader to the Nations... (2:124)
In fact, the Lord take Abraham as a khaleel, which in Arabic means "close friend": God did take Abraham for a friend. (4:125)
And Abraham showed his thanks by being a devoted servant his entire life. The story of Abraham is a story of test, triumph, and gratitude. Thus, even though it is mere coincidence that Hajj and Thanksgiving happen to fall at the same time, the meaning of both events could not have been more in unison.