This is my first Islamic knowledge post, I've always been a bit nervous about posting it as you have to make sure what you say is accurate and that you say it well, as this maybe the first and last impression of our beautiful religion somebody might get.
As you may know Muslims have been celebrating Eid Al-Adha all over the world for the past few days. The festival involves the sacrifice of a sheep, goat, camel or cow for by every family. The sacrifice is traced back to Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) (alayhisalam/May Allah bless him), when he was tested by Allah/God to sacrifice the son he begot in his old age Prophet Ismail/Ishmael (alayhisalam/ May Allah bless him) when he became a boy of age, old enough to be of aid to him, he received the Divine command to sacrifice Ishmael.
When Ibrahim informed his son of the Divine command, he told his father to do as he was commanded. Both father and son were ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Allah. Ismail was laid on his forehead so that he wouldn't be able to see the knife, and the father wouldn't lose his nerve at the last moment seeing his son's face. As he closed his eyes and lowered his knife for the sacrifice, his son was replaced by a ram by Divine intervention and slaughtered instead. Both Prophet Ibrahim alayhisalam and
Prophet Ismail alayhisalam had proven their total love and submission to Allah and passed the ultimate test of faith. The sacrfice was accepted; and this is the spirit of sacrifice that Muslims celebrate and will continue to do till the end of time. Prophet Ibrahim alayhisalam was rewarded by the news of another son Prophet Ishaaq/Isaac alayhisalam in his old age.
Below I have given the interpretations in English of the Chapter 37 verses (99-112) from The Holy Quran which relay the incident:
(99)[Ibrahim prayed ]"My Lord! Grant me (offspring) from the righteous."
(100) So We gave him the glad tidings of a forbearing boy.
(101) And, when he (his son) was old enough to walk with him, he said: "O my son! I have seen in a dream that I am slaughtering you (offer you in sacrifice to Allâh), so look what you think!" He said: "O my father! Do that which you are commanded, Inshâ' Allâh (if Allâh will), you shall find me of As-Sâbirun (the patient)." (102) Then, when they had both submitted themselves (to the Will of Allâh), and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (or on the side of his forehead for slaughtering);
(103) And We called out to him: "O Abraham!
(104) You have fulfilled the dream!" Verily! thus do We reward the Muhsinûn (good-doers - see V.2:112). (105) Verily, that indeed was a manifest trial.
(106) And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice (i.e. کبش - a ram);
(107) And We left for him (a goodly remembrance) among the later generations.
(108) Salâmun (peace) be upon Ibrâhim (Abraham)!"
(109) Thus indeed do We reward the Muhsinûn (good-doers - see V.2:112).
(110) Verily, he was one of Our believing slaves.
(111) And We gave him the glad tidings of Ishâq (Isaac) a Prophet from the righteous.
(112) We blessed him and Ishâq (Isaac), and of their progeny are (some) that do right, and some that plainly wrong themselves.
For more background on Prophet Ibrahim/Abraham you can read from chapter 37 verses 83-99.
So when Muslims perform the sacrifice, it represents the submission of your will to Allah, which is in essence what being Muslim means, and its celebrates the esteemed Prophets who passed the ultimate trial.
I hope while we feast and fill our stomach with food we give some thought to the spirit behind the sacrifice and ponder the level of our faith and how much do we submit our wills to Allah, how much do we love him, and how do we face our personal trials?-Food for thought.