Is Universal Animal Sacrifice on Eid ul Azha A Bid’at (Innovation)? Animal Sacrifice Is Not a Pillar of Islam like Tauheed, Namaz, Roza, Haj and Zakat
By Ziaur Rahman, New Age Islam
24 April 2015
The Islamic festival of Eidul Azha, the second major festival after Eid is marked by animal sacrifice by Muslims all over the world. For this purpose Muslims buy animals –goats, sheep, camel and cows. Before the sacrifice, the animals are also paraded in the streets to show the pride of the owners. The business of sacrificial animals runs into billions of rupees all over the world. In a multi-religious society like India, this season also marks heightened communal tension and non-Muslims express their displeasure over the huge traffic of animal-laden carriages through non-Muslim majority areas.
Muslims believe that the animal sacrifice wins them reward and is a means for the atonement of their sins. Owners dedicate the reward for the sacrifice to their dead ones so that their sins are removed through this sacrifice. They have also the rule that seven Muslims can share the reward of sacrifice of a buffalo, bull or a cow. Thus a big animal becomes the means for the atonement of sins of seven Muslim, though this is not mentioned in the Quran.
The rite of animal sacrifice has its origin in a dream envisioned by Prophet Abraham. He saw that he was slashing the throat of his son Ishmail. He took the dream as a commandment from God to sacrifice his son. He told his son about the dream. His son Ismail showed his readiness to be sacrificed if it would please God. He made his son prostrate on the ground and put his knife on his neck. But when after slaying his son, he opened his eyes, he found a sheep lying in place of his son and his son was standing beside him.
This incident is narrated in the Quran in the following words:
Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: "O my son! I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is thy view!" (The son) said: "O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if Allah so wills one practising Patience and Constancy!" So when they had both submitted their wills (to Allah), and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice), We called out to him "O Abraham! Thou hast already fulfilled the vision! - thus indeed do We reward those who do right. For this was obviously a trial-And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice: And We left (this blessing) for him among generations (to come) in later times: (As-Safat 37: 102-107)
So, according to God, it was a trial for Prophet Abraham (pbuh) and he emerged successful in this trial of faith.
This sacrifice of Abraham has become a religious rite of the Muslims all over the world and is observed in the month of Haj pilgrimage.
Islamic traditions say that after Prophet Abraham slayed his son and opened his eyes, he found a sheep lying slashed and his son was standing intact beside him. But the Quran does not say this. It only says that when he laid his son prostrate on his forehead and was about to slaughter him, God called out and said it was only a trial and he did not have to slay him.
God says that animal sacrifice had been prescribed in every ummah. And so it was mandated to the followers of Islam as well.
However, we do not find the mention of animal sacrifice as a universal commandment for all Muslims as is generally believed.
God says in the Quran:
And complete the Hajj or 'umra in the service of Allah. But if ye are prevented (From completing it), send an offering for sacrifice, such as ye may find, and do not shave your heads until the offering reaches the place of sacrifice. And if any of you is ill, or has an ailment in his scalp, (Necessitating shaving), (He should) in compensation either fast, or feed the poor, or offer sacrifice; and when ye are in peaceful conditions (again), if any one wishes to continue the 'umra on to the hajj, He must make an offering, such as he can afford, but if he cannot afford it, He should fast three days during the hajj and seven days on his return, Making ten days in all. This is for those whose household is not in (the precincts of) the Sacred Mosque. And fear Allah, and know that Allah Is strict in punishment. (2:196) ((Abdullah Yusuf Ali)
The verse is specifically addressed to those going to Hajj pilgrimage. Only those who go on Hajj or Umra are asked to offer animal sacrifice.
Surah Al Kauthar also asks Muslims to offer nahr (slaughter or zib’h).
“So pray to your Lord and make sacrifice.”
From this verse it is not clear whether it is a general commandment for offering animal sacrifice or a specific (for those offering Hajj).
One verse makes it clear:
“In the end their place of sacrifice is near the Ancient House (Kaaba).”(Al-Hajj 22: 33)
The animal sacrifice should be made only near the Ancient House (Kaaba). It suggests that animal sacrifice is prescribed only for those who go to Hajj pilgrimage. Otherwise, the verse would not specify the place of sacrifice.
While narrating the incident involving Abraham and his son, it does not say that God told Abraham to sacrifice his son. Abraham had a vision seeing himself slaying his son. So he interpreted it as a dream or commandment from God. God says in the Quran that when Abraham was going to slay his son, He called out to Abraham and prevented him from doing that. He appreciated his spirit of sacrificing his dearest possession for the pleasure of God. God will never ask a father to kill his son for no fault of his. It was only a trial for his faith.
Animal sacrifice is not a pillar of Islam like Tauheed, namaz, roza, haj and Zakat. Animal sacrifice is only a part of Hajj pilgrimage. But Muslims seem to have turned this specific commandment into a universal commandment like namaz, roza, haj and zakat. Muslims need to reinterpret the Quranic verses about animal sacrifice and reach at a consensus on this topic.
Abraham showed his willingness to sacrifice his most valuable possession, his son, to express his devotion to God. This practice gave birth to the sacrifice of animals in the primitive eras when the cattle were the most valuable possession after human beings. So, sacrificing animals or cattle meant sacrificing the most valuable economic possession in the path of God. Cattle formed the basis of their economy. In those days people were rewarded for good deeds or achievements with cattle and were punished for their crime with penalty with cattle.
In the modern times, cattle are not the backbone of economy. They are not the valuable possessions of Muslims. People domesticate them only for some benefits like milk, meat, fur etc. Only a section of Muslims have animal slaughter as their profession or means of living, not all the Muslims. If they make animal sacrifice, it may be justified only to some extent. So sacrificing animals does not meaning sacrificing their valuable possession. What they spend or sacrifice is money (gold or silver) and for sacrificing this money, they buy animals from the market. These animals are not their valuable possessions or part of their wealth. So it turns into a mechanical rite rather than a spiritual practice. One wants to sacrifice Rs 20, 000 this year, so he goes to the cattle market and buys an animal worth that amount and then slays him on Eidul Azha. So what he sacrifices is his money and not an animal he loved.
Therefore, this concept of animal sacrifice needs to be rethought in the context of modern social and economic milieu as animal sacrifice is not specific. Even the verses of the Quran say that if a person who intended and made all the preparation for Hajj but cannot go or is prevented or has some illness, he should make recompense by fasting for ten days. That is, animal sacrifice can under circumstances be replaced with other acts of charity like fasting or feeding the poor or helping them monetarily. God Himself says,
“It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah: it is your piety that reaches Him: He has thus made them subject to you that ye may glorify Allah for His guidance to you: And proclaim the Good News to all who do right.” (Al-Hajj 22: 37)