Eid al-Adha and qurbani sacrifices

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Last Updated on 18th July 2022

Eid al-Adha (عيد‭ ‬الأضحى), also known as the “Festival of Sacrifices”, celebrates Prophet Abraham’sas readiness to follow Allah’s commandment by offering his son, Prophet Ishmaelas, as a sacrifice. However, before he could do so, God provided him with a lamb to be slaughtered instead. On the occasion of Eid al-Adha, animals are sacrificed in remembrance of the devotion shown by Abrahamas and Ishmaelas to Allah the Exalted. 

The ceremonial animal sacrifice is known as a qurban (قربان), qurbani (قرباني) or udhiyah (أضحية). These terms describe animals that are specifically sacrificed in order to win God’s pleasure and nearness (قرب). Hence, in these words, there is an allusion to the fact that the nearness (قرب) of God cannot be attained until all the desires and passions of the self are sacrificed (قربان).

Thus, the external act of sacrifice in Islam is regarded as a deed done in obedience to the will of God, for His pleasure, and to attain His nearness. It is in commemoration of the wonderful obedience shown by Abrahamas to the commandments of God that one submits completely to the will of God, and is, like Abrahamas, ready to sacrifice everything for His sake. 

The issue of animal sacrifice and subsequent meat consumption in the Islamic world rises to the foreground every year with the arrival of the Hajj season and Eid al-Adha celebrations. 

In the following article, which was written in 1960, Hazrat “Qamar-ul-Anbiya”, Mirza Bashir Ahmad MAra, one of the greatest religious scholars and prolific writers of our time, comprehensively elucidates this topic in view of the Holy Quran, the ahadith and other authentic Islamic sources. The esteemed author argues for the continued need and importance of the Islamic tradition of qurbani in the present day and the future. (Editor, Al Hakam)

The valley of Mecca (Makkah) - A reminder of the sacrifices of Ibrahim (as)

Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra (1893-1963)

An honourable friend who is still outside the pale of Ahmadiyyat writes to point out that the subject of animal sacrifices on the occasion of Eid al-Adha is the burning topic of the day. [He asks…]

  1. What is the correct Islamic teaching on the subject with particular reference to the Holy Quran, the hadith and the sunnah? He has asked me to elucidate whether animal sacrifices were obligatory only on hajis (pilgrims) or on non-hajis as well.
  2. Will it not be advisable under the present circumstances to distribute money among the poor and the needy or spend it on some charitable institutions instead of slaughtering numberless animals on this occasion and thus waste the animal wealth of the country?
  3. Do not these animal sacrifices adversely affect the national wealth of the country and particularly the supply of milk and butter as the staple food of the people?

These are the three questions to which my attention has been drawn and which loom large on the pages of the leading newspapers of the country. 

A section of the people, which mainly consists of the newly educated young men, emphasises the point that the animal sacrifices which the non-hajis offer in their respective localities are not traceable in the traditions of the Holy Prophetsa of Islam; and even if they are, would it not be a feasible idea, under the present difficult circumstances, to distribute the equivalent amount of money among the poor and the needy, or to spend it on some national enterprise, particularly when there is already a dearth of animal wealth in Pakistan and human needs have immensely increased? 

The other section, the orthodox one, persists in the belief that the age-long tradition that the Great Patriarch Abrahamas under divine orders established on this earth, and which the Holy Prophetsa of Arabia received and declared to be an integral part of Islamic teachings and himself acted upon it and urged his followers to act upon it likewise, and which throughout the centuries has been the constant practice of Muslims, must be maintained at all costs and the real or supposed dearth of animals in Pakistan might be made up by other means. 

History and background of the commandment to sacrifice (qurbani)

Before proceeding to enunciate the Islamic teaching about sacrifices it is essential to point out what Eid al-Adha means, how it came to be originated in Islam, and what philosophy underlies the sacrifices, or in other words, we must know the background of the subject, for without knowing the background of a thing, we cannot make a definite mental picture of it. Hence we must know that:

Various kinds of Eids in Islam and their meaning

1. Eid is an Arabic word which means a day of collective enjoyment which recurs again and again. There are three such Eids in Islam: 

(a) Friday [jumu’ah], which comes every week and according to a tradition of the Holy Prophetsa it is the most important of all the Eids and is full of blessings, but people do not realize its importance owing to the frequency with which it comes every week. 

(b) Eid al-Fitr which immediately follows the month of Ramadan every year. It is so-called because it opens the door for the believers to eat and drink after the fasts of Ramadan. 

(c) Eid al-Adha which falls on the 10th of the month of Zul-Hijjah. In Pakistan, it is commonly called the Baqar-Eid, Bakra-Eid or Bari-Eid. 

Eid al-Adha

2. Eid al-Adha is so-called because animals are slaughtered for sacrifice on the first, second and third day of Eid. The word أضحٰى (adha) in Arabic, is the plural of أضحاة (adhat), just as أضاحي (adahi) is the plural of أضحية (udhiyah) which means an animal meant for sacrifice. It is also called يوم‭ ‬النّحر or the Day of Sacrifices. Both the words have been frequently used by the Holy Prophetsa himself as we learn from his sayings. Every book of hadith has invariably used this word. In short, no other word except these two has been used for the day of Eid.

In this connection, it should also be remembered that the Holy Quran as well as the ahadith i.e. the Prophetic traditions, use the word هدي (hudyun) for sacrifices which are to be offered by hajis (pilgrims) in the Holy precincts of the Kaaba and not the word أضحٰى (adha) which is used for the sacrifices offered by the non-hajis (non-pilgrims) in their respective localities.

3. We learn from the traditions that Eid al-Adha was instituted in the second year of the Hijra (Zarqani and Tarikh al-Khamis) which means that the Holy Prophetsa enjoyed nine or ten such Eids in his life. On the other hand, he only performed one Hajj, the pilgrimage which is referred to as Hajjatul-Wada’ (Farewell Pilgrimage). The Holy Propehtsa performed this Hajj in 10 AH (Tabari and Fath al-Bari fi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari) as he passed away only 2 ½ months later.

4. The Holy Quran tells us that the Hajj (pilgrimage) was instituted in the time of Prophet Abrahamas (Surah al-Hajj, 22:28) who, under God’s orders, settled his first-born, Ishmael, in the arid and waterless valley of Mecca, at a time when there were no means of sustenance of life. This was, in truth, the interpretation of Abraham’sas dream that he was slaughtering his son with his own hands. On this occasion, God ordained animal sacrifice in lieu of human sacrifice but human sacrifice too did continue in spirit. This was, as it were, the first dedication [waqf] of a son on the part of a father that was offered in the way of God so that He might grant to the son (Ishmael) a new life after his apparent “death” and that He might sow a seed which was destined to grow into a big and lofty tree and bear delicious fruits in the Holy person of Muhammadsa, the last of the [law-bearing] prophets, the best of God’s creation, and the last Giver of a Universal code of laws to humanity. Says the Holy Prophetsa

أنَا‭ ‬ابْنُ‭ ‬الذَّبِيْـحَيْنِ

“I am descended of one, who was doubly offered for sacrifice” (Tarikh al-Khamis) meaning thereby that the one was the corporeal frame of Ishmaelas, who, being settled in the waterless valley of Mecca, was, as it were, practically slaughtered by Abrahamas, his father, and the other the soul of Ishmaelas that was dedicated in the way of God.

To be brief, animal sacrifices are reminiscent of that great sacrifice, but woe be to the spiritual decline of the Muslims and the material ascendency of the modern age that most of them have even forgotten the correct name of Eid al-Adha, what to speak of perpetuating the memory of the Great Sacrifice. Instead of pronouncing it as Eid al-Adha, they pronounce it “Eid-ul-Duha” which translates as the “Morning Eid”, which mistake is shared even by the educated people not excepting the editors of newspapers and their correspondents. Those who have omitted the word “sacrifice” from the Eid of sacrifices, how can they be expected to remember the form of worship implied in the word Eid al-Adha (the Eid of sacrifices) while the fact is the Holy Prophetsa himself named it عيد‭ ‬الأضحٰى (the Eid of sacrifices) and not Eid-ud-Duha or the “Morning Eid”. (Abu Daudvide Mishkat, Kitab al-Eidain )

5. Another interesting and notable point of which most people seem to be ignorant is the fact that the Eid al-Adha prayer is not meant for hajis (pilgrims) but only for non-hajis. It is never offered at Mecca because the pilgrimage itself is a magnificent Eid comprising a most perfect form of all the four elements of Eid viz., (a) Worship (b) Assemblage of believers (c) Pleasure (d) Recurrence [عود] of the Day of Eid every year. This is why the Islamic Shariah has ordained the Eid prayer for the non-hajis only so that they too, in their respective localities might commemorate, by offering prayer and animal sacrifices the sacrifice which began with Ishmaelas and culminated in its spiritual perfection with the Holy Prophetsa of Islam. Hence wherever in the traditions, we find mention of the sacrifices of the Holy Prophetsa and of his Companions, it exclusively refers to the sacrifices of non-hajis only.

The five points enumerated above in connection with the background of Eid Al-Adha sacrifices are so prominent and vivid and supported by sound arguments and proofs that even a casual observer of Islam, no matter what sect he belongs to, may not venture to deny them. For the same reason, I did not deem it necessary to quote references in support of any of them.

Are animal sacrifices meant for hajis only? 

Now I take the real question of whether animal sacrifices are essential for non-hajis as well? If so, is there any proof thereof? Well, if it is a question of essentiality or otherwise, sacrifices are not essential even for hajis in all circumstances. What to speak of their being essential for non-hajis

The Islamic law has imposed certain limitations on sacrifices. For instance, sacrifice is not essential for an ifrad (a pilgrim who performs the Hajj only) but it is essential only for a pilgrim who undertakes to combine Hajj as well as Umrah […] known in Islamic terminology as tamattu‘ or qiran (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.197), and for one, who starts on pilgrimage but, owing to some unavoidable circumstances, is deprived of the benefit of performing it. (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.197)

Secondly, he must be financially well-off to offer animal sacrifice, otherwise, he may keep fast as atonement for his inability to offer a sacrifice. When animal sacrifices are not essential under all circumstances even for hajis, there is no question of their being essential for non-hajis

Now the question arises, when sacrifice is not essential for those hajis who cannot afford to offer it, is it essential for those non-hajis who can afford it? It must be remembered that the Holy Prophetsa always offered animal sacrifices on the occasion of Eid al-Adha and urged his companions to do likewise. 

Eid al-Adha sacrifices in the sunnah and the ahadith of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa

عَنِ‭ ‬ابْنِ‭ ‬عُمَرَ ‬قَالَ‭ ‬أَقَامَ‭ ‬رَسُولُ‭ ‬اللّٰهِ‭ ‬صَلَّى‭ ‬اللّٰهُ‭ ‬عَلَيْهِ‭ ‬وَسَلَّمَ‭ ‬بِالْمَدِينَةِ‭ ‬عَشْرَ‭ ‬سِنِينَ‭ ‬يُضَحِّيْ

Hazrat Abdullah bin Umarra reports that the Holy Prophetsa remained in Medina for a decade and every year, on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, he offered a sacrifice (Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Adahi, Babu d-Dalili ala anna al-Udhiyah Sunnah), so much so that on his deathbed he willed his cousin and son-in-law Alira [the Fourth Caliph of Islam] to slaughter an animal even after his death. Hence, it is narrated in another hadith that, 

عَن حَنَشٍ قَالَ‭ ‬رَأَيْتُ‭ ‬عَلِيًّا‭ ‬يُضَحِّي‭ ‬بِكَبْشَيْنِ‭ ‬فَقُلْتُ‭ ‬مَا‭ ‬هَذَا‭ ‬فَقَالَ‭

‬ ‬إِنَّ‭ ‬رَسُوْلَ‭ ‬اللّٰهِ‭ ‬صَلَّى‭ ‬اللّٰهُ‭ ‬عَلَيْهِ‭ ‬وَسَلَّمَ‭ ‬أَوْصَانِيْ‭ ‬أَنْ‭ ‬أُضَحِّيَ‭ ‬

عَنْهُ‭ ‬فَأَنَا‭ ‬أُضَحِّي‭ ‬ ‬

Hanash saw that Hazrat Alira slaughtered two rams as a sacrifice. “I said to him”, said Hanash, “What do you mean by slaughtering two rams?” Hazrat Alira replied, “The Holy Prophetsa had asked me to slaughter an animal on his behalf, so I do that.” (Abu Daud, Kitab al-Dahaya, Bab al-Udhiyah ani l-Mayyit

We have another hadith

عَنِ‭ ‬الْبَرَاءِ‭ ‬قَالَ‭ ‬خَطَبَنَا‭ ‬النَّبِيُّ‭ ‬صَلَّى‭ ‬اللّٰهُ‭ ‬عَلَيْهِ‭ ‬وَسَلَّمَ‭ ‬يَوْمَ‭ ‬النَّحْرِ‭ ‬فَقَالَ‭ ‬إِنَّ‭ ‬أَوَّلَ‭ ‬مَا‭ ‬نَبْدَأُ‭ ‬بِهِ‭ ‬فِي‭ ‬يَوْمِنَا‭ ‬هَذَا‭ ‬أَنْ‭ ‬نُصَلِّيَ‭ ‬ثُمَّ‭ ‬نَرْجِعَ‭ ‬فَنَنْحَرَ‭ ‬فَمَنْ‭ ‬فَعَلَ‭ ‬ذَلِكَ‭ ‬فَقَدْ‭ ‬أَصَابَ‭ ‬سُنَّتَنَا

Baraa reports that the Holy Prophetsa delivered a sermon on the day of Eid al-Adha and said, “First of all we should say our Eid prayer and then slaughter an animal for sacrifice. Whoever does so follows my example [sunnah].” [Mishkat al-Masabih, Kitab al-Salat, babu salati l-‘idayn, al-fasl al-awwal (muttafaqun alaihi)

In this hadith, the word “sunnah” is significant, as it is not technically used here, it may also be taken to mean the essentiality of sacrifices. 

We have yet another hadith which says:

مَنْ‭ ‬وَجَدَ‭ ‬سَعَةً‭ ‬فلم‭ ‬يُضَحِّ‭ ‬فلا‭ ‬يَقْرَبَنَّ‭ ‬مُصَلَّانَا

It means that “A man who can afford to offer a sacrifice but does not do so, may better say his prayer in a mosque other than ours.” (Musnad Ahmad, Musnad al-Mukthirin min al-Sahabah, Musnad Abi Hurairahra, Hadith 8273

The words of the tradition are too vivid to admit of any comments. These words of the Holy Prophetsa were wholly accepted by the Companionsra like all other words of his. 

عن جبلة بن سحیم أنَّ سألَ ابنَ عمرَ

عن‭ ‬،‭ ‬عنِ‭ ‬الأُضحيَّةِ‭ ‬أواجبةٌ‭ ‬هيَ؟‭ ‬فقالَ‭ ‬ضحَّى‭ ‬رسولُ‭ ‬اللّٰهِ‭ ‬صلَّى‭ ‬اللَّهُ‭ ‬عليهِ‭ ‬وسلَّمَ‭ ‬والمسلِمونَ‭ ‬،‭ ‬فأعادَها‭ ‬عليهِ‭ ‬،‭ ‬فقالَ‭  ‬أتَعقِلُ؟‭ ‬ضحَّى‭ ‬رسولُ‭ ‬اللّٰهِ‭ ‬صلَّى‭ ‬اللّٰهُ‭ ‬عليهِ‭ ‬وسلَّمَ‭ ‬والمسلمونَ

“Jabalah bin Sahaym reports that a man inquired of Abdullah bin Umarra whether the Eid al-Adha sacrifices were essential. Ibn-e-Umarra replied that the Holy Prophetsa, as well as his Companionsra, did slaughter animals for sacrifice. The questioner repeated his question and Abdullah bin Umarra said, ‘I have already answered your question, can’t you follow me?’ I said, ‘The Holy Prophetsa, as well as his Companionsra, did slaughter animals for sacrifice.’” (Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Adahi an Rasulillahi, Babu d-Dalili ala anna l-Udhiyah Sunnah)

The Holy Prophetsa did not slaughter an animal for pleasure’s sake, or with a view to distribute the flesh among his friends or poor relations, but he did so as a religious duty. 

عَنْ‭ ‬زَيْدِ‭ ‬بْنِ‭ ‬أَرْقَمَ‭ ‬قَالَ‭ ‬قَالَ‭ ‬أَصْحَابُ‭ ‬رَسُولِ‭ ‬اللّٰهِ‭ ‬صَلَّى‭ ‬اللّٰهُ‭ ‬عَلَيْهِ‭ ‬وَسَلَّمَ‭ ‬يَا‭ ‬رَسُولَ‭ ‬اللّٰهِ‭ ‬مَا‭ ‬هَذِهِ‭ ‬الْأَضَاحِيُّ‭ ‬قَالَ‭ ‬سُنَّةُ‭ ‬أَبِيكُمْ‭ ‬إِبْرَاهِيمَ‭ ‬قَالُوا‭ ‬فَمَا‭ ‬لَنَا‭ ‬فِيهَا‭ ‬يَا‭ ‬رَسُولَ‭ ‬اللّٰهِ‭ ‬قَالَ‭ ‬بِكُلِّ‭ ‬شَعَرَةٍ‭ ‬حَسَنَةٌ‭ ‬قَالُوْا‭ ‬فَالصُّوفُ‭ ‬يَا‭ ‬رَسُولَ‭ ‬اللّٰهِ‭ ‬قَالَ‭ ‬بِكُلِّ‭ ‬شَعَرَةٍ‭ ‬مِنْ‭ ‬الصُّوفِ‭ ‬حَسَنَةٌ

“Zaid bin Arqam reports that the Companionsra said, ‘What do these sacrifices mean, O Prophetsa of God?’ The Holy Prophetsa said, ‘It is the practice [sunnah] of your father Abrahamas.’ ‘Of what use then are they to us?’ They asked the Holy Prophetsa again. ‘Every hair of the slaughtered animal’, said the Holy Prophetsa, ‘brings goodness to the man who kills it for sacrifice.’” (Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Adahi Babu thwabi l-udhiyah)

عَنْ‭ ‬عَائِشَةَ أَنَّ‭ ‬رَسُولَ‭ ‬اللّٰهِ‭ ‬صلى‭ ‬اللّٰه‭ ‬عليه‭ ‬وسلم‭ ‬قَالَ

‬ مَا‭ ‬عَمِلَ‭ ‬آدَمِيٌّ‭ ‬مِنْ‭ ‬عَمَلٍ‭ ‬يَوْمَ‭ ‬النَّحْرِ‭ ‬أَحَبَّ‭ ‬إِلَى‭ ‬اللَّهِ‭ ‬مِنْ‭ ‬إِهْرَاقِ‭ ‬الدَّمِ

Moreover, “Hazrat Aishara reports of the Holy Prophetsa that he said, ‘On the day of Eid Al-Adha, no act of a Muslim is dearer to God than shedding the blood of an animal for sacrifice.’” (Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-adahi an rasulillahi, Babu ma Ja’a fi Fadli l-Udhiyah)

In this tradition, the words “shedding the blood of animals” point to the importance of animal sacrifices. On another occasion, the Holy Prophetsa slaughtered an animal not only on his own behalf but also on behalf of the whole Muslim nation. 

عَنْ عَائِشَةَ أَنَّ‭ ‬رَسُولَ‭ ‬اللّٰهِ‭ ‬صلى‭ ‬اللّٰه‭ ‬عليه‭ ‬وسلم‭ ‬أَمَرَ‭ ‬بِكَبْشٍ ‬‮ ‬ ‬‏

ثُمَّ‭ ‬ذَبَحَهُ‭ ‬ثُمَّ‭ ‬قَالَ بِسْمِ اللهِ‬‏ ‬اللّٰهُمَّ‭ ‬تَقَبَّلْ‭ ‬مِنْ‭ ‬مُحَمَّدٍ‭ ‬وَآلِ‭ ‬مُحَمَّدٍ‭ ‬وَمِنْ‭ ‬أُمَّةِ‭ ‬مُحَمَّدٍ‏‏

Hazrat Aishara reports that the Holy Prophetsa bought a ram, slaughtered it with his own hands and prayed to God saying, “O God accept it on my behalf, on behalf of my children and on behalf of my followers (till the Day of Judgement).” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Adahi, Bab Isti‘abi l-Udhiyati wa Zabhiha Mubash-sharah bila Tawkilin wa t-Tasmiyati wa t-Takbir)

Now, in the presence of so many authentic and clear traditions, who will venture to assert that animal sacrifices are only meant for hajis and not for non-hajis? There is no doubt sacrifices are incumbent only upon those who can afford to offer and even if one person in the family can offer, it will suffice for the whole family (Sunan Abi Daud). But the example set by our Holy Prophetsa in slaughtering an animal on the occasion of Eid al-Adha is very imperative and carries a big reward.

A photograph of the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca)

Sacrifices in the Holy Quran 

An objection is raised in certain quarters that animal sacrifices are, no doubt, mentioned in the ahadith but there is no mention of them in the Holy Quran, hence they can be overlooked under certain circumstances. But this viewpoint is as ridiculous as it is erroneous and mischievous. Do we not read the following in the Holy Quran?

لَقَدۡ‭ ‬كَانَ‭ ‬لَكُمۡ‭ ‬فِيۡ‭ ‬رَسُوۡلِ‭ ‬اللّٰهِ‭ ‬اُسۡوَةٌ‭ ‬حَسَنَةٌ‭ ‬لِّمَنۡ‭ ‬كَانَ‭ ‬يَرۡجُوا‭ ‬اللّٰهَ‭ ‬وَالۡيَوۡمَ‭ ‬الۡاٰخِرَ‭ ‬وَذَكَرَ‭ ‬اللّٰهَ‭ ‬كَثِيۡرًا

“Verily you have in the Prophet of Allah an excellent model, for him who fears Allah and the Last Day and who remembers Allah much.” (Surah al-Ahzab, Ch.33: V.22)

(b) Again it says:

يٰۤاَيُّهَا‭ ‬الَّذِيۡنَ‭ ‬اٰمَنُوۡۤا‭ ‬اَطِيۡعُوا‭ ‬اللّٰهَ‭ ‬وَاَطِيۡعُوا‭ ‬الرَّسُوۡلَ

“O ye who believe! obey Allah and obey His Messenger.” (Surah al-Nisa, Ch.4: V.60)

Now if all the Quranic injunctions culminated in obedience to God only, then where was the necessity of adding the words اَطِيۡعُوا‭ ‬الرَّسُوۡلَ which means obedience to the Prophetsa as well. The fact of the matter is that the Quranic revelation sometimes aims at concision and brevity which may not be easily understood by each and every person of ordinary intelligence. This is why the wisdom of God ordained the obedience to the Prophetsa as a part of Islamic Shariah so that no phase of it might remain imperfect and unexplained and there might be no occasion for a lame excuse for those who want to flout the commandments of the Shariah,

Hence if anything is proved from hadith and sunnah by conclusive evidence, we shall have to accept it as true. And I hold that the audacity of a man, who, being a follower of the greatest of Prophets and the best of Messengers, declares that he need not follow him, is nothing less than a declaration of his disbelief and irreligion. He will daily confirm to the hundred and one wishes of his wife, his children and his friends but he will not listen to the sayings of the greatest of Prophets and the best of creation. Moreover the Holy Quran, too, is not silent on the question of sacrifices as it says: 

اِنَّاۤ‭ ‬اَعۡطَيۡنٰكَ‭ ‬الۡكَوۡثَرَ‭ ‬۔‭ ‬فَصَلِّ‭ ‬لِرَبِّكَ‭ ‬وَانۡحَرۡ

“Surely We have given thee abundance (of good); So pray to thy Lord, and offer sacrifice. (Surah al-Kauthar, Ch.108: V.2-3)

This chapter was revealed just before the year of Hijra (Fath-ul-Qadeer by Imam al-Shawkani) when the Ka‘bah was still under the control of the unbelievers and the Hajj had not yet been declared obligatory on the Muslims. The word نحر (sacrifice) does not refer to sacrifices on the occasion of Hajj (pilgrimage) but an ordinary sacrifice which is offered during the three days of Eid al-Adha; and يوم‭ ‬النّحر (Day of Sacrifices) is another name for Eid al-Adha and the same word نحر (nahar) has been used here in this verse. On another occasion the Holy Quran says concerning the pilgrimage:

وَاَتِمُّوا‭ ‬الۡحَجَّ‭ ‬وَالۡعُمۡرَةَ‭ ‬لِلّٰهِ‭ ‬ؕ‭ ‬فَاِنۡ‭ ‬اُحۡصِرۡتُمۡ‭ ‬فَمَا‭ ‬اسۡتَيۡسَرَ‭ ‬مِنَ‭ ‬الۡهَدۡيِ

“And complete the Hajj and the Umrah for the sake of Allah; but if you are kept back, then (make) whatever offering is easily available.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.197)

Now evidently this verse refers to the pilgrims who may set out with the intention of performing the pilgrimage to Mecca but owing to certain unavoidable circumstances (for example, disease, loss of passage money or insecurity of the road, etc.) they may not be able to perform the pilgrimage. But with a keen and discerning eye, the Holy Prophetsa concluded from this verse that as every man has a natural desire to pilgrimage at least once during his life, but owing to some circumstances he has been debarred from undertaking the journey, his case falls under the category of those who, being debarred, have to offer a sacrifice. 

Therefore, it can reasonably be argued from this verse that animal sacrifices are essential for non-pilgrims as well. Just as the five daily prayers with their scheduled times have been inferred from the verses of the Holy Quran by the Holy Prophetsa, similarly the offering of sacrifices has been inferred from the above-mentioned verse by the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of God be on him). Hence, from the study of these two verses, we are perfectly justified to conclude that the system of sacrifices is based on the Holy Quran while the sayings of the Holy Prophetsa of Islam are but deductions from the same verse.

Are Eid al-Adha sacrifices obligatory? – Views of the four Sunni schools of law (madhahib

We need not go into the technicalities of the subject under discussion, suffice it to know that the commandment about sacrifices is based on the teachings of the Holy Quran and is further strengthened by the sayings and doings of the Holy Prophetsa of Islam. For those who are desirous of studying the subject in the light of the opinions of the four Muslim doctors of the Law the following references will suffice.

أجمع‭ ‬المسلمون‭ ‬على‭ ‬مشروعيتها‭ ‬فالأضحية‭ ‬سنة‭ ‬عين‭ ‬مؤكدة‮…‬‭ ‬و‭ ‬الحنفية‭ ‬قالوا‭ ‬هي‭ ‬واجبة‭ ‬فأما‭ ‬شروط‭ ‬سنتها‭ ‬فمنها‭ ‬القدرة

“Muslims of all shades and opinions are agreed on the legality of sacrifices … (According to these doctors of law [fuqaha]) sacrifices have been particularly emphasised by the Holy Prophetsa … while the Hanafi School of thought holds the view that they are essential an obligatory … on those who can afford to offer them. (Kitab al-Fiqh ‘ala Madhahib al-’Arba‘ah, Vol. I, pp. 593-94)

We also read in the foot-note of Tirmidhi: 

اختلفوا‭ ‬في‭ ‬أن‭ ‬الأضحية‭ ‬واجبة‭ ‬أو‭ ‬سنة‭ ‬فذهب‭ ‬أبو‭ ‬حنيفة‭ ‬وصاحباه‭ ‬وزفر‭ ‬إلى‭ ‬أنها‭ ‬واجبة‭ ‬على‭ ‬كل‭ ‬حر‭ ‬مسلم‭ ‬مقيم‭ ‬موسر‭ ‬وعند‭ ‬الشافعي‭  ‬سنة‭ ‬مؤكدة‭ ‬وهو‭ ‬المشهور‭  ‬في‭ ‬مذهب‭ ‬أحمد‭ ‬و‭ ‬في‭ ‬مذهب‭ ‬مالك‭ ‬أنه‭ ‬سنة‭ ‬واجبة‭ ‬على‭ ‬من‭ ‬استطاعها

That is, there has been a difference of opinion with regard to sacrifices whether they are واجب (obligatory) or سنة (non-obligatory). Imam Abu Hanifarh, founder of Hanafi School of Thought, as well as Imam Abu Yusufrh and Imam Muhammadrh are of the opinion that Eid sacrifice is obligatory on every free, well-to-do Muslim but Imam Shafi‘irh considers Eid sacrifice as non-obligatory but سنة‭ ‬مؤكدة i.e. highly urged upon by the Holy Prophetsa… [It is likewise well-known about the madhhab of Imam Ahmadrh and Imam Malikrh that they consider it an obligatory practice (سنة‭ ‬واجبة) upon whoever has the capacity to do so.] (Tuhfatul-Ahwadhi bi Sharh Jami‘ at-Tirmidhi by Abul Ala Muhammad Abdul Rahman bin Abdul Rahim al-Mubarakpuri, Vol. 5, p. 79)

The two references quoted above clearly show that the Hanafi School holds the view that sacrifices are obligatory on all well-to-do Muslims and they have the concurrence of the Maliki School as well. But the other two Schools hold that sacrifices are not obligatory but according to the Holy Prophetsa, they are essential. I, therefore, need not say anything more on this point.

Are animal sacrifices essential even in modern times?

The question of whether sacrifices on the occasion of Eid al-Adha are obligatory on hajis and on non-hajis has already been thrashed out. Now I take the other side of the question viz., even if it is proved that sacrifices are obligatory on non-hajis as well, will it not be more judicious if, instead of wasting the wealth of cattle, goats and sheep the equivalent amount of money be distributed among the deserving poor or it may be utilised for furthering national schemes and projects. In principle it may suffice to know that to help the poor with a net amount is not a novel device of the modern age, this method is age-old long and was perfectly known to people of pre-Islamic days and it is well-emphasised in the Holy Quran as well. Now everybody can easily understand that when God and His Prophetsa instituted the system of sacrifices on Eid-ul-Adha there must be some good in it; otherwise where was the necessity of introducing a difficult and costly method instead of adopting a simpler and cheaper one.

The very difference between the two methods clearly shows that God and His Apostlesa had a definite aim in instituting the system of sacrifices. Nor can it be argued that God concerned Himself only with the needs of the time of the Holy Prophetsa and that He was not cognisant of the needs of modern times. He is Omniscient and nothing is hidden from Him neither new nor old. The reasoning becomes all the more convincing when we find that the Holy Prophetsa introduced the institution of fitrana (helping the poor with cash or kind on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr.) If he could introduce the fitrana system on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, why not introduce the same on the occasion of Eid al-Adha? Hence, it follows that the introduction of different methods of spending in the way of God on different occasions involves a definite aim that we may or may not be able to understand.

Pilgrims gathered at Mount 'Arafat

Can there be a substitute for animal sacrifices?

Some of the modern ulema, although their number is insignificant, are of the opinion that Islamic Shariah has allowed the hajis to keep fasts if they cannot afford the هدي (animal sacrifice). Similarly, non-hajis may offer money as a substitute for animal sacrifice. Moreover, they argue that if a certain haji may have some ailment of the head and might feel it difficult to get his head shaved during the days of Hajj, he may have to resort to a substitute whether it is a fast or charity money. At any rate, Islam has sanctioned the principle of a substitute and the same principle may, with advantage, be applied in the case of animal sacrifice. But all this reasoning is elusive because the ordinance contained in the verses quoted above pertains to Hajj and not to the animal sacrifices and one ordinance pertaining to a particular problem must not be indiscriminately applied to another problem.

Moreover, these ordinances are themselves proof that there is no substitute for sacrifices to be offered by the non-hajis. Whereas there is a substitute for sacrifices in certain cases, as well. But the provision of a substitute in one case and the non-provision of it in another, simply shows that there is no question of a substitute for sacrifices by the non-hajis.

The truth of the matter is that whereas sacrifices are obligatory in certain cases of Hajj, which is in itself one of the fundamentals of Islam, hence, in case the hajis are unable to offer a substitute, they have been provided for them in the Islamic Shariah but as sacrifices are not obligatory on non-hajis, therefore, no substitute is provided for them. Apparently, this is a very simple proposition and there is hardly any room for a sensible man to doubt it. 

Islam ordains sacrifices of life and property

We now pass on from answering the question in principle to the real answer which is as follows:

Our Shariah being universal, comprehensive and having been sent down by the Omnipresent God, aims at an all-round development of human nature and of the multifarious phases; two phases have been particularly emphasised by the Shariah, namely the phases which deal with the sacrifice of wealth and the sacrifice of self. Those two phases are, as it were, the roots which branch out into various smaller roots. Of those two phases, moral and spiritual, the Holy Quran says:

اِنَّ‭ ‬اللّٰهَ‭ ‬اشۡتَرٰي‭ ‬مِنَ‭ ‬الۡمُؤۡمِنِيۡنَ‭ ‬اَنۡفُسَهُمۡ‭ ‬وَاَمۡوَالَهُمۡ‭ ‬بِاَنَّ‭ ‬لَهُمُ‭ ‬الۡجَنَّةَ

“Surely, Allah has purchased of the believers their persons and their property in return for the Garden they shall have.” (Surah al-Taubah, Ch.9: V.111)

And in another place it says:

فَضَّلَ‭ ‬اللّٰهُ‭ ‬الۡمُجٰهِدِيۡنَ‭ ‬بِاَمۡوَالِهِمۡ‭ ‬وَاَنۡفُسِهِمۡ‭ ‬عَلَي‭ ‬الۡقٰعِدِيۡنَ‭ ‬دَرَجَةً

“Allah has exalted in rank those who strive with their wealth and their persons above those who sit [still].” (Surah al-Nisa, Ch.4: V.96)

Hence the spirit of sacrifice of life and property and the training and state of preparedness of Muslims for these sacrifices is the most important part of Islamic teachings and in fact, these are the two pivots on which the whole system of Islamic sacrifices revolves and most of the Islamic ordinances have been revealed to prepare Muslims for these two kinds of sacrifices which form the basis of human nature. If Islam had emphasised either the one or the other phase of sacrifices the Muslim Community would have looked half paralysed and half healthy and would have fared no better than a broken reed at times of national trials. In short, Islam has laid emphasis on both kinds of sacrifices to which the Quranic verses refer so that it may be pointed out that paradise can be obtained by offering both kinds of sacrifices and the progress of a nation also depends upon these two kinds of sacrifices. Hence the real aim of Islam in ordering animal sacrifices on the occasion of Eid al-Adha is to train the Muslims for the sacrifices of their lives and property in the way of God. This aim may be obtained in the following ways:

These sacrifices are reminiscent of the Great Sacrifice which Ishmael offered in the way of God both with his body and soul and as a result of which the Greatest of Prophets was born (peace and the blessings of God be on him).

Just as the animals such as goats and sheep, cows and camels, are the property of men and are sacrificed for his benefit similarly man, the best of creatures may in times of need be prepared to sacrifice his life for his God, his country and his nation; instead of proving a raw thread he might come forth to the forefront ready to sacrifice his all.

So that the sight of slaughtering the animals may weed out any sentiments of weakness, fear and awe that vegetarian nations generally develop in themselves. This is why Islam ordains the slaughtering of animals with one’s own hands or at least in one’s own presence so that one may have the courage to see the animal slaughtered. Imam Abu Hanifarh says that one should kill the animal with one’s own hand if one knows how to do it otherwise one should, at least, be present at the time of slaughter.

These are the three lessons which might be learnt from the animal sacrifices but it is a matter for regret that the so-called educated young Muslims of today, who are simply ignorant of the secrets of Shariah, are up to discontinuing animal sacrifices and are prone to look upon everything through coloured glasses and substitute them by cash distribution. In other words, they want to retain sacrifices of property but try to obliterate sacrifices of life so that by paralysing half the body of Shariah the whole spiritual and moral make-up of man be hopelessly destroyed in a manner never to be organised again. How aptly has the poet sung :

من‭ ‬از‭ ‬بيگانگان‭ ‬هرگز‭ ‬ننالم
كه‭ ‬با‭ ‬من‭ ‬هر‭ ‬چه‭ ‬كرد‭ ‬آن‭ ‬آشنا‭ ‬كرد

“I do not complain of the atrocities of my enemies, but I do complain of my friends, who are the sole cause of my distress.” (Ghazliyat-e-Hafiz, Ghazl 130)

A view of the Prophet's Mosque (al-Masjid an-Nabawi)

Islamic Shariah is for all times and it admits of no change at all

Another approach to this question is as follows:

When we firmly believe that the Islamic Shariah is from our Omniscient God Who knows best all human requirements and the ways of their fulfilment and when we believe that the Shariah is permanent, constant, and invariable it is none of our business to poke our nose (to bring about changes) in its commandments and thus make a toy of it for human brains, except when the Shariah itself concedes a certain amount of latitude in certain circumstances. For example, the Shariah requires Muslims to perform ablution before prayers but if water is not available or there is the fear or apprehension of one’s developing the disease one might perform what is known as tayammum; or, the Shariah requires believers to say their prayers in a standing position but it concedes them the latitude to say their prayers in a sitting position if they are unable to stand; or again, the fasts of Ramadan are obligatory on Muslims but if someone happens to be ill or on a journey, he may not observe fasts but postpone them till he has recovered from his illness or has returned home from his journey. Now all these forms are lawful and are a part of our Shariah. But no son of man can prove that a concession has been conceded in the case of sacrifices during the day of Eid al-Adha. But there is, as stated above, one concession even in the case of sacrifices as well when God says:

لَا‭ ‬يُكَلِّفُ‭ ‬اللّٰهُ‭ ‬نَفۡسًا‭ ‬اِلَّا‭ ‬وُسۡعَهَا

That is, only those are required to offer animal sacrifices who are capable of doing so. (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.287

As to the use of the meat of a slaughtered animal the Shariah lays down the rule that (1) it should be used by himself and his family (2) by his relatives and friends (3) by his neighbours and (4) by the poor and the needy in the neighbourhood. Just as your souls are jubilant over the prospects of a happy Eid, your corporeal frames as well as of those connected with you may partake of the pleasures of Eid.

It should be noted that whereas the worship of God and the service of religion require the application of both soul and body together, why then should the latter (body) be deprived of the share of the reward by the wise Providence. Besides emphasising the spiritual side of sacrifices, the Holy Prophetsa says:

أَيَّامُ‭ ‬اَلتَّشْرِيقِ‭ ‬أَيَّامُ‭ ‬أَكْلٍ‭ ‬وَشُرْبٍ‭ ‬وَذِكْرٍ‭ ‬لِلّٰهِ

“The days of Eid are the days of eating and drinking, besides the remembrance of God.” (Sahih Muslim)

[In other words,] the body should not be deprived of its proper share of a rich diet. Even the poor and the needy should be made to share of your dainties which you enjoy during these days.

The dearth of animals for food

Protagonists of the prohibition of sacrifices nowadays advance the argument that the partition of the Indian subcontinent has resulted in the increase of meat-eaters in Pakistan and the dearth of animals for food; it is expedient, therefore, to save the animals from the ruthless slaughter and destruction to which they are being subjected lest the famine of meat, as an article of diet, in the country, should adversely affect the animals of agricultural use and render the problem of food serious and intricate. Evidently, it is an important question and deserves serious consideration. 

As a result of the partition of the country, quite a goodly number of animals was destroyed and the increase of the Muslim population in West Pakistan has resulted in a corresponding drain upon the animal wealth of the country. Under the circumstances, the fear of the dearth of animals is quite understandable. 

But on deeper thought the apprehension would be found to be more imaginary than real; for those who offer sacrifices form only 0.333% of the whole population. The city of Lyallpur [now Faisalabad] for instance, being the centre of the textile industry, is one of the bigger and wealthier cities of Pakistan and the district of Lyallpur is perhaps the wealthiest of all the districts of West Pakistan. Now the facts and figures show that the number of animals slaughtered in Lyallpur city and its suburbs during the three days of Eid al-Adha was 17,000 in 1959 and the number of killed in the whole district including the town was 27,000 only. Now if the total population of the district be taken to contain 2,700,000 souls, the ratio of sacrifices per head is only 1% and if the rate of the purely rural population is taken into consideration, the ratio is even less than 1% because the number of sacrifices in the rural districts is insignificant as compared with those in towns. And it is an established fact that 90% of the population of West Pakistan lives in villages. The figures clearly show that if there are satisfactory arrangements for animal production as is the case in the advanced countries of the world, there is hardly any cause for alarm. But if there is no arrangement for increasing animal production against consumption then even the proverbial coffers of Qarun will not suffice.

We learn from the ahadith that if there are more than one person in a family who can afford to offer a sacrifice each, even then only one animal will suffice for the whole family. The words of the hadith are as follows: 

يَا‭ ‬أَيُّهَا‭ ‬النَّاسُ‭ ‬إِنَّ‭ ‬عَلَى‭ ‬كُلِّ‭ ‬أَهْلِ‭ ‬بَيْتٍ‭ ‬فِي‭ ‬كُلِّ‭ ‬عَامٍ‭ ‬أُضْحِيَّةً

“O people, every family must offer a sacrifice every year.” (Sunan Abi Daud, Kitab ad-Dahaya, Babu ma Ja’a fi Ijabi l-Adahi

This is why most of the doctors of law [fuqaha] have taken the family as a unit and some of them have gone to the extent of taking the extended family as a unit. (Kitab al-Fiqh ala Madhahib al-Arba‘ah)

Again it may be noted that during the days of Eid al-Adha, the usual practice of slaughtering animals is naturally stopped and meat shops remain practically closed for three days because there is sufficient meat for family needs in the house or it is sent as a present by friends and relatives. Hence if, on the one hand, more animals are slaughtered for sacrifice there is a natural stoppage on the other, so the difference is not very appreciable.

Islam

Limitations on animals of sacrifice

The Holy Prophetsa of Islam has laid down certain conditions concerning the selection of animals for sacrifice. For example:

  1. The age limit for the animal; 
  2. Milch animals are not to be slaughtered for sacrifice.
    • On one occasion a companion of the Holy Prophetsa was about to kill a milch goat for him when the Holy Prophetsa said, “You must not kill a milch goat”.
  3. A cow meant for sacrifice may be shared by seven persons and a camel by ten (persons), so that there may be no wastage of meat. The Doctors have laid down certain conditions for a man who is capable of offering a sacrifice; for instance:
    1. He must have a house of his own; 
    2. He must have a reasonable amount of property. 
    3. He must have gold worth at least 20 dinars (a gold coin) or silver worth 200 dirhams or he must not be in debt the amount of which may not be equivalent to his property, and again he must not be on a journey but staying at home.

Now in the presence of numerous limitations so wisely imposed by Shariah on the animals meant for sacrifice where lies the wisdom of interfering in a religious commandment which is so essential for the individual as well as national progress?

Again in the light of medical science and the science of animal husbandry a male (ram, bull or camel) is sufficient for a number of females for procreation purposes. If milch animals are carefully safeguarded and bulls are properly kept for procreation, then there is no real danger. Moreover, animals used for agricultural purposes are seldom killed by cultivators. Hence from whichever angle of view, we might perceive the supposed fear of the dearth of animal wealth in the country is only imaginary, not real. Now all these limitations notwithstanding, if the Government deems it necessary it may impose certain limitations on the slaughtering of especially useful animals in the interest of the country or prohibit the killing of animals on certain days of the week, as it has already done, but it will be on the safe side if it did not interfere in the religious commandments.

The procreation of animals is to be emphasised. Our Government, like other civilised governments of the world, may undertake several useful plans for increasing the number of animals. It is a fact that due to the cold climate of Europe and America as well as the comparative wealth of the people more animals are killed there than in Pakistan, and it may reasonably be asserted that a Westerner consumes four or five times as much meat as a Pakistani does but the dearth of animals has never been apprehended in the Western countries. This is because particular attention is paid to giving proper nourishment to animals, the procreation and curing of their diseases, but the majority of people in Pakistan do not think of anything better than interfering in matters of religion and thus preserve the stock of animals – a serious affair to which the intelligentsia of the country should pay particular attention in order to avoid both irreligiousness and the deterioration of economic system of the country. 

Islamic Shariah prohibits prodigality in the use of meat

It cannot be gainsaid that the Islamic Shariah has prohibited too much use of meat in order to protect the moral side of man and his faculties by a judicious admixture of meat, cereals, vegetables and fruits. Says the Holy Quran:

كُلُوۡا‭ ‬وَاشۡرَبُوۡا‭ ‬وَلَا‭ ‬تُسۡرِفُوۡا‭ ‬ۚ‭ ‬اِنَّهٗ‭ ‬لَا‭ ‬يُحِبُّ‭ ‬الۡمُسۡرِفِيۡنَ

“Eat and drink but exceed not the bounds; surely, He does not love those who exceed the bounds.” (Surah al-A‘raf, Ch.7: V.32)

In light of this injunction of the Shariah, it would be quite reasonable to put a certain control on the slaughter of animals without interfering in the Islamic commandments.

Summary

To sum up what has been told:

1. Eid al-Adha, as named by the Holy Prophetsa himself, is distinct from Eid al-Fitr and the very name of it suggests the purpose which underlies it. It has been instituted in commemoration of Prophet Ishmael’sas sacrifice of body and soul and as a result of which the noblest and the most perfect of human beings, the Seal of Prophetssa, came into being.

2. The Holy Quran itself has instituted the system of sacrifices in Islam as it says:

فَصَلِّ‭ ‬لِرَبِّكَ‭ ‬وَانۡحَرۡ

“So pray to thy Lord, and offer sacrifice.” (Surah al-Kauthar, Ch.108: V.2-3)

فَاِنۡ‭ ‬اُحۡصِرۡتُمۡ‭ ‬فَمَا‭ ‬اسۡتَيۡسَرَ‭ ‬مِنَ‭ ‬الۡهَدۡيِ

“But if you are kept back, then (make) whatever offering is easily available.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.197)

3. The Holy Foundersa of Islam not only emphasised the sacrifices to be offered on the day of Eid but actually slaughtered animals on that sacred day and declared that “a Muslim who can afford to but does not offer a sacrifice has no business to join in our Eid prayers.”

4. The Companionsra of the Holy Prophetsa followed the example set by him in this respect.

5. The consensus of opinion of Muslims of all shades is in favour of the legality of sacrifices. Moreover, the four doctors of law agree on the point that sacrifices are essential and obligatory on those who have the capacity to do so.

6. The suggestion that animal sacrifices should be replaced by pecuniary aid is nothing less than a heretical idea for it is tantamount to wrongfully meddling with the Islamic Shariah which originated from the divine source and was inculcated by the Seal of Prophetssa himself. Moreover, the substitution defeats the very object which animal sacrifices are meant to carry – viz. enliven, maintain and develop the spirit of self-sacrifice in the hearts of Muslims.

7. The apprehension that the injudicious slaughter of animals will cause famine in food production is unreal, for in the glorious past when the Muslims rolled in wealth no Islamic country ever experienced such a famine during the last 1,400 years. Why so now in Pakistan, when the percentage of sacrificers is negligible as compared with the non-sacrificers in the country and the Shariah itself has laid down so many hard and fast rules about sacrifices? There remains not the remotest possibility of the famine of animals provided the Government take the necessary steps for their procreation, their health and their maladies.

8. Moreover, Islam prohibits prodigal use and lays down instructions for an admixture of food which deeply affects the faculties and morals of Man.

The Holy Quran

Need for religiousness, piety and fear of God among the Muslims

Up till now, I have discussed, in principle, all the important phases of this problem but what the Muslims really stand in need of, is the love of religion, respect for the faith and eagerness for understanding the laws of Shariah. Without a thorough understanding of their faith, they cannot put up a brave defence against the materialistic tendencies of the modern age.

So long as the heart is sick, there is no use applying balm to the parts of the body. How beautifully the Holy Prophetsa says:

أَلاَ‭ ‬وَإِنَّ‭ ‬فِي‭ ‬الْجَسَدِ‭ ‬مُضْغَةً‭ ‬إِذَا‭ ‬صَلَحَتْ‭ ‬صَلَحَ‭ ‬الْجَسَدُ‭ ‬كُلُّهُ،‭ ‬وَإِذَا‭ ‬فَسَدَتْ‭ ‬فَسَدَ‭ ‬الْجَسَدُ‭ ‬كُلُّهُ‏‭ ‬‏‭ ‬أَلاَ‭ ‬وَهِيَ‭ ‬الْقَلْبُ

“In the corporeal frame of man there is a piece of flesh, which, if diseased, the whole body is diseased but if it is healthy and functions properly the whole body becomes healthy and all the parts of the body work harmoniously. Remember, it is Vinos the heart which is the fountain-head of all good actions.” (Sahih Bukhari, Kitab al-Iman, Babu Fadli Man Istabra’a li Dinih)

Curing and storing up meat 

Now I take up the question of curing and preserving of meat. The pre-Islamic Arabs used to preserve surplus meat by curing it properly. Islam, too, has not only permitted the use of seasoned meat but has laid stress on it. This is known as تشريق or the preservation of meat by the admixture of various spices, and the days immediately following Eid al-Adha are called the days of تشريق or of preservation of meat. The Holy Prophetsa says:

‏‭ ‬كُلُوا‭ ‬وَأَطْعِمُوا‭ ‬وَادَّخِرُوا

“Make use of the meat of slaughtered animals yourselves and also give it to your friends and relatives and preserve the surplus for future use.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Adahi, Bab ma Yu’kalu min Luhumi l-Adahi wa ma Yutazawwadu Minha)

The verdict of the Hanafi School of Thought concerning the meat of slaughtered animals is as follows: 

“It is desirable that the meat of the slaughtered to animal should be used by the slaughterer himself and by the poor and the needy in the neighbourhood and the surplus may be preserved; preferably one should distribute among one’s friends and relatives and be preserved for future use.”

In the presence of a wise teaching, as the above, there is hardly any danger of the wastage of animal flesh. The indigenous and elementary methods of the preservation of meat adopted by ancient Arabs may still be profitably used but with the scientific method called dehydration, it has become possible to preserve meat for a considerable time. This gives the Muslims an opportunity to develop a profitable industry or commercial lines and the Saudi Government may well be advised to carry on a new industry “in” wool, leather and preservation of meat by adopting modern scientific methods. The wise and comprehensive teachings of Islam dealing with all phases of human life fill the heart of a true Muslim with feelings of sincere gratitude for the Holy Prophetsa of Islam who brought down such a brilliant code of laws which provides for all sorts of human needs and requirements.

Putting a stop to animal sacrifice

The idea of putting a stop to animal sacrifice is due to distance from the time of the Holy Prophetsa.

Having proceeded so far with the subject I came to know that the same problem was raised as early as 1912 when the Turkish Government was involved in a War with the Balkan States and some of the modernised Muslims had suggested that instead of offering animal sacrifices for the Eid al-Adha the equivalent sum of money should be contributed towards the Turkish Relief Fund. 

A certain pleader writing in the Daily Zamindar of Lahore had appealed to the leading ulema of the Punjab to give their opinions on the subject including the illustrious name of Hazrat Maulana Maulvi Noor-ud-Din [Khalifatul Masih Ira], the then Leader of the Ahmadiyya Community. Dr Mirza Yaqub Beg of the Ahmadiyya Buildings, Lahore, sent a copy of the paper to Qadian and requested the Maulanara to write a few lines on the subject. Hazrat Maulanara wrote as follows: 

Reply of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Ira to a Shia scholar

“Money was urgently needed in the blessed days of the Holy Prophetsa as well as the Pious Caliphs but animal sacrifices were never stopped. Even the Shia doctors of law do not support the view that animal sacrifices may be replaced by contribution in cash towards charitable funds.” 

“True it is that we read in the Quran :

لَنۡ‭ ‬يَّنَالَ‭ ‬اللّٰهَ‭ ‬لُحُوۡمُهَا‭ ‬وَلَا‭ ‬دِمَآؤُهَا‭ ‬وَلٰكِنۡ‭ ‬يَّنَالُهُ‭ ‬التَّقۡوٰي‭ ‬مِنۡكُمۡ

“‘Their flesh reaches not Allah, nor does their blood, but it is your righteousness that reaches Him.’ (Surah al-Hajj, Ch.22: V.38)

“But the interpretation put forth by the Shia Alim Maulvi Abdul Ali is not correct; animal sacrifices are basically correct and must remain intact. 

“The difficulty is that Muslims do not ponder over teachings of the Holy Quran. Have they become so poor and destitute that they have ventured to obliterate the system of sacrifices? If they are so poor they might stop to pay the Zakat, may not offer sacrifices and may not spend on the education of their children. If they want to put a stop to sacrifices in the Indian subcontinent let them begin with Mecca. Let the Turks themselves stop animal sacrifices, the money collected for the Aligarh University might be advanced towards the Turkish Relief Fund. They may not spend so lavishly on marriages and deaths, let not the Turks themselves spend so lavishly on luxuries; let the Indian Muslims subscribe one rupee each and they will subscribe as much as 70,000,000 but they must not lay hands on the fundamental principles of Islam. 

“The poor Arabs of Tripoli are laying down their lives, let the Turks hold on for some time more.

قَدۡ‭ ‬اَفۡلَحَ‭ ‬الۡمُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ‭  ‬وَلِلّٰهِ‭ ‬الۡعِزَّةُ‭ ‬وَلِرَسُوۡلِهٖ‭ ‬وَلِلۡمُؤۡمِنِيۡنَ‭  ‬اِنَّا‭ ‬لَنَنۡصُرُ‭ ‬رُسُلَنَا‭ ‬وَالَّذِيۡنَ‭ ‬اٰمَنُوۡا‭ ‬فِي‭ ‬الۡحَيٰوةِ‭ ‬الدُّنۡيَا‭ -‬

“‘Surely, success does come to the believers. [True] honour belongs to Allah and to His Messenger and the believers. Most surely We help Our Messengers and those who believe, in the present life.’ 

“Sheikh Abdul Ali Harvi, the Shia scholar, has contributed an article in the Paisa Akhbar, Lahore, in which he has vainly tried to prove that animal sacrifices are to be offered only at Mecca during the days of pilgrimage and nowhere else. But suffice it to say that the sunnah of the Holy Prophetsa of Islam, the sustained practice of his blessed Companions, the doctors of law, the mujaddids of Islam and the general body of Muslims during the centuries cannot be belied by the novel interpretation of a Shia scholar.

“Noor-ud-Din, 10 November 1912, Qadian”.

Animals (sheep) grazing in a field, ready for Eid al-Adha Qurbani sacrifices

The fatwa or the verdict quoted above contains a self-evident truth and requires no explanation. The learned author of the letter regards animal sacrifices as an essential part of the Islamic Shariah and their stoppage in one form or another is an act designed against Islam – an idea which originates from want of proper understanding of the true spirit of Islamic teachings. Now, as to his criticism of those who seem to incline in favour of stopping animal sacrifices and who do not understand the true significance of the Quranic verse:

لَنۡ‭ ‬يَّنَالَ‭ ‬اللّٰهَ‭ ‬لُحُوۡمُهَا‭ ‬وَلَا‭ ‬دِمَآؤُهَا

[Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Ira] wants to bring home to us the subtle philosophy of the Islamic Shariah. Hazrat Maulanara means to say that every human action has an exterior as well as an interior side of it or in other words it consists of what may be called the letter and the spirit of it. The outward form of an action forms the letter of the action while the spirit of it is the essence or the philosophy of it which must be maintained at all costs.

As for instance, the Islamic commandment of prayer consists of the letter viz., the outward forms – standing, bending, prostrating and sitting etc. while the spirit of it is the goodness, purity and the dearness to God which He wants to create among the Muslims and which are referred to in the verse:

اِنَّ‭ ‬الصَّلٰوةَ‭ ‬تَنۡهٰي‭ ‬عَنِ‭ ‬الۡفَحۡشَآءِ‭ ‬وَالۡمُنۡكَرِ

“Surely, Prayer restrains [one] from indecency and manifest evil.” (Surah al-Ankabut, Ch.19: V.46)

And in a tradition of the Holy Prophetsa it states: 

الصّلاة‭ ‬معراج‭ ‬المؤمنين

“Prayer is the ladder by means of which a believer ascends to the heavens.”

Now, none would venture to say that the outward form of prayer should be left out while the spirit of it be maintained. The same explanation may be offered of the commandment about the animal sacrifices which is wrongly interpreted by some of the ulema

Their assertion is that the words:

وَلٰكِنۡ‭ ‬يَّنَالُهُ‭ ‬التَّقۡوٰي‭ ‬مِنۡكُمۡ

mean that we may not stick to the letter but should take the spirit of the words of the above verse. In other words, the animals may not be slaughtered but the equivalent sum of money may be utilised in another form as the needs of the time are. The inference, however, is baseless and quite against the idiom of the Holy Quran. If the inference is correct, what does the following verse mean?

فَكُلُوۡا‭ ‬مِنۡهَا‭ ‬وَاَطۡعِمُوا‭ ‬الۡقَانِعَ‭ ‬وَالۡمُعۡتَرَّ

“So eat of the flesh of the animals and feed him who is needy but contented and him who supplicates.” (Surah al-Hajj, Ch.22: V.37)

The study of the two verses taken jointly simply means that not only the letter but also the spirit of the commandments concerning sacrifices is to be observed by Muslims, so that they may not adhere to the letter only but also to the spirit of the commandment. But it does not mean that we should give up the outward forms of Shariah. The spirit of the commandment of prayer is ultimately the nearness to God and the avoidance of evils but who will dispense with the outward forms of it? The aim of fasting is turning to God and a developing disliking for worldly pleasures but who will like to give up eating and drinking before and after the fast?

The real spirit of pilgrimage is to create a sense of collectivism and centralisation but can we give up the outward forms of pilgrimage, the circumambulation of the Ka‘bah and the staying in the plain of Arafat. Without the outward forms, there is no prayer, no fast and no pilgrimage.

The fatwa or edict about animal sacrifices

In the end, I quote a fatwa by the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas of Qadian, the Holy Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community: 

A gentleman wrote to Hazratas at Qadian:

“I contributed a certain amount of money as my share of the animal sacrifice but my co-sharers refused to admit me as a partner on certain grounds. Now, if I send the same amount for the Poor Fund [Miskeen Fund] at Qadian shall I be entitled to have offered the sacrifice?”

To this, Hazratas replied as follows:

“You can be said to have offered a sacrifice only when you have actually slaughtered an animal. Contribution to the Poor Fund does not constitute a sacrifice. If the amount is sufficient enough for purchasing a goat or a ram, you may slaughter one. But if it is insufficient then it is not obligatory on you to offer a sacrifice.” (Badr, 14 February 1907, p. 8)

Now, as I have tried to elucidate all the phases of Eid sacrifices, I pray to God Almighty to guide my countrymen to the right path in the matter of sacrifices so that on the one hand the sanctity of Islamic Shariah may be maintained and on the other the economic apprehensions if any, may be averted by the mercy of God and the wisdom of those at the helm of affairs.

All praise is due to the Sustainer of the universe.

(Transcribed and edited by Al Hakam from the original, published in The Review of Religions, Vol. LIX, March 1965, No. III, pp. 96-93)


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