The True Spirit of Qurbani (Sacrifice)
In Islam, all that is demanded as a sacrifice is one’s personal willingness to submit one’s ego and individual will to Allah.
Islam’s attitude towards ritual slaughter is not that of blood atonement, or seeking favour with Allah through another’s death, but rather, the act of thanking Allah for one’s sustenance.
“`Eid Al-Adha” is at the doorstep, many rams, cows, camels, of course, are tied to be slaughtered. What is the concept of sacrifice in Islam?
Actually, there are many misconceptions filling the mind of many non-Muslims, who fail to perceive the significance and wisdom behind acts of worship in Islam. That is why addressing those misconceptions becomes obligatory in order to erase distortions about Islam.
“Sacrifice is not a pillar of Islam. We must look at the occurrences in a contextual manner, understanding not only the pre-Islamic institution of sacrifice, the Quranic reforms concerning this practice, and the continuance of sacrifice in the Muslim world, but also the context in which the Quranic revelations occurred. For it seems that with many people, both non-Muslims and Muslims alike, context is the key that they are missing.
What was the situation in pre-Islamic Arabia with regard to animal sacrifice? Not only did the pagan Arabs sacrifice to a variety of gods with hopes of attaining protection or some favour or material gain, but so, too, did the Jews of that day seek to appease the One True God by blood sacrifice and burnt offerings. Islam, however, broke away from this longstanding tradition of appeasing an “angry God.” The notion of “vicarious atonement of sin” (absolving one’s sins through the blood of another) is nowhere to be found in the Quran. Neither is the idea of gaining favour by offering the life of another to Allah. In Islam, all that is demanded as a sacrifice is one’s personal willingness to submit one’s ego and individual will to Allah.
One only has to look at how the Quran treats this subject, to see a marked difference regarding sacrifice and whether or not Allah is appeased by blood. The Quranic account of the sacrifice of Ismail ultimately speaks against blood atonement. Allah says: “Then when (the son) reached the age of serious work with him, he said: “Oh my son! I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is thy view!” (The son) said: “Oh my father! Do As thou art commanded: Thou wilt find me, if Allah so wills one practising patience and constancy!” So when they had both submitted their will to Allah, and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead for sacrifice, We called out to him, “Oh 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.” (As-Saffat: 102-107).
Notice that the Quran never says that Allah told Abraham to kill (sacrifice) his son. Here, it teaches us that Abraham had a dream in which he saw himself slaughtering his son. Abraham believed the dream and thought that the dream was from Allah. However, in Abraham and Ismail’s willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice-Abraham of his son, Ismail of his own life-they are able to transcend notions of self and false attachment to the material realm, thus removing a veil between themselves and Allah.
As far as the yearly tradition that has followed this event, that is, the sacrificing of a ram to commemorate Abraham and Ismail’s great self-sacrifice, we must understand it and the Quranic verses that pertain to animal sacrifice, in relation to the time and place circumstances under which these revelations were received and how people were trying to make a personal sacrifice by sharing their limited means of survival with the poorer members of their community.
That is to say, the underlying implication of Islam’s attitude towards ritual slaughter is not that of blood atonement, or seeking favour with Allah through another’s death, but rather, the act of thanking Allah for one’s sustenance and the personal sacrifice of sharing one’s possessions and valuable food with one’s fellow humans. The ritual itself is not the sacrifice. It is merely a method of killing where the individuals kill as quickly as possible and acknowledge that only Allah has the right to take a life and that they do so as a humble member of Allah’s creation in need of sustenance just like every other species in Allah’s creation.
Allah also says: “To every people did We appoint rites (of sacrifice) that they might celebrate the name of Allah over the sustenance He gave them from animals (fit for food). But your God is One God: Submit then your will to Him (In Islam): and give thou the good news to those who humble themselves.” (Al-Hajj: 34).
“This is the true end of sacrifice, not propitiation of higher powers, for Allah is One, and He does not delight in flesh and blood, but a symbol of thanksgiving to Allah by sharing meat with fellow humans. The solemn pronouncement of Allah’s name over the sacrifice is an essential part of the rite.”
Allah says further: “ It is not 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: 37).
“No one should suppose that meat or blood is acceptable to the One True God. It was a pagan fancy that Allah could be appeased by blood sacrifice. But Allah does accept the offering of our hearts, and as a symbol of such offer, some visible institution is necessary. He has given us power over the brute creation, and permitted us to eat meat, but only if we pronounce His name at the solemn act of taking life, for without this solemn invocation, we are apt to forget the sacredness of life. By this invocation we are reminded that wanton cruelty is not in our thoughts, but only the need for food”.
It is quite clear from the Quranic passages above that the issue of animal sacrifice is in relation to the role animals played in Arabian society at that place and time (as well as other societies with similar climates and culture), in that humans are commanded to give thanks to Allah and praise Allah for the sustenance He has given them and that they should sacrifice something of value to themselves to demonstrate their appreciation for what they have been given (which in their case was the very animals on which their survival was based).