Misconception about Animal Sacrifice


By Syed Sharfuddin

This short essay is in response to an article printed in Al-Watan paper in Saudi Arabia and reprinted in Saudi Gazette two years ago on 20 August 2017 with the same title as above.


In this article the learned writer, Brother Abdullah Al-Alweet, discusses 4 points. These are summarised below:

1) It is a misconception that Udhiya (Qurbani) is wajib on every Haji. In his view it is obligatory only for those who own herds of cattle, as mentioned in Surah Al-Hajj (Chapter 20 verse 28) of the Holy Quran. 2) Performing sacrifice on behalf of the dead is a mistake. Even Prophet’s wives did not perform Qurbani on behalf of the Prophet after his death. 3) Performing Qurbani on behalf of each member of the family is not correct. 4) It is not established from the Prophet or the Caliphs that Qurbani must be performed every year.

The verse under discussion is as follows:

لِّيَشۡهَدُواْ مَنَٰفِعَ لَهُمۡ وَيَذۡكُرُواْ ٱسۡمَ ٱللَّهِ فِيٓ أَيَّامٖ مَّعۡلُومَٰتٍ عَلَىٰ مَا رَزَقَهُم مِّنۢ بَهِيمَةِ ٱلۡأَنۡعَٰمِۖ فَكُلُواْ مِنۡهَا وَأَطۡعِمُواْ ٱلۡبَآئِسَ ٱلۡفَقِير
[Translation: To attain benefits from them and invoke Allah’s name, in the specified days over the livestock Allah has provided them; and feed yourselves and also the poor.]
Note 1: Benefits refer to both wordily benefits and benefits in the hereafter.
Note 2: Specific Days are the day of sacrifice (Yomun un Nahr) and three days after in the month of Dhul-Hajj (Ayyam ul Tashreeq)
Note 3: Livestock refers to domestic cattle such as sheep, ram, goat, cow or camel.
Note 4: Poor include both the impoverished and destitute.

1.Animal sacrifice is not for everyone

Interpretation of Quranic verses requires complete knowledge 0f Ilm-ul-Kalaam. Anyone venturing to interpret the verses of the holy Quran for the public needs to have a thorough knowledge of the Tafaseer in Islamic resources especially if the interpretation is new and seeks to break away from a universally accepted meaning of a commandment. Brother Abdullah is not an Islamic Scholar or Sheikh or Mufti who has the required credentials to reject the prevalent meaning and give a new meaning to Verse 28 in Chapter 22 of the holy Quran. It is purely his personal view and he is entitled to his opinion offered in good faith. What is of concern, however, is that the article has been printed in a reputable Saudi newspaper. Muslims living outside the Kingdom who consider Saudi Arabia as the guardian of the Sunni Islamic faith could take it as the official opinion of the establishment and embrace it in their Hajj practice.

A survey of the Abrahamic Sunnah of Qurbani in other faiths reveals that the Jews abandoned it after the destruction of the Temple of Solomon because they believed that offering sacrifice of ram on Passover without the Temple was meaningless and that it should be postponed until the coming of the Messiah when the Temple will be rebuilt. In Christianity, a different view was taken, which was that the ultimate sacrifice was given by Jesus to expiate the sins of the children of Adam, implying therefore that crucifixion and ascension superseded animal sacrifice which was no longer necessary. In spite of this interpretation, some orthodox Jews and Christians have been performing Qurbani in some parts of Jerusalem. Only Muslims retained this practice because there is no room for improvising the Deen taught to us by Allah through the holy Quran and the Seerah of Prophet Mohammad, may Allah bless him and preserve him.

There are no references from the established books of Tafaseer and Ahadith supporting the claim that animal sacrifice is required only from those who have been blessed by Allah with the ownership of herds of cattle. The Hadith of Ahmad and Ibn Majah cited by Brother Abdullah is not limited to people owning herds of cattle but applies to all Muslims of means who can slaughter an animal once every year in the name of God. The Hadith is: ‘The prophet said whoever has the capacity but does not perform Udhiya (Qurbani) should not come to our prayer’, narrated by Abu Hurairah, radi Allah taala anhu.

In the tribal society of Arabia when Islam was brought to the people of Makkah and Madinah, sheep, goats and camels were the main source of a tribe’s or family’s social status, and a measure of its influence and wealth. A tribe’s or person’s net-worth was measured not by his bank account, portfolio of investments, real estate or stock market shares (because these did not exist then), but purely by the numbers of cattle one owned and traded. Slave trade was prevalent in those days but it was not for everyone. Those days of wealth, based on cattle ownership are long gone. Yet, Allah has established a criterion of wealth in this verse, which is that Hajj and Qurbani is obligatory on every Muslim who can afford to perform it. It is interesting that even today, car engines are graded at horsepower capacity, even though horses are no longer part of our modern transportation.

The verse mentions domestic cattle, which include sheep, cows and camels. It stands to reason that if the interpretation of the verse is what brother Abdullah would want us to believe, then there should not have been 7 shares in a cow sacrifice and 7 or 10 shares in a camel sacrifice, for it stands to logic that if one owned a large herd of cows or camels in ancient Arabia, Allah wound not want the sacrifice to be only one seventh of  the animal instead of the whole from a large herd.

Let us take brother Abdullah’s point to its logical conclusion. What would those people who owned such large herds have done with their cattle? They would have surely used them for transport, eaten meat and dairy products, worn woollen clothes and traded their cattle in the market to buy other things of daily use. Today a person who has the ability to perform Hajj also has the ability to do all this,- fly by planes, eat meat and dairy products, wear expensive clothes and purchase items of luxury such as stay in five star hotels, own houses, cars, iPhones and buy holidays. By applying the lifestyle of a cattle herder in the time of Prophet Mohammad, may Allah bless him and preserve him, to today’s average Muslim, Qurbani becomes wajib on every one who has the means to go for Hajj.

Islam is not a new faith; it is the final continuation of the Abrahamic faiths which preceded Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and preserve him. In the Judaic and early Christian faiths, we find evidence of households performing animal sacrifice through the priest. Islam freed worshippers from the stranglehold of priests and the requirement of dousing the blood of the animal at the altar of the temple, but it did keep the ancient tradition of animal sacrifice alive on the occasion of Hajj as the symbol of the sanctity of human blood (Ismail was replaced by a ram), repeating the life events Abraham performed around the Kaaba which is the focal point of Hajj and reinforcing the message all life belongs to Allah and only He can take it away.

2. Performing sacrifice on behalf of the dead is a mistake.
I would agree with brother Abdullah on the first part of his point but I am aware that some people offer Qurbani on behalf of the Prophet or two reasons: 1) In Tirmizi it is reported that Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and preserve him, told Sayidna Ali radi Allah taala anhu that after his death Ali should offer one sacrifice for himself and one on behalf of the Prophet. Secondly, it is reported that Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and preserve him, used to offer two sacrifices, one on his own behalf and the other on behalf of the Ummah. Therefore if being a member of the Ummah a person of means performs a Qurbani on behalf of the Prophet, I do not see any bidaa in it. Allah knows best.

3. Performing Qurbani on behalf of each member of the family is not correct.
I agree with brother Abdullah on this point. One Qurbani stands for one household and the earning member of the household should offer it for the whole family who live with him in the house.

4. It is not established from the Prophet or the Caliphs that Qurbani must be performed every year.

Abdullah bin Omar is reported to have said that the Prophet lived in Madinah for ten years and he performed Udhiya (Qurbani) each year. [narrated by Ahmad, 4935; Tirmidhi, 1507; and classified as as hasan by al-Albaani in Mishkaat al-Masaabeeh, 1475].  The two Eids are repeated every year in Islam, it stands to reason that the obligations of those Eids such as the morning Eid salat and special Ibadas associated with each Eid are performed uninterrupted. Although our Prophet performed Hajj only once, he did not stop Muslims from performing more Hajjs if they could afford it. Similarly, there is no Hadith, which specifically forbids Muslims from performing animal sacrifice every year.

May Allah guide us to remain steadfast on the straight path and save us from the guiles of Shaitan who is our permanent foe and the main cause of Adam’s exit from Paradise.

For a detailed discussion on the topic of Qurbani see

The Muslim Festival of Sacrifice: Origin, Evolution and Purpose

London 15 August 2019