Why Muslims slaughter animals on Eid-ul-Azha? The Islamic ideology behind the sacrifice.

There’s a heated debate from recent years by animal activists and vegetarian/vegan groups on the utility and rationale of slaughtering animals in the name of Allah on Eid. As we recently passed the event, I thought it’s a good idea to bring forth the ideology behind the custom and why we call it a ‘sacrifice’.

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Islam is an Abrahamic religion which was refreshed, enhanced and completed by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the last of the prophets. The word Eid literally means festival- and correctly so because there are 2 events of Eid every year, Eid ul Fitr, which is a celebration after submitting yourself to the will of Allah for a whole month, and Eid ul Azha. Eid ul Azha literally means festival of sacrifice– we’ll look deeper into it ahead.

Eid ul Azha is a celebration following the sacred ritual of Hajj (pilgrimage) that every year, millions of Muslims around globe perform at the Holy Kaabah. Though it is NOT necessary for those only performing Hajj to celebrate Eid; in fact, it is incumbent upon all Muslims to celebrate Eid. The root of Eid ul Azha lies in the legendary sacrificial offering of Prophet Abraham to Allah- with which Allah was so pleased that to honor one of his most beloved and obedient prophets, He made it compulsory upon the next generations of Muslims/People of the book to commemorate Abraham’s gesture till the end of time.

In a nutshell, Prophet Abraham had a dream that he is sacrificing his son Ismail for the sake of Allah. Now as part of Islam, the dreams/visions of prophets were in fact, divine revelations/ orders. He woke up and narrated the dream to Ismail who never hesitated for a moment and coaxed his father to carry out the will of Allah. Iblees (aka satan, Lucifer, devil) appeared at 3 different spots on the Prophet’s way, disguised, trying to persuade him to stop himself but Abraham knew better. When the father-son duo reached Mount Arafaat, Ismail asked his father to tie him up so that he wouldn’t struggle and to prevent himself from watching his son give up life, Abraham blindfolded himself. After performing the sacrifice as Allah’s direct commandment, Abraham removed his blindfold only to find a dead ram lying down instead of Ismail, who was standing at a safe distance. Thus Allah had saved Ismail from the blade while fulfilling the ritual of sacrifice for His will. Abraham was told his sacrifice had been accepted. The story has 2 crucial teachings:

  1. Abraham and his beloved son Ismail put an epic example of unflinching obedience to Allah; an ultimate proof of their utmost loyalty no matter what it demanded of them. No wonder Abraham is one of the most revered prophets, mentioned as a “friend of Allah” in the Quran. It puts forth the kind of obedience we should display towards the divine commandments.
  2. TRUST ALLAH-  whenever you fully submit to Allah’s will and trust in His plans for you, let go- Allah does miracles for you. He does not want you to suffer or be melancholic. Life is series of ups and downs, a lot of tests thrown at us by God to bring out the best in us and to determine who is worthy of His mercy and a lofty station in Jannah (heaven). When you are loyal to God and trust Him as you should, you’ll see things work out in a way you could have never imagined.

Muslims around the world who are capable of affording the pilgrimage i.e. Hajj, financially and physically, are commanded to perform it at least once in a life. It is a sacrifice of health, worldly desires and wealth for the love of Allah. The sacrifice is done on the 10th day of the month of Zilhaj, marking the completion of Hajj. We’ll discuss Hajj in detail some other day, God willing!

About the animal sacrifice, the Quran says:

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It is a sacrifice in true sense because it is really expensive and difficult in most parts of the world to purchase healthy, defect free animals for sacrifice (goats, camels, cows) when all we all want is increase in wealth. When Muslims spend on these animals for the sake of Allah, they rid themselves of gluttony and accumulation of wealth for the sake of Allah. Later, post sacrifice the meat of the animal must be divided and distributed in 3 equal parts: for the poor and needy, for the relatives and for themself.

The true spirit of Eid ul Azha is obedience of Allah, offering your wealth for the will of Allah and sharing the bounty with the indigent of the society and your relatives, especially those who are less privileged. It is NOT animal cruelty by any means as there are specific rules regarding the treatment and sacrifice of these animals, as humane as it could get.

Hope it clarifies a few misunderstandings and enhances your knowledge of this Islamic ritual 🙂

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