Presently, Muslims the world over, are commemorating the Sacrifice of one of the Great Messengers of Allah — Abraham (peace be upon him). Each year, this is commemorated on the occasion of Eid-ul Ad’haa, (Festival of Sacrifice).
Abraham (peace be upon him) was put through various tests and trials by Allah Almighty and he proved to be most dedicated, sincere and steadfast in all cases and at all times.
If we are to take lessons there from then indeed we find that, whilst he was chosen and selected by The Almighty, he was still put to test.
His determination and courage remained unresolved and he did not give up at all.
Interestingly, the peak of all these trials was when he was instructed by Allah Almighty to sacrifice his most beloved son Ishma’el (peace be upon him), for the sake of the Almighty!!
There are many misconceptions in the mind of many non-Muslims who fail to perceive the significance and wisdom behind acts of worship in Islam.
The sacrifice of an animal 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 Qur’anic reforms concerning this practice, and the continuance of sacrifice in the Muslim world, but also the context in which the Qur’an revelations occurred.
One only has to look at how the Qur’an treats this subject, to see a marked difference regarding sacrifice and whether or not Allah is appeased by blood. Actually, the Qur’anic account of the sacrifice of Ishmael, by Abraham (peace be upon them both), ultimately speaks against blood atonement. Allah says “ Then when (the son) reached (the age of) work (ie. maturity), he said ‘O my son. I see in vision that I offer you in sacrifice. Now see what is your view‘.
(The son) said ‘O my father. Do as you have been commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, to be of those who are patient.’ So when they both submitted their wills to Allah and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead for sacrifice We called out to him ‘O Ibraheem(Abraham)’ you already have fulfilled the vision. Thus indeed we reward those who do right. So this was obviously a trial, then we ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice.” (Ch 37 : V 102-107)
Notice that the Qur’anic version, quite different from the version in others scriptures, records that Abraham (peace be upon him) had a dream in which he saw himself slaughtering his son Ishmael. He believed the dream as being from Allah and by their (father & son) willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice : Abraham of his son; Ishmael of his own life — they are able to transcend notations of self and false attachment to the material realm, thus removing a veil between themselves and Allah, enabling Allah’s mercy to descend upon them as the spirit of truth and illuminate them with Divine wisdom.
As far as the yearly tradition has followed this event (that is sacrificing of an animal to commemorate Abraham and Ishmael’s great sacrifice) we must understand it and the Qur’an verses that pertain to animal sacrifice in relation to the time, place and circumstances under which these revelations were received and how people were trying to make the personal sacrifice by sharing their limited means of survival with the poorer members of the communities.
That is to say, the underlying implication of Islam’s’ attitude towards ritual slaughter is not 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.
Essence of the sacrifice
Further, Allah Almighty declares in the Holy Qur’aan: “It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah, it is your piety that reaches Him. He has thus made them (animals) subject to you that you may glorify Allah for His guidance to you and proclaim the good news to all who do right. (Ch 22 : V 37)
Thus no one should suppose that meat and 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 cannot be in our thoughts, but only for purposes of food do we take this life.
It is quite clear from the Qur’anic passages that the issue of animal sacrifice is in relation to the role animals play in the lives of humans — 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.
Remember, the heart that is filled with the love of material wealth will find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to benefit correctly from the ‘sacrifice’.