What is udhiya (sacrifice)?

Udhiya (also known as qurbân) is the slaughtering of certain animals to please Allah and the distribution of the meat among needy ones in accordance with the standards and examples shown by the prophets and practiced by financially capable Muslims.

Only physical property can be a qurbân. The message herein is clear: preventing the worldly items, which Allah granted humans, from distracting the inferior recipient from remembering and thanking the Superior Giver.

The qurbân embodies the teaching of “Do not become too attached to the world!” When one faces the dilemma of “Do I own my property or am I part of it?” the given concept enables us to choose the first part. In Islam, humans actually own what they give away, not what they possess.

When one realizes that the possession Allah granted is only a temporary entrustment, only then they are able to voluntarily part with it and become the true owner of that possession by giving it away for the cause and pleasure of Allah.

The wisdom of offering sacrifices to Allah is part of respecting the “hierarchy of beings” (“al-maratibu al-wujood”). Speaking about the sacrificial animals, Allah says in the Qur’an He has “made them subservient” to humans’ needs (Haj 22:36-37).

In other words: The human is on a higher rank on the hierarchy of beings. We know that throughout history the human turned this hierarchy upside down and worshipped animals; the Apis cult in Ancient Egypt is a case in point. The Lord of the worlds created everything on Earth for humans and created humans for Himself.

Thus, the qurbân is the human’s gratitude to Allah for appointing him a special status in the hierarchy of beings. Every time humans alter the hierarchy order, calamities befall them. Any such deviation ends with the “creation” of false deitiesand represents disrespect toward the hierarchy of living and nonlivingbeings ordained by Allah.

If said hierarchy’s order is distorted,one can say the human is brought to the sacrificial altar. From this perspective, by offering qurbân to Allah, humans not only realize their duties before the Lord of the worlds, but also clearly see their own high esteem and value compared to other living beings.

Did Prophet Muhammad institute offering sacrifices?

According to the Qur’an, the practice of offering sacrifices in the name of Allah is as old as the humanity itself: “And [thus it is:] unto every community [that has ever believed in Us] have We appointed [sacrifice as] an act of worship, so that they might extol the name of Allah over whatever heads of cattle He may have provided for them…” (Haj 22:34)

The Qur’an uses the adjective “qurbân” (“drawing closer”) to name the sacrifices made by Adam’s two sons for Allah (Ma’idah 5:27).

They wished to get spiritually closer to Allah by sacrificing that, which they have grown and produced with their own hands. While Abel sacrificed the most valuable portions of his possessions for Allah, Cain offered the least valuable items among his possessions.

This shows that Abel loved Allah more than anything else, while Cain loved his property more than anything else. Furthermore, because Abel was conscious that Allah entrusts humans with worldly items, he was an owner of such possessions; on the contrary, Cain was part of such possessions due to his attitude that worldly items are humans’ property. Abel was able to give up and sacrifice, for he owns wealth. On the other hand, Cain was unable to give up and sacrifice, because he was a slave of wealth.

Allah wanted to uproot the tradition of sacrificing humans practiced in ancient cultures. Allah is sending that message via the  father of prophets, Prophet Abraham: “Animals are sacrificed via slaughter. Allah has subjected them to human service.

That is thepurpose of their creation. Humans, too, can sacrifice themselves by devoting their lives to servitude to Allah.” From this perspective, each act of worship and every prayer that Allah wants from humans, which are written in His book, can be considered sacrifices for the sake of Allah.

That is why the Messenger of Allah said, “Salâh is a sacrifice” (see: Ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 14746). Of course, such sacrifices are not limited to salâh alone: giving alms, fasting, performing Haj and any other act of worship that brings us closer to Allah is a “qurbân.”

During the farewell Haj, Prophet Muhammad came to the place of sacrifices and slaughtered sixty-three animals with his own hands. He has done so as gratitude to Allah for each year of his life. He has eaten the sacrificed animals’ meat and drank soup made with the meat of those animals. By doing so, he refuted the “blessed animal” notion, which jahiliyyah (the era of pre-Islamic ignorance) came up with and produced no justification for (Ma’idah 5:103).

Those who lived in jahilliyah and persevered on it (by shunning Islam) created false deities, because they “inherited” the mindset of the People of Thamud who first declared a camel “Allah’s camel,” then deprived it of food and water; the Thamud were destroyed for their sin.

What is the purpose of offering sacrifice?

The purpose behind the act of sacrifice is the consciousness of responsibility: “Never does their [slaughtered animals’] flesh reach Allah, and neither their blood: it is only your Allah-consciousness that reaches Him.” (Haj 22:37)

While an animal is actually sacrificed, what does “your Allahconsciousness reaches Allah” imply? Just like a living being has spirit, actions that humans commit, too, have spirit, which is consciousness.

While a sacrificed animal’s flesh or blood does not obviously reach Allah, one’s taqwah to slay this animal for Allah’s sake alone is the consciousness in question.

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