Al-Adha and the Meaning of Sacrifice

The Meaning of ‘Udhiya’

In Shariah, or Divinely Revealed Law, udhiya means the ritual sacrifice performed on specific days and fulfilling explicit conditions with the intention of coming closer to God. Hence, anything slaughtered on other days for the sake of Allah is not an udhiya. Also, whatever we slaughter on these designated days of sacrifice that is not directly for His sake in fulfillment of the ritual of that day, such as a butcher slaughtering for sale, is not an udhiya.

The Purpose of Al-Udhiya

While it is not possible to fully fathom the divine knowledge that underlies the udhiya, one can discern some of its purposes:

  1. The udhiya manifests, from the deep of one’s soul, one’s gratitude to Allah for bringing one into existence.
  2. The udhiya is a revival of the primordial way of Ibrahim, on him be peace, father of Prophets. The believer slaughters his sacrifice in remembrance of the epic patience that Ibrahim and Ismail, on him be peace, called up from the depths of their extraordinary iman (faith) in obedience to the arduous commandment and test of their faith from Allah.
  3. The udhiya is an act of open refutation against those who say it is unlawful for human beings to slaughter animals and eat meat due to the pain it causes animals or on account of human claims that God has designated certain categories of animals sacred as part of religious worship.
  4. The udhiya establishes that the most humane method of killing an animal is the stroke of slaughter that releases its blood flow.
  5. The udhiya is an overt demonstration that Allah subjugated the earth to humankind and made it moral for us to take the life of these designated creatures to fulfill our need as human beings. As such, it increases our gratitude to Allah for His immense favor upon us and for His raising of us above much of His creation.

Conditions of Obligation and of Sunnah Mu’akkadah

  1. The slaughterer is Muslim. The udhiya is not stipulated for a non-Muslim because the intention of its action is to cause those sacrificing to draw nearer to Allah in worship, and one must freely submit one’s will to Allah’s before one may act to draw closer to Him.
  2. The slaughterer is a resident not traveler. The traveler is not obligated to perform the udhiya because it must be a sacrifice of an animal, and the escort of an animal of sacrifice on one’s journey burdens one.
  3. The slaughterer is in a state of financial ease. The proof of this is the statement of the Prophet, on him be peace, conditioning the udhiya for “one who has ample wealth.”
  4. The slaughterer is an adult of sound mind. This is a condition according to those who categorize the udhiya as Sunnah. Among those who deem it an individual obligation, some hold that the udhiya must be performed on behalf of the insane and minor if they meet the bar of wealth.

Conditions for the Validity of Al-Udhiya

  1. The sacrifice must be of animals normally considered livestock, namely: cattle, such as cows, buffaloes, bison (bovine); sheep (ovine), goats (caprine), camels, and the like. Thus slaughtering of fowl, for example — even many chickens, turkeys, or ducks — does not count for udhiya.
  2. It matters not whether the sacrifice is male or female.
  3. The companions were never reported to have slaughtered anything other than the above-mentioned animals for Eid al-Adha.
  4. A sheep or goat counts for one person. Up to seven may share in a camel or cow. The companion Jabir said: “We performed Hajj along with Allah’s Messenger, and we sacrificed a camel on behalf of seven, and a cow on behalf of seven” (Muslim, 7, #3024).
  5. The sacrifice must be full grown, about six months for a goat, one year for a sheep, three years for a cow, and five years for a camel.
  6. The sacrifice should be free of defect, especially as to its meat quality.

The Time of Al-Udhiya

The time of al-udhiya begins at Fajr (dawn) of Eid Al-Adha, the second Eid. However, it must be performed after the Eid Salah or Prayer, not before, as is the custom in some Muslim countries. While it is permissible to sacrifice before the khutbah (sermon) that follows the Eid Salah, it is preferable to sacrifice after it.

If one lives in an area that convenes a number of Eid Prayers, it is sufficient for one of these congregations to complete its prayer for one to perform one’s sacrifice thereafter. If one lives in a place where the prayer is normally held but is delayed to the second day of Eid for any reason, or is not held at all, then the time of slaughter begins when the due time for Eid Salah on the first day ends, that is, after the sun crosses its zenith. If, however, one lives in a place where there is no Eid Salah, then one can slaughter any time after sunrise.

The time of sacrifice ends, according to the Hanafi, Maliki, and Hanbali schools of Law, with sunset of the third day of Eid. The Shafi‘i position, however, is that the Days of Slaughter are four, including Eid Day. Their proof is the reliable statement of the Prophet, on him be peace: “All the days of tashriq (of laying out meat for jerking) are days of sacrifice.”

Any sacrifice outside these times is not an udhiya.

Distribution of Meat

The Sunnah of al-udhiya is fulfilled by letting the blood of the sacrifice flow, that is to say, by performing the sacrifice. It is preferable, however, that one distribute a third of the meat to the poor in charity, give a third away as gifts to neighbors, relatives, and friends, and keep a third of the meat for one’s household. These meat portions should be of equal proportion, one-third each.

If one’s own household is in need of meat, the slaughterer should keep most of it for the household. If one has a needy relative and is not in need, one should give most of it to him or her. If the one sacrificing and his or her relatives are wealthy, then one should give most of the meat away in charity.

For these purposes, Zakat Foundation of America (ZF) has well-established avenues for udhiya sacrifice and meat distribution to countless needy Muslims throughout the world.