Al-Adha, Qurbani and the Message of Sacrifice

By Amer Haleem

The Meaning of Udhiya

The word udhiya in the Arabic language refers to the animal that is slaughtered on the day of Eid Al-Adha. The three-letter root dad – ha – alif, from which both Adha and Udhiya are built, means “mid-morning,” the time when our sacrifice for Hajj is supposed to take place, after the Eid Prayer.

In Shari‘ah, or Divinely Revealed Law, udhiya means the “ritual sacrifice” performed on specific days and fulfilling explicit conditions with the intention of coming closer to Allah, the prime Arabic name of God, the sole Creator of all being. Hence, anything slaughtered on other days for the sake of God is not an udhiya. Also, whatever we slaughter on these designated days of sacrifice that is not directly for the sake of God in fulfillment of the ritual of that day, such as a butcher slaughtering for sale, is not an udhiya.

The Injunction of Al-Udhiya

The sacrificial slaughter (al-udhiya) on the Days of Slaughter (Ayyam Al-Nahr, the 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th of Dhul-Hijjah, the 12th month of Islam’s Hijri lunar calendar) is something prescribed in Islam as part of the Hajj-Pilgrimage ritual. The 10th, which is Eid Day, is also known as Yawm Al-Nahr, the Day of Slaughter. The following three days are called Ayyam Al-Tashriq, the Days of Jerking (or drying out the slaughtered meat, traditionally in the sun, to preserve it).

The Quran (the Last and Final Divine Revelation to humanity), the Sunnah (the Way of the Prophet, on him be peace), and the Consensus (Ijma’) of the Ummah, or community of believers, all establish the practice of al-udhiya. This means that the tradition of udhiya, ritual sacrifice of Hajj-time, holds the strongest possible authenticity as a religious exercise.

As to the Quran, God states: So perform the Salah [ritual Prayer] for your Lord and slaughter [an animal] (Surat al-Kawthar, 108:2). This is a commandment to the Prophet, on him be peace, which makes it an injunction upon all believers, as this comes in a category of acts not exclusive to him in which humanity must follow him.

The proof from the Sunnah is that it was the established practice of the Prophet, on him be peace, his Companions, and those who followed them in faith to slaughter an animal (usually a sheep) on the Day of Al-Adha, the Day of Eid. There is a superabundance of reports of the Prophet, on him be peace, and his Companions making this sacrifice on Eid Day and commanding others to likewise sacrifice.

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 God for bringing one into existence.
  2. The udhiya is a revival of the primordial way of Abraham, on him be peace, Father of Prophets. The believer slaughters his or her sacrifice in remembrance of the epic patience that Abraham and Isma‘il (Ishmael in English), on them be peace, called up from the depths of their extraordinary faith (iman) in obedience to the arduous commandment and test of their faith from God. We, as believers, lay down our sacrifice in commemoration of the two of them, father and son, who laid down life itself in the person of Isma‘il ⁠— the first son of Abraham, given to him in his old age — in submission to God and belief in his Messenger-father. The father, Abraham, in his heart-breaking willingness to slaughter his beloved prophet-son as a sacrifice in submission to God alone, embodies for all time the epitome of true belief. The believer after him “remembrances” this cosmic moment in the history of humanity amid one’s own sacrifice by manifesting his or her will to follow upon their holy traces and to affirm their total and utter submission to the One God, without caveat.
  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 God 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 God for His immense favor upon us and for His raising of us above much of His creation.

How Udhiya Is Characterized in Law

The majority of scholars hold that the udhiya is a sunnah mu’akkadah, an emphatically recommended action following the Prophet’s way, on him be peace. This is also the opinion of two of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, God be pleased with them.

Their proof that it is not obligatory (fard) is the statement of the Prophet, on him be peace: “If the 10 (first days of Dhul-Hijjah) come in and one of you wishes to slaughter, then let him take nothing from his hair or skin” [Muslim].

The Hanafi scholars categorize udhiya in fiqh (Law) as wajib (obligatory) based on the previously mentioned verse of Surat al-Kawthar (108:2). Moreover, many of them who deem it wajib, obligatory, classify it is fard ‘ayn, obligatory for every one upon whom its conditions duly devolve.

Those who categorize it as recommended (mandub) hold that it is so for every household upon which its conditions duly devolve, not every individual. The definition of a “household” in this sense is people living together whose finances are intertwined and who are related in one way or another, even if they are distant relations.

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 who sacrifice to draw nearer to God in worship, and one must freely submit one’s will to God’s Will before one may act to draw closer to Him. From this intent of slaughtering an animal as a free-will offering presented as a demonstration faith and surrendering to God to “draw near” Him in worship comes the Arabic word qurban, from which the Persianate word qurbani comes, now also common among English-speaking Muslims, denoting the udhiya sacrifice.
  2. The slaughterer is a resident, not a traveler. The traveler is not obligated to perform the udhiya because it must be a sacrifice of an animal, and escorting 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 fowl, for example — even whole flocks of 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, God be pleased with him, said: “We performed Hajj along with God’s Messenger, God’s blessings and peace be upon him, and we sacrificed a camel on behalf of seven, and a cow on behalf of seven” [Muslim, 7, #3024].
  5. The sacrifice must be fully 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, chronologically the second Eid in Islam’s lunar year. However, it must be performed after the Eid Salah (Prayer), not before, as has become the errant 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 Salah for one to perform one’s sacrifice thereafter.

If one lives in a place where the Eid Salah 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, which 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 drying preservation, 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 has well-established avenues for udhiya sacrifice and meat distribution to countless needy Muslims throughout the world. You can send your offering of udhiya sacrifice in sadaqa (free-will charity) to the poor and oppressed of more than 40 countries here.