What Is the Qurbani Sacrifice?

What do the words “udhiya” and “qurbâni” mean?

The Word Udhiya

In the Arabic language, udhiya refers to the animal that is slaughtered on the days of Eid al-Aḍḥa as an act of worship. The three-letter root ḍâḍḥaalif, from which both adha and udhiya are built, means “mid-morning,” in reference to the time after the Eid Prayer when our sacrifice for Hajj is supposed to take place.

The Word Qurbani

The intention of the udhiya act of sacrifice is to “draw nearer” to God in worship by freely submitting one’s will to God’s Will. From this intent of surrender to and faith in God to ‘draw near’ Him comes the Arabic word qurbân. The Persianate word qurbani derives from this. It is now also common among English-speaking Muslims, denoting the udhiya sacrifice. So, in this sense, udhiya and qurbani are interchangeable synonyms.

What do udhiya and qurbâni mean in Islamic Law?

In the 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.

Where does the command to sacrifice come from?

The sacrificial slaughter (al-udhiya) on the Days of Slaughter (Ayyâm Al-Nahr, the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th of Dhu’l-Ḥijjah, 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 Ayyâm Al-Tashrîq, 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 the tradition of udhiya, the ritual sacrifice of Hajj-time, holds the strongest possible authenticity as a religious exercise.

As to the Quran, God, states in Surat Al-Kawthar (108, “The Abundant Goodness”):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-Aḍḥa, 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.

What is the purpose of qurbani (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 (that is, the original, godly) way of Abraham, on him be peace, Father of Prophets. The believer slaughters his or her sacrifice in remembrance of the epic patience in God that Abraham and Isma‘il (Ishmael in English), on them be peace, called up from the heart of their extraordinary faith (iman) in obedience to the arduous commandment and test of their belief 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. Isma‘il demonstrates, moreover, his belief in his Messenger-father. While 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 them “remembrances” this cosmic moment in the history of humanity in the midst of 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 (a) due to the pain it causes animals or (b) 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.

Is the udhiya (qurbani) an obligation on every Muslim?

The Majority Opinion

The majority of scholars hold that the qurbani (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.

The proof these scholars cite that qurbani (udhiya) is not a compulsory duty (farḍ) is the statement of the Prophet, on him be peace:

“If the 10 (first days of Dhu’l-Hijjah) come in and one of you wishes to slaughter, then let him take nothing from his hair or skin” (Muslim).

This means that one intending to slaughter an animal in sacrifice in the days of Al-Aḍḥa should not cut his or her hair nor trim one’s nails, and the like. The legal point, however, is that the Prophet, on him be peace, presents his instruction as a choice for Muslims to sacrifice or not sacrifice.

The Minority Opinion

The Hanafi scholars categorize udhiya in fiqh (Law) as wâjib (obligatory) based on the previously mentioned verse of Surat Al-Kawthar (108:2). They, along with several other eminent scholars, including the jurists Al-Awza’i, Al-Layth, and Ibn Taymiyah, also cite two statements of the Prophet, on him be peace, as evidence for their position.

“Let one who has offered sacrifice before the [Eid] Prayer offer another sacrifice in its place. And one who has not offered sacrifice, let him do so in the name of Allah” (Muslim).

(This means that one is not to sacrifice his or her qurbani (udhiya) prior to the Eid Prayer, and one who does so must do an additional sacrifice after the Eid Prayer in order for it to count as qurbani (udhiya).

“One who has ample wealth to offer sacrifice but does not do so, let him not approach our place or prayer” (Ahmad, Ibn Majah).

Is qurbani (udhiya) done by each individual or per household?

A smaller group of scholars who hold the minority position that qurbani (udhiya) is wâjib, obligatory, classify this obligation further as farḍ ‘ayn, a compulsory duty for everyone who meets its conditions of requirement.

The scholars of the majority opinion, who categorize qurbani (udhiya) as recommended (mandûb), rule that this act of sacrifice is to be performed — not by each individual that meets its condition — but on behalf of every household that meets its stipulations of fulfillment. 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.

How strong is the recommendation to do qurbani (udhiya)?

The scholars of the majority, who classify offering sacrifice at the time of Aḍḥa as an emphatically recommended act of worship, or confirmed Sunnah (sunnah mu’akkadah), hold that not offering sacrifice at the time of Aḍḥa — when one possesses the financial capacity to do so — is reprehensible (makrûh). That is, it is hateful not to offer sacrifice if you have the means.

They cite two statements of prophetic proof in support of their position:

The Companion Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) said: “I prayed on Eid al-Aḍḥa with the Messenger of Allah, Allah’s peace and blessings upon him. When he finished [the Eid Prayer], two rams were brought to him, and he sacrificed them both. He said [at the moment of sacrifice]: ‘In the Name of Allah. Allah is the Greatest (Bismillah. Allahu Akbar.) This is from me, and from anyone of my Ummah who did not offer sacrifice.’ ” (Abu Dawud)

The Prophet, on him be peace, said: “Let any of you who wishes to offer a sacrifice take nothing from his hair or nails” (The five major hadith references cite such a report, apart from Bukhari).

So whether one takes the qurbani (udhiya) as an obligation or a confirmed practice of the Prophet, on him be peace, one who has the means should offer sacrifice in the days of Aḍḥa, safeguarding his or her worship, reverence, and willing submission to Allah, so as not to become blameworthy.

Do the conditions of obligation and sunnah mu’akkadah differ in terms of offering qurbani (udhiya)?

No.

Whether one follows the schools of Islamic Law that categorize qurbani (udhiya) as an emphatically recommended act of worship or an obligation, the one who makes the sacrifice must meet four conditions.

  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. As is widely known among Muslims, God has laid down the moral imperative that underlies this ethic for all humanity when it comes to faith:There shall be no compulsion in religion. For truly rectitude has been made clearly distinct from perversity (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:256). This means one must freely submit one’s will to God’s Will before one may act to draw closer to Him.
  2. The slaughterer is a resident, not a traveler. The traveler is not obligated to perform the udhiya, as 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 on one’s material capacity: “One who has ample wealth to offer sacrifice but does not do so, let him not approach our place or prayer” (Ahmad, Ibn Majah).
  4. (a) The slaughterer is an adult of sound mind. This is a condition according to those who categorize the udhiya as Sunnah.
    (b) Among those who deem it an individually compulsory duty, some hold that the udhiya must be performed on behalf of the insane and minor if they meet the bar of wealth, which they deem the equivalent of possessing niṣâb, a sum equal to 85 grams of gold ($4,869.65 at the time of this writing. See Niṣâb and Zakat Calculation in a Nutshell).

What are the conditions for a valid qurbani (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. The Companions were never reported to have slaughtered anything other than the above-mentioned animals for Eid Al-Aḍḥa. Thus, slaughtering of 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. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. (a) The sacrifice should be free of defect, especially as to its meat quality. The Prophet, on him be peace, said: “Four will not do for sacrifice: a one-eyed animal whose defect is obvious; a sick animal whose sickness is obvious; a lame animal whose limp is obvious; and an emaciated animal with no marrow in its bones” (Suyuti, Saḥiḥ al-Jami‘).
    (b) Lesser defects may not disqualify an animal, but any noticeable defect, like a severed or mutilated ear or missing horn, etc., is disliked. The principle is to honor the rites of God with a heart filled with reverence, which is demonstrated by offering only that which is wholesome and good to He Who is the All-Good and accepts only that which is good.
  6. It is forbidden to sell or exchange an animal selected for sacrifice, except for another that is better. The Prophet, on him be peace, said:
  7. It must be sacrificed after the Eid Salah, or Prayer, or on the subsequent days designated for it thereafter.

What are the conditions for the one offering qurbani (udhiya)?

The one offering the qurbani (udhiya) — whether male or female — takes on two (only) of the conditions of iḥram, pilgrim sanctity, like one making Hajj or ‘Umrah, for the person offering sacrifice is similarly hoping for God to ransom him or her thereby from Hellfire:

  1. One makes the intention to sacrifice an animal on the Days of Aḍḥa to draw near to God at the beginning of the Dhu’l-Ḥijjah.
  2. (a) One must not trim his or her hair, skin or nails. This is based on the Prophet’s statement, on him be peace:
    “If the 10 (first days of Dhu’l-Ḥijjah) come in and one of you wishes to slaughter, then let him take nothing from his hair or skin” (Muslim).
    (b) One does this as soon in Dhu’l-Ḥijjah as one makes the intention to offer sacrifice.
    (c) There is no fidyah, redemption fee, for one who does cut his or her hair or nails, but one must sincerely seek God’s forgiveness. Ssee What Is Meant by Fidyah for Making Up Missed Ramadan Fasts?)
    (d) O ne’s qurbani (udhiya) remains valid, even if one has cut his or her nails (and sought forgiveness)
    (e) The one offering qurbani (udhiya) must comply with these two conditions of iḥram, whether or not they are actually doing the sacrifice, whether male or female.
    (f) One simply doing the slaughter on another’s behalf need not comply with these two conditions of iḥram.

What are the time-restrictions of qurbani (udhiya)?

The Earliest Time of Sacrifice: The time of the udhiya in general begins at fajr (dawn) of Eid al-Aḍḥa, chronologically the second Eid in Islam’s lunar year. However, the sacrifice must be performed after the Eid Salah or Prayer, not before, as has become the errant custom in some Muslim countries and cultures. While it is permissible to sacrifice before the khutbah (sermon) that follows the Eid Salah, it is preferable to sacrifice after it. This is indicated by the previously cited statement of the Prophet, on him be peace:

“Let one who has offered sacrifice before the [Eid] Prayer offer another sacrifice in its place. And one who has not offered sacrifice, let him do so in the name of Allah.” (Muslim)

time of sacrifice with multiple eid prayers: 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.

sacrifice when eid prayer is delayed: 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, 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, even if the Eid Salah has not been held.

sacrifice when eid prayer is not held: If one lives in a place where there is no Eid Salah, for any reason, or during a time when Eid Prayer will not be held, then one can slaughter any time after sunrise.

when the time of sacrifice for eid prayer expires: The time of sacrifice ends, according to the Hanafi, Maliki, and Hanbali schools of Law, with sunset of the third day of Eid. That is, Eid Day occurs on the 10th of Dhu’l-Ḥijjah, the 12th month of Islam’s Hijri lunar calendar. Sacrifice may then proceed through Ayyâm Al-Nahr, the Days of Slaughter, which they hold as the 11th and 12th of Dhu’l-Ḥijjah.

The Shafi‘i position, however, is that the Days of Slaughter are four, including Eid Day. Other scholars join in this ruling, including Hasan Al-Basri and Al-Awza‘i. Their proof is the reliable statement of the Prophet, on him be peace:

“All the days of tashrîq (of laying out meat for drying preservation, jerking) are days of sacrifice.”

Any sacrifice outside these times is not a qurbani (udhiya).

What should one do with the meat of the qurbani (udhiya)?

The prophetic way when it comes to the Sunnah of the qurbani (udhiya) sacrifice has three aspects:

  1. Slaughtering: The Prophet, on him be peace, did his own slaughtering. So this is preferred. If one does not slaughter him or herself, then it is recommended that one be present during the slaughter, if possible.
  2. Eating: The Prophet, on him be peace, did not eat anything on the Day of Sacrifice until he slaughtered and ate from his own slaughter. This is not an obligation. It is a prophetic practice that becomes a preference based on the Prophet’s statement, on him be peace:
    “Let each one eat of one’s own sacrifice” (Suyuti, Saḥiḥ al-Jami‘).
    Also, the Companion Buraydah, God be pleased with him, said:
    “The Prophet, God’s blessings and peace on him, would not go out on the Day of Fitr [Eid al-Fitr, after Ramadan] until he had eaten. And he would not eat on the Day of Aḍḥa [Eid al-Aḍḥa] until he had slaughtered [his sacrifice].” (Al-Mishkat)
  3. distribution: The prophetic practice is to divide the meat of the sacrifice into thirds: one for one’s household to eat, one for gifts to near and dear ones, one to give in charity. It is forbidden to sell anything of one’s qurbani (udhiya). The Prophet, on him be peace, said:

“Whoever sells the skin of his udhiya, there is no udhiya for him,” meaning it does not count as a qurbani sacrifice.

Can one give of the qurbani (udhiya) in payment for its butchering?

No. Ali, God be pleased with him, said:

“The Messenger of Allah, God’s blessings and peace on him, commanded me to safeguard the sacrifice; to give its meat, skin, and coat in charity; and not to give anything of it as recompense to the butcher. He said: ‘We will give him something from what we have.’”

A gift to the butcher is, therefore, permissible.

Can other than Muslims receive of one’s qurbani (udhiya)?

Yes, including the poor, the relative, and the neighbor, or as an act of kindness opening another’s heart to Islam.

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