The Short Answer
Qurbani (from the Arabic word ‘qurb,’ to draw near, meaning spiritually to God) is ritual sacrifice of a designated cattle animal (a goat, sheep, cow, or camel). It is properly called ‘udhiyah’ in the Quran, from the Arabic word for ‘sacrifice,’ and names an act of worship done by the believer for the sake of God alone, openly demonstrating the Muslim’s gratefulness to God for (1) guiding His prophets Abraham and his eldest son Ishmael to the religion of perfect submission, and (2) teaching and ordaining for Muslims after them this original divine right of the primordial, or earliest, religion of divine submission.
In Islamic Law, most scholars categorize qurbani (udhiyah) at the completion of the yearly Hajj-Pilgrimage (on the specified days of celebration named for it, Eid Al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice) as an “emphatically recommended” teaching and practice of the Prophet Muhammad, on him be peace.
This designation, called sunnah mu’akkadah, a confirmed prophetic practice, is a degree less than an ‘obligatory’ duty). It means that the Muslim should strive to offer it, if at all he or she can, and that it is reprehensible if one has the means to it yet does not do so.
Scholars of the Hanafi school of Islamic Law classify udhiyah / qurbani as obligatory (wajib).
(For more on the significance of the udhiyah / qurbani animal sacrifice, see Why Is the Qurbânî Sacrifice Important in Islam?)
Should every Muslim offer Qurbani Individually?
No. Each household should do one sacrifice, according to the majority opinion that it is an emphatically recommended prophetic practice.
These scholars define a household broadly: all people living together in a single dwelling whose lives are financially intertwined and who consider themselves related in some way.
Most Hanafi legal experts go alone with this ruling, in terms of one sacrifice per household.
(For a detailed explanation of the rite and rules of the qurbani act of worship see What Is the Qurbani Sacriice?)
What if I do not have the means to make the Qurbani sacrifice for my household?
Islam does not impose upon people what they have no means of doing. Yet a head of household, or a household collectively, that has the means should make the udhiyah / qurbani sacrifice in its proper time.
The udhiyah sacrifice protects the integrity of your worship by showing your submission and reverence to Allah alone, keeping you free of blame for either negligence or wavering faith.
Can I donate my qurbani sacrifice to people elsewhere in need, or do I have to do it where I live?
Before answering this question (the answer is “yes”), let’s make note of a great practice of the Prophet, on him be peace, which we ought to revive, if we can. He did both, one for him and his household, on him be peace and Allah’s prayers of blessings upon his family, and one for his Ummah:
The Companion Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) said: “I prayed on Eid Al-Adhah 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)
So, you can designate your sacrifice for Muslims and others elsewhere, according to a notable number of modern and current scholars. In fact, these scholars say that one who lives in a condition or place of food sufficiency and even surplus and superabundance – as do millions of Muslims living in relative wealth in rich nations today – it is not only permissible but desirable to pay for the cost of one’s qurbani (udhiyah) sacrifice to be slaughtered and distributed where Muslims suffer great hunger, poverty, oppression, and displacement.
Even if one does his or her own sacrifice for a household, it is the practice of the Prophet, on him be peace, to distribute a third of the sacrifice meat to the needful, give a second third to neighbors and friends, and keep the last third for one’s family.
For bringing relief, joy, and fulfillment to Muslims everywhere on these Eid days of happiness and celebration is one of the udhiyah / qurbani’s prime purposes (the other being to keep alive the way of the Prophet, on him be peace).
As the one offering sacrifice, do I have conditions to meet?
Yes. There are certain conditions the one offering the sacrifice must meet – being Muslim, an adult of sound mind, not a traveler, and financially capable. And if you are doing the actual slaughter yourself, there are also conditions you should meet. If another is doing it on your behalf, he or she doesn’t have to meet these conditions. (For details, see (What Is the Qurbânî Sacrifice?)
Does the Qurbani sacrificial animal have to meet certain conditions?
Yes. It is a livestock cattle animal, full grown, without defect, and sacrificed after the Eid Salah in your community (or the community of sacrifice) is complete.
On what days can the Qurbani sacrifice be made?
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-Hijjah, the 12th month of Islam’s Hijri lunar calendar. Sacrifice may then proceed through Ayyam Al-Nahr, the Days of Slaughter, which they hold as the 11th and 12th of Dhu’l-Hijjah.
The Shafi‘i position, however, is that the Days of Slaughter are four, including Eid Day. This is based on the 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 an udhiyah / qurbani.
For a more examination of legal points about qurbani / udhiyah see Is the Qurbani Sacrifice (Udhiyah) Mandatory on Muslims?