What Does the Quran Say About Udhiyah?

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The Quran teaches us of the earliest offerings people made to God, starting with the story of Adam’s sons — Cain and Abel in English, or Qabil and Habil in Arabic. In essence, these were the first forms of udhiyah (qurbani), though the meaning has come to change to refer to a more specific commemorative practice.

In short, the story goes that Cain and Abel both presented sacrifices to God, but only one brother’s sacrifice was accepted: Abel’s. Abel is known to have been more righteous in attitude and firm in his faith. He warned Cain that God only accepts sacrifices from the righteous. Envy led Cain to threaten Abel with murder, at which point Abel said he would not retaliate and kill, as the God-fearing would not murder for envy’s sake.

Relate to them in truth [O Prophet] the story of Adam’s two sons — how each offered a sacrifice: One’s offering was accepted while the other’s was not, so he threatened [his brother, saying], “I will kill you!” His brother replied, “Allah only accepts [the offering] of the sincerely devout.” — Quran 5:27

These days, we might refer to the sacrifices Cain and Abel presented as udhiyah or qurbani, referring to a specific act of worship meant to draw a person closer to God. But it’s not quite the same as the modern practice of udhiyah (qurbani) established after the story of sacrifice by the prophets Abraham and Ismail (on them be peace). In the Quran, God says that Abraham said:

– He later said, “I am leaving [in obedience] to my Lord. He will guide me.
– My Lord! Bless me with righteous offspring.”
– So We gave him good news of a forbearing son.
– Then when the boy reached the age to work with him, Abraham said, “O my dear son! I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you. So tell me what you think.” He replied, “O my dear father! Do as you are commanded. Allah willing, you will find me steadfast.”
– Then when they submitted [to Allah’s Will], and Abraham laid him on the side of his forehead [for sacrifice],
– We called out to him, “O Abraham!
– You have already fulfilled the vision.” Indeed, this is how We reward the good-doers.
– That was truly a revealing test. Quran 37:99-106 [verses separated via line break]

Put shortly, the Quran tells the story of the Prophet Abraham, whom God granted a son after years of trying to conceive a child with his wife. It goes on to explain the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice that child — his son, Ismail — in compliance with God’s command, and the Prophet Ismail’s willingness to be sacrificed as God commanded. Only after the two agreed and the Prophet Abraham tried to sacrifice his son was it made clear that God prevented this sacrifice, as the prophets’ intentions and willingness to act on it sufficed. 

And mention in the Book [O Prophet, the story of] Ismail. He was truly a man of his word, and was a messenger and a prophet.” — Quran 19:54

This is the Quran’s story of udhiyah — the story of qurbani. It’s what Muslims around the world commemorate in the days of Dhul-Hijjah, when they sacrifice sheep, cows and other livestock Islam deems eligible on Eid al-Adha. After this sacrifice, which Muslims perform early in the morning of Eid al-Adha, Muslims move to distribute portions of their sacrifice to their immediate families, extended families, friends and neighbors, and the needy. 

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