The Short Answer?
Qurbani is ritual sacrifice of an animal as an act of worship of the true and only God, the Sole Creator of all being. Muslims offer it at the completion of the Hajj pilgrimage (the religion of Islam’s Fifth Pillar of worship) on the days of Eid al-Aḍḥa, the Feast of Sacrifice. Qurbani solemnly commemorates our gratefulness to God for guiding His prophets Abraham and Abraham’s eldest son Ishmael to the religion of perfect submission, and, by extension, opening that original way of divine submission to all of us. (For a comprehensive understanding of qurbani and its rules see What Is the Qurbani Sacrifice?)
Why is the word "qurbani” used?
Abraham’s act of ritual sacrifice of a ram was a divine ransom for the life of his eldest son Ishmael. God originally ordered Abraham to sacrifice him as a test of faith for both of them. When both resolved to fulfill God’s command upon them, God accepted Abraham’s intention, and father and son’s symbolic fulfillment of it. He provided them a ram in Ishmael’s place and fully rewarded them for their incomparable submission in faith to Him alone. This tremendous act of willing submission to God’s divine will moved them incalculably “closer to God.” This is the literal meaning of the Arabic word qurbanah, from which qurbani comes: to take an action with the intention of drawing nearer to God. Qurbanah — a free will offering — is a term used in the Heavenly Scripture of Islam, the Quran, along with uḍḥiyah, referencing a “slaughtered animal” in ritual sacrifice. The word explicitly, in itself, describes what should happen when a slaughter as an act of worship takes place. It teaches us why we slaughter, and how it should be done — with a sincere intention to submit to the One God alone, and to “draw close” to Him. The Persianate word-form qurbani derives from the Arabic of the Quran, qurbanah. It emphasizes the intention of ritual sacrifice, “drawing near.” It is widely used in Urdu, Turkish, Bengali and many other languages, including, now, English.
What is the major significance of qurbani?
God tells us in the Quran the three most significant aspects of qurbani
- What, why and how our qurbani (uḍḥiya) should take place
- The spiritual value of the act of qurbani sacrifice
- The expected outcomes from the meat of the qurbani sacrifice
As for the charitable-offerings of camels and cattle at the Hajj-Pilgrimage, We have made the benefit of sacrificing them among the prescribed rituals and waymarks of Allah for you. In them, there is much good for you. So mention the name of Allah over them as they stand in ranks for sacrifice. Then when they collapse upon their flanks, you may butcher their meat to eat of them yourselves — and to feed both the self-restrained needy and the suppliant poor. Thus have We subjugated the sacrificial animals to feed you all, so that you may all give thanks to Allah. Never shall any part of their flesh nor their blood reach Allah. But rather, it is your devotion — inspired by the fear of Allah in you — that reaches Him. Therefore has He subjugated them to you, that you shall extol Allah, the Creator, for the blessing of faith to which He has guided you. So give glad tidings to those who excel in doing good (Surat Hajj, 22:36-37).
These verses highlight the principal worldly objective of qurbani sacrifice: to feed fresh, nutritional meat to the destitute in dire need, the hungry and starving, along with our own families
in remembrance of and gratitude to the One God.
So some of our qurbani sacrifice should reach the poor?
Yes. We see in the verses just cited that God tells us how to disburse the meat of our qurbani sacrifices. Feeding those in need, and our own families, is a clear priority. First, all members of the Muslim community must feel equally celebratory and joyous on the holy days of Eid al-Aḍḥa, the Feast of Sacrifice. The Prophet, on him be peace, specified this divine command in the Quran with clear instructions and examples of how to distribute our qurbani (uḍḥiya). Aisha (the wife of the Prophet, on him be peace) said:
“Some poor families among the desert dwellers came to Madinah on Eid al-Aḍḥa at the time of the Messenger of Allah, on him be peace. The Messenger of Allah, on him be peace, said [to Aisha]: ‘Keep with yourself enough meat for three days. Whatever remains, give in charity.’ Thereafter, [meaning in later years, the Companions] said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! The people made water-skins with [the hides of] their sacrificial animals, and they rendered [melted down] the fat from them.’ The Messenger of Allah, on him be peace said: ‘And what of this?’ They said: ‘You forbade us to eat the meat of our sacrificial animals after three days.’ He said: ‘I forbade you this because of the [poor] people who had come. Now, eat some, and preserve some, and give some in charity’ ” (Muslim, 3643, see also Bukhari).
How should we distribute the meat of our qurbani sacrifice?
It is strongly preferred according to the way (Sunnah) of the Prophet, on him be peace, that from one’s qurbani sacrifice, a person, whether man or woman, distributes its meat in equal thirds to three categories of people:
- The poor as charity
- One’s neighbors, relatives, and friends as gifts
- One’s own household in celebration and sustenance
Does one’s wealth affect distribution of the qurbani sacrifice?
- If one’s own household is in need, the slaughterer should keep most of it for his or her own household.
- If one has a relative in dire need and his or her household is not in need, one should give most of it to satisfy the need of that relative.
- If the one sacrificing and his or her relatives are wealthy, then one should give most of the meat away in charity.
Is charity at this time, with qurbani, of greater reward?
Yes. Dhu’l-Ḥijjah is the 12th and last month of the Islamic “Hijri” lunar year — one of four months the Quran sets apart as sacred, with Rajab (7), Dhu’l-Qi’dah (11), and Muharram (1).
Indeed, the ordained number of the months with God is 12 lunar months, as was decreed in the Preserved Heavenly Book of God on the day He created the heavens and the earth. Four of them are sacred — and that is the upright religion — so do not wrong yourselves or others in them (Surat Al-Tawbah, 9:36).
Voluntary charity, sadaqah, is one of the best acts of worship one can offer at any time, but especially in these days of Hajj, which God has designated as a sacred month. Charity ranks high among the good deeds one should do in this season.
Does Zakat Foundation do charitable distribution of qurbani sacrifice?
Yes. Zakat Foundation of America has a robust and renowned global qurbani (uḍḥiya) program. Zakat Foundation:
- Buys live cattle in 40 countries, or more, in advance exclusively for qurbani (uḍḥiya)
- Hires shepherds to pasture, feed and care for the qurbani animals
- Performs proper ritual sacrifice of the qurbani cattle — in accordance with the prescribed way of the Prophet, on him be peace — on the day of Eid al-Aḍḥa
- Butchers the qurbani (uḍḥiya) meat on the day of Eid al-Aḍḥa
- Hand-delivers the fresh qurbani (uḍḥiya) meat to families in great need and suffering from hunger on the day of Eid al-Aḍḥa so they can celebrate with joy, along with the rest of the global Muslim Ummah