By Linda Innes
The Muslim tradition of sharing sacrificial meat with relatives and friends, and the poor and the needy, occurs during the religious celebration of Eid al-Adha, or the “Greater Eid” or “Festival of Sacrifice”, which is observed annually from the 10th to the 12th of the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The significance of the sacrifice is a solemn reminder that the essence of being a Muslim is a lifestyle of complete and total submission to Allah, including a willingness to sacrifice most cherished belongings in obedience to Allah. This is inspired by the ultimate sacrifice Allah asked of Ibrahim, and his only and most cherished son Isma’el, to prove their unquestioning devotion and obedience to him.
As told in the Qur’an, this occurred when Ibrahim was 99 years old, and Isma’el was about thirteen years old. Ibrahim was considered a prophet, and it was known that Allah communicated his desires to his prophets through dreams. Ibrahim had recurring dreams that he interpreted as Allah’s request for Ibrahim to sacrifice Isma’el in his name. Ibrahim did not question Allah’s wisdom so he approached Isma’el with his intention. Isma’el agreed that Allah’s request should be followed, and the two willingly proceeded with the sacrifice in Allah’s name. Allah rewarded their devotion by replacing Isma’el with a ram to be sacrificed, and made it a requirement of all Muslims to commemorate Ibrahim and Isma’el’s complete submission to Allah through this annual observance of their sacrifice.
The sacrifice is made after the Eid prayer, also called Salat al-Eid, which includes a reminder to the Muslim community that it has responsibilities and obligations towards Allah, and that good works, kindness, mercy and generosity are to be shown towards their fellow Muslims and humanity as a whole.
There are rules of the sacrifice that must be adhered to. The animal to be sacrificed must be one of the cattle approved by the Sharia (either a cow, camel, goat, lamb, sheep, ram, or buffalo), it must have reached a required age, it must be free from obvious defects and in good health, it must be the possession of the person who offers it as sacrifice (not stolen, jointly owned or held as collateral), it cannot be sold or given away once chosen for sacrifice unless being exchanged for something better. The person offering the sacrifice must be Muslim, must not remove any hair or nail between sunset the day before Eid until the sacrifice is done, must do the slaughter with one’s own hands (or appoint someone else if unable to do so, but must witness the slaughter), with the intention of the offering being a sacrifice (this is an intention of the heart and not to be spoken aloud), and must pronounce the name of Allah at the time of the slaughter (this is done whenever an animal is slaughtered throughout the year as a reminder that Allah has given them power over animals and allowed them to eat meat, and that life is sacred). If these rules are not adhered to, the sacrifice is considered unacceptable. The sacrifice is then divided into three shares, one share each going to the family, to relatives and friends, and to the poor and needy.
One purpose of giving sacrificial meat is to ensure that no poor or needy people are left out of this sacred celebration; it also symbolizes the willingness to sacrifice something that would be highly valued, in order to strengthen the community and help the truly needy, in recognition that all blessings come from Allah. If a family is wealthy enough to pay Zakaat, they must also provide a sacrifice. If they do not keep livestock they can contribute to a charity that will provide the poor with meat; if they do not have enough money to provide a sacrifice they can pool their money with others in the same situation to fulfill this obligation.
Eid al-Adha: Meaning of “The Festival of Sacrifice”. Retrieved Jan 25, 2011 from About.com: http://islam.about.com/od/hajj/a/adha.htm
Hamid, A. A. (n.d.). Eid al-Adha: Festival of Sacrifice, A Commemoration of the Devotion of Ibraheem and Isma’el. Retrieved Jan 25, 2011 from Mission Islam: http://www.missionislam.com/knowledge/eidaladha.htm
Imam Siddiqui, A. (n.d.). The Significance of Eid. Retrieved Jan 25, 2011, from Islamic Society of North America: http://www.isna.net/Islam/pages/The-Significance-of-Eid.aspx