The import of sacrifice

October 05, 2014 08:54 pm | Updated May 23, 2016 07:42 pm IST

The Festival of Sacrifice, Eid al-Azha, being celebrated on October 6, is one of the two most important festivals of Islam along with Eid al-Fitr. It honours prophets Ibrahim and his first son Ismail — the former for his readiness to sacrifice his son for God, and the latter for offering himself willingly in fulfilment of a vision which as per the Quran was a divine trial to put the submissiveness of prophet Ibrahim to proof. God accepted this great act of surrender but asked prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice an animal instead of his son. This became an established practice for later generations. However, the Quran informs Muslims that animal sacrifice is not a propitiatory ritual. For neither the blood nor the flesh of the animal reaches God. What matters is the humanitarian intent.

Real sacrifice lies in selflessly committing ourselves, as all prophets did, to the service of humanity in accordance with the universal value system revealed by the Creator. It is for this reason that Quran describes the sacrificial animal as hady , or a gift, to be given to the poor and the needy. But the Quran does not like people wasting natural resources ( israaf ) or indulging in riya’ (pretentious display). Hence, slaughtering animals beyond the required limit will not be in keeping with the Quranic spirit which can be observed by following Prophet Muhammad, who sacrificed just one goat for himself and his family, and allowed larger cattle to be shared by seven people. The Prophet’s example assumes significance in light of the finding that in developed countries meat is one of the largest contributors to the world’s growing carbon footprint. Although Muslims are not responsible for this, their slaughtering fewer animals in emulation of the Prophet would in itself be a great sacrifice for the cause of maintaining balance in nature which the Quran (55:9) does not want disturbed ( walaa tukhsirul meezan ).

A. Faizur Rahman

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