Eid-al-Adha: Why it is Celebrated and the Reason Behind Animal Sacrifice

Abraham, a noble shepherd herded goats, cows, and other animals on his small ranch in Iraq. He had three sons- Ismail, Isaac, and Jokshan. Being a devout Muslim, Abraham shunned polytheistic religions and believed in the existence of one God (monotheism). He was faithful to Allah, and therefore, Allah had bestowed him with the gift of being a Prophet. One night, when Abraham went to sleep, he dreamt of God asking him to sacrifice his son, Ismail. Initially, Abraham thought that negative energies and demons were manipulating his dreams. But, when the dream began appearing repeatedly, Abraham sincerely believed that God was asking him to offer Ismail as a sacrifice.


Abiding by the wishes of Allah, Abraham took his son, Ismail to Mount Arafat where he would offer him up for sacrifice. Ismail requested his father to tie his hands and legs so that he could stay as still as possible. Then, Abraham closed his eyes and struck his knife on his son. When he opened his eyes, to his surprise, he saw Ismail standing beside him and a dead ram in his place. At first, he thought that he had committed some mistake during the sacrifice but, later, Allah’s voice reassured him that upon seeing his devotion and willingness to sacrifice his son to him, Allah performed a miracle and saved Ismail by replacing him with a lamb.

Eid- Al-Adha
Image by Milad Rafat. Source : Wikimedia Commons

From that year onwards, to mark Abraham’s faithfulness to Allah, Muslims all around the world celebrate Bakri Eid. Otherwise known as Eid-al-Adha or Eid-al-Azha (Festival of Sacrifice), this festival is referred to as the bigger of the two Eids (the other one is Eid-ul-Fitr).


CELEBRATIONS AND PRAYERS


Although Bakri-Eid has no correlation to the Hajj pilgrimage, it is usually observed a day after its completion. On this day, Muslims gather in their local mosques and offer animals for sacrifice. This sacrifice is a reminder of their Prophet Abraham’s devotion to Allah.


The practice of sacrificing animals is popularly known as Qurbani. Islamic scriptures mandate that the animal must be cut up into several parts. Each part has its own significance and use. For instance, one-third of the animal’s meat must be consumed by one’s family, the other third by one’s friends, and the remaining third must be donated to poor Muslims and those in need of food. To ensure that the ritual takes place in a safe manner, the animal which is sacrificed must be a healthy one and above a particular age.


The festivities for Eid-al-Azha are observed for three days. During this time, Muslims wear fancy traditional attire, greet each other with warmth, and exchange gifts. On the days of the festival, the namaz or prayers must be read out six times instead of the usual one. Muslims pay respect to their elders or family members who have passed away. Most importantly, Eid-al-Azha is celebrated with a large feast and huge gatherings of the Muslim community in local mosques.

eid-al-azha
Image by Mahmoud Khakbaz. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Not only is this festival celebrated with huge pomp in India, but it is also observed in a majority of countries in the world. Countries like Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Bangladesh, Turkey, and Pakistan, which have a dominant Islamic population, commemorate this festival enthusiastically. Normally, the day on which Eid is observed in each country differs because it depends on the cycle of the moon. Nonetheless, Muslims in these countries come together to mark their Prophet’s devotion and loyalty to Allah.


ANIMAL SACRIFICE: MINDLESS CRUELTY OR FAITHFUL DEVOTION?

Other countries such as Great Britain, the USA, Canada, and France, which have a significant Islamic population, celebrate Bakri Eid too. However, rules pertaining to the celebration and sacrifice of animals are more stringent in these countries. In recent years, Judo-Christian populations of these countries have raised their voices against animal sacrifice. Given this context, animal rights protection activists and organizations such as PETA have become involved in campaigning against this ritual. Activists cite that religious sacrifice is barbaric and promotes violence against animals as well as their unmindful slaughter. Moreover, they argue that the manner in which the sacrifice is carried out is unsafe and questionable.


Many Muslims have protested these claims and argued that sacrifice is integral to their religious tenets and is not barbaric. While Qurbani is not a pillar that Islam relies on, Quranic texts state that Abraham’s sacrifice serves as a significant reminder to followers to abide by God. Abraham’s story is not about the tangible sacrifice of any animal or human, but his steadfast devotion to God and willingness to serve God faithfully at all times. His story guides Muslims around the world to put Allah before everyone else and follow in his path.

eid-al-azha-animal-sacrifice
Image by Al Jazeera English. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Muslim scholars and interpreters have remarked that Allah never asked Abraham to perform a ritual sacrifice. It was merely Abraham’s dream that led him to perform the ritual. Hence, Islam does not promote barbaric sacrificial rituals. Rather, what the Quran preaches is that a person must practice compassion and share his means with those who are underprivileged. Therefore, on the day of Bakri Eid, Muslims sacrifice an animal and distribute it amongst those not privileged enough to perform similar sacrifices.


The sacrifice of animals also stems from pagan ritual practices. When human civilization had just taken birth, animals were an important part of their lives. They served humans as beasts of burdens and provided them with meat, milk, eggs, and other forms of nutrition. Finally, animals were also viewed as currency and often traded to obtain other produce. So when Allah replaced Ismail with a ram, he was asking Abraham, a shepherd, to sacrifice something that was invaluable to him. In this manner, the sacrifice of a goat or any other animal on Bakri Eid represents human beings’ readiness to sacrifice precious items to the Lord. During Abraham’s time, the sacrifice came in the form of an animal. Today, it is not compulsory for humans to show devotion by offering an animal. Muslims can offer countless other irreplaceable items to God to prove their undying devotion to Allah.

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Prerana Thakur

Pratha Content Writer

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