The Feast of the Sacrifice for Muslims, meaning and significance

Abdelhak Bzioui

August 21, 2018

1- How many holidays are there in the Muslim religion?

The Muslim calendar includes two major holidays: the Eid Al-Fitr holiday “the feast of the break of the fast” which marks the end of the month of Ramadan and the feast of Eid Al-Adha, “the feast of the Sacrifice” which marks the end of the period of pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam.

2 – What is the meaning of the feast of the Sacrifice for Muslims?

Prophet Ibrahim, known as Abraham in the Christian and Jewish traditions, was commanded by God in a vision during his sleep to sacrifice his adult son, prophet Ismail (Ishmael). Quran tells the story as follows: “And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he (Ibrahim) said, “O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think.” He said, “O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.” 37:102. Since prophets’ visions or dreams are considered as direct inspiration from God, Ibrahim obeyed God’s command and took Ismail to a Mount known as Moriah. Just as he was about to slaughter his son, an angel stopped him and gave him a ram to sacrifice in place of his son. Quran records this event as follows: “We called to him, “O Ibrahim, you have fulfilled the vision.” Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good. And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice, And We left for him [favorable mention] among later generations: “Peace upon Ibrahim.” Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good.” Quran 37: 104-110.

In the Muslim tradition, Ibrahim, the father of prophets is named “Ibrahim Al-Khalil”, that is to say the faithful friend of God. “And who is better in religion than one who submits himself to Allah while being a doer of good and follows the religion of Ibrahim, inclining toward truth? And Allah took Ibrahim as an intimate friend” Quran 4:125. With due respect to the mismatch between absolute divinity and frail humanity, God took Ibrahim as an intimate friend. Yet, it is to him that God will make the most difficult test possible: to sacrifice his only son Ismail (may God be pleased with him), born of his wife Hajar (Hagar) in the name of his faith. It is more than sacrificing oneself; it is more than living a test of life, a failure, a tragedy, even a deforming accident; it is more difficult than separation, illness or the loss of a loved one. Ibrahim and his son united to submit to the will of God before being stopped by the archangel Jibril (Gabriel) and Ismail was replaced by a ram. Ibrahim had to choose between the love of God and the love of his only child, at that moment. Acting according to his status as one of the most determined of all prophets and messengers, he chose the love of God, the one who endowed him with his son Ismail in the first place. From then on, Muslims commemorate this trial of both loves by sacrificing an animal to cherish Ibrahim and Ismail’s faith and resilience in the cause of God and to stop for a while to measure their own faith and willingness to sacrifice against those of both prophets Ibrahim and Ismail. The latter bequeathed a cross-generation legacy of what true faith really means. Therefore, with every return of the feast of the Sacrifice, Muslims remember the story behind it and renew their willingness to sacrifice in the way of God and for the disempowered human beings.

3 – What is the status of the feast of the Sacrifice in Islam?

The majority of Muslim scholars believe that this is a non-obligatory tradition. In the Malikite school, mostly followed in the north African countries and in West Africa, the sacrifice is regarded as a prophetic tradition highly recommended for the Muslims who can afford buying the udhiya, the prescribed animal to be sacrificed. The Muslim does not have to go into debt to buy one. For the Hanafite school, however, especially in Turkey, the sacrifice is an obligation.

4 – How is the date of the feast fixed?

Muslim holidays are set according to the lunar calendar. The feast of the Sacrifice is celebrated on the tenth day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the lunar year, the day after the gathering of millions of pilgrims on Mount Arafat in Mecca.

5- Do Muslims celebrate the feast of the Sacrifice on the same day?

Theoretically yes, because it is Saudi Arabia, where the rites of the pilgrimage take place, which fixes the first day of the Eid al-Adha or the feast of the Sacrifice. The date of this feast, which marks the end of the pilgrimage and which is fixed by the lunar calendar, is known and confirmed only ten days earlier. That being said, for some countries like Turkey that have adopted scientific computing, the date is known in advance. In France, the French Council for the Muslim Community (CFCM) sets the date of the first day of the sacrifice always in line with Saudi Arabia. In Morocco, where seeing the crescent of every new month with the naked eye is still the tradition, the Eid is celebrated on the tenth of the lunar month of Dhu al-Hijjah regardless of whether it falls on the same day as Saudi Arabia or not. Generally, in the Islamic lunar calendar, the Eid falls on the 10th day of Dhu al-Hijjah. In the international (Gregorian) calendar, the dates vary from year to year drifting approximately 11 days earlier each year.

6 – At what time of day should the sacrifice begin?

The Sacrifice must begin in the morning of the feast day, after the special Eid prayer that begins about 20 minutes after sunrise. Any udhiya sacrificed before the Eid prayer is not considered a sacrifice, even if it remains halal and therefore fit for consumption. It is allowed to sacrifice day and night, but it is better to do it by day.

7 – How many days does the holiday last?

Eid al-Adha is a holiday that lasts 3 days. It is celebrated more commonly on the 1st day by families of Muslim faith, but it can also be celebrated on the 2nd and 3rd day following the special prayer of Eid held in the morning of the first day.

8 – What are the merits of offering the Sacrifice for Muslims?

Eid al-Adha is not a blood-stained slaughter day where Muslim, ‘thirsty for blood’, brandish their knives to rejoice around the butchering of an ‘innocent’ sheep, goat, cow or camel. It is ideally celebrating the utmost rank of faith and obedience to God achieved by Ibrahim, the first person to ever use the label ‘Muslim’. Secondly, Muslims sacrifice as commanded in order to perpetuate their gratitude to God who mercifully rewarded Ibrahim and Ismail with a ram from heaven to prove to humankind that God tries his servants to get the best out of them and to ultimately reward them, not to sadistically torture them. Thirdly, when Muslims offer their udhiya as a sacrifice following in the footsteps of God’s prophets, they consider themselves performing an act of worship. At-Tirmidi and Ibnu Majah narrated that Aicha said that the Prophet said: “it (udhiya) will come on the Day of Resurrection with its horns, hairs and bones, and its blood fall somewhere with God before it falls on the ground, so be pleased with it”.

From another perspective, as is the case with most Islamic ritual acts of worship, the feast of the Sacrifice has a significant social dimension.  Ideally the Eid is an occasion for solidarity within the Muslim community, especially towards those who cannot afford the udhiya. Narrated By Salama bin al-Aqua’ : The Prophet said, “Whoever has slaughtered a sacrifice should not keep anything of its meat after three days.” When it was the next year the people said, “O Allah’s Messenger! Shall we do as we did last year?” He said, “Eat of it and feed of it to others and store of it for in that year the people were having a hard time and I wanted you to help (the needy)” Sahih Bukhari Volume 007, Book 068, Hadith Number 476. Besides, it is an opportunity for bringing joy to households, especially children who enjoy the company of the udhiya when it is alive and then enjoy its meat after it is sacrificed. Last but not least, if we bear in mind that most households buy at least one udhiya, the micro and Macroeconomic benefits of the occasion become undeniable.

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