The Meaning Of Sacrifice

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By A. Faizur Rahman

01 Sep 2017

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The Festival of Sacrifice, Id-ul-Azha, is one of the two most important festivals of Islam along with Id-ul-Fitr. It honours prophet Ibrahim for his readiness to sacrifice his son for God in fulfilment of a divine vision, and his son (prophet Ismail) for offering himself willingly. This great act of surrender is celebrated by Muslims through the symbolic slaughter of an animal.

The Prophet sacrificed one goat for himself and his family. However, the Koran informs Muslims that animal sacrifice is not a propitiatory ritual, for neither the blood nor the flesh of the animal reaches God.

The original teachings of Islam do not equate the idea of sacrifice with animal slaughter, or expressions of formal religiosity. In 3:92, the Koran explicitly states that a person cannot attain true righteousness (birr) until he purposively gives away what he loves the most. One of the meanings of birr is ‘ampleness’, which in the context of 3:92 is a reference to the large-heartedness of a person, that is, the extent to which he is willing to sacrifice for a just cause something he himself needs.

An example of this is found in a Sahih Bukhari hadees that narrates how Companion Abu Talha after listening to 3:92 wanted to donate for the Prophet’s reform movement one of his prized date palm gardens, but on the Prophet’s advice distributed it among deserving relatives. This shows that real sacrifice lies in selflessly committing ourselves to the service of the underprivileged. In keeping with this humanitarian philosophy, the Koran describes the sacrificial animal as hady, or a gift, to be given to the needy. In the prevailing circumstances the best hady that Muslims could give (apart from the symbolic animal sacrifice) is the gift of education to poor children.

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