وَلِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ جَعَلْنَا مَنسَكًا لِيَذْكُرُوا اسْمَ اللَّهِ عَلَى مَا رَزَقَهُم مِّن بَهِيمَةِ الْأَنْعَامِ فَإِلَهُكُمْ إِلَهٌ وَاحِدٌ فَلَهُ أَسْلِمُوا وَبَشِّرِ الْمُخْبِتِينَ
And for every community We have ordained the ritual of sacrifice so that they may pronounce the name of God over the cattle which He has blessed them with because your God is one God; so surrender yourselves to Him. [But this will only be done by those whose hearts are bowed down before their God] and [O Prophet (sws)! Give glad tidings [from their Almighty] to these who bow down. (22:34)
In all the ancient religions of the world, the ritual of animal sacrifice has remained a great means of attaining the nearness of the Almighty. Its essence is the same as that of the zakāh, but it is not to be regarded as analogous to wealth; it is essentially a vow of pledging one’s life and is fulfilled by the animal we sacrifice on behalf of our life. Seemingly, this is like presenting ourselves to death, but a little deliberation shows that this death is the door to real life. The Qur’ān at one place says: وَلاَ تَقُولُواْ لِمَنْ يُقْتَلُ فِي سَبيلِ اللّهِ أَمْوَاتٌ بَلْ أَحْيَاء وَلَكِن لاَّ تَشْعُرُونَ (And do not say that those slain in this cause of God are dead; [they are not dead; in fact] they are alive, but you are not aware of [the manner they live]. (2:154))
At one instance, the Qur’ān by placing the prayer in comparison to life and the sacrifice in comparison to death has referred to this very aspect: just as the prayer is like life in the way of God, the sacrifice is like death in His way:
قُلْ إِنَّ صَلاَتِي وَنُسُكِي وَمَحْيَايَ وَمَمَاتِي لِلّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
Say: “My prayer and my sacrifice, my life and my death, are all for God, Lord of the Universe.” (6:162)
When Abraham (sws) was directed to sacrifice a ram in place of his son and to commemorate this great sacrifice make it a living tradition for the coming generations, the Almighty said:وَفَدَيْنَهُ بِذِبْحٍ عَظِيْم (And We ransomed Ishmael for a great sacrifice; (37:107)). The implication of these words was that the vow made by Abraham (sws) had been accepted by the Almighty and now generation after generation, people would commemorate this great incident by sacrificing animals.
Viewed thus, the sacrifice is the pinnacle of worship. When we make an animal stand or bow down in the direction of the Baytullāh and also direct our own face towards the House of God and present the sacrificed animal as an offering to God by saying: بِسْمِ اللهِ وَ اللهُ اَكْبَرْ, we are actually offering our ownselves to God.
This offering is the essence of Islam because the meaning of Islam is that one should surrender to God and submit his most prized possession – so much so, his own life – to Him.
A little deliberation shows that the sacrifice is a portrayal of this essence. When Abraham (sws) and his great son Ishmael presented themselves to God, the Qur’ān called this submission as “Islam”:فَلَمَّا أَسْلَمَا وَتَلَّهُ لِلْجَبِينِ (Then when both of them submitted and the father made his son lie on his temples; (37:103)). It is worth noting that in the above quoted verses of Surah Ḥajj the words فَلَهُ أَسْلِمُوا وَبَشِّرِ الْمُخْبِتِينَ very aptly point to this essence. The implication is that if our hearts are bowed down before our God then we should submit ourselves to Him because our God is one God. This is the very essence of sacrifice and the Almighty has made it part of the sharī‘ah so that people can especially express their gratitude to Him; therefore, no one should associate partners with Him.
(Translated by Shehzad Saleem)
. In case of naḥr, the animal is made to stand and in case of dhibḥ we lay it in the direction of the Baytullāh.
. Bukhārī,No: 5565; Muslim, No: 1966.