We know Qurbani, or Udhiya as it is referred to in Arabic, as the practice of slaughtering an animal as an offering to Allah (swt). Through his act we commemorate the sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim (as) and mark the completion of the annual Hajj pilgrimage:
‘And when his son was old enough to walk alongside him, Ibrahim said, "O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think". Ismail said, "O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast". And when they had both submitted and he put him down upon his forehead, We called to him, "O Ibraham, you have fulfilled the vision". Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good. Indeed, this was the clear test. And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice (a ram) and We left for him [favourable mention] among later generations: "Peace upon Ibraham". Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good’. (Qur’an 37:102-110)
However, the literal translation of the word, ‘Qurbani’, shows us what the feast of sacrifice really means to us as Muslims. The word ‘Qurbani’ is derived from the Arabic, ‘qurban’, which has its root in, ‘qurb’, meaning, ‘nearness’. The purpose of offering the qurban is to attain nearness to Allah (swt). The act of Qurbani encompasses the very essence of Islam; submission to the will of Allah (swt) and the willingness to sacrifice whatever is asked of us to achieve closeness to Him, just as Prophet Ibrahim (as) demonstrated so many centuries earlier.
The First Sacrifice in the History of Islam
Although we commemorate Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail (as) each Eid, sacrifice in the way of Allah (swt) actually predates Ibrahim (as). The sons of Adam (as), the first man on Earth, were the first to offer sacrifice. Habil and Qabil both offered sacrifices to Allah (swt), but only Habil’s sacrifice was accepted. Why was this? Well, Habil’s Qurbani was accepted simply on account of his piety and righteousness whereas Qabil’s was rejected because of his lack of piety and the ill thoughts he harboured towards his brother:
‘And recite to them the story of Adam's two sons, in truth, when they both offered a sacrifice (to Allah), and it was accepted from one of them but was not accepted from the other. Said (the latter), "I will surely kill you." Said (the former), "Indeed, Allah only accepts from the righteous (who fear Him)’. (Qur’an 5:27)
Whilst Habil offered his sacrifice with a sincere intention to be closer to Allah (swt), Qabil’s intention was driven by arrogance and the envy of his brother. This story teaches us about what Qurbani really is. As the Qur’an tells us, ‘Their meat will not reach Allah, nor will their blood, but what reaches Him is piety from you’ (Quran 22:37) From this we understand that the deeper purpose of this act is to strengthen our iman and our love of Allah (swt) by showing our sincere willingness to sacrifice anything of this dunya to attain closeness to Him.
What Happens on Qurbani?
The sacrifice is performed before the first Eid salah. Then, it is ideally divided up into three parts; one for the home, one for relatives and friends and one for the poor and needy. By sharing the meat from the qurban, we are reminded of our duties towards our family and neighbours as well as towards the wider ummah, ‘The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong’ (Qur’an 9:71). Nowadays, many in the UK and Europe instruct their sacrifice to be performed in poorer communities abroad meaning that all the meat from the Qurban will be distributed amongst those of the Ummah who are in the greatest need.
How Many Animals Should Be Sacrificed?
The Hanafi school states that every adult eligible to pay Zakat should fulfill the obligation of Qurbani whereas the Maliki and Hanbali schools purport that the Qurbani is prescribed per household. All schools are agreed that offering a share (1/7th) of a large animal such as a cow or camel, is equal to sacrificing a smaller animal such as a sheep or goat).