What does qurban (sacrificing an animal) mean? Why do Muslims sacrifice animals? What are the wisdoms behind it?
Qurban lexically means approaching. Thereupon, sacrificing an animal means to sacrifice an animal out of the goods that Allah gave in order to approach Him and attain his pleasure and consent.
Allah states the following in the Chapter al-Hajj: “It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah: it is your piety that reaches Him.” (22/37). Accordingly, it is understood that the real aim of sacrificing an animal is to fulfill the order of Allah and show that one fears Allah. It means we can sacrifice even our most valuable things if Allah asks us. The aim is to show that we can even sacrifice our lives just like Hazrat Ibrahim (Abraham) who decided to sacrifice his son, Ismail (Ishmael). In a sense, qurban means we can get rid of the feeling of loving worldly possessions and sacrifice everything for the sake of Allah.
The real purpose of qurban is to attain Allah's consent and to wish to approach Him. A person who sacrifices an animal approaches Allah and attains His consent through it. Sacrifice is also an example of social assistance and solidarity. In general, the poor eat most of the meat of the animals that are sacrificed. As it is seen, the understanding of approaching God and helping the poor exist in the essence of this worship. No matter what the fiqh decree about it is, sacrifice has had an important place for centuries in our religious life as a kind of worship that is a symbol and sign of Islamic communities.
The religion of Islam aims to make the individual attain spiritual wisdom and human virtues; meanwhile, it introduces some unifying and integrating commands and practices for the community. This superior characteristic of Islam becomes more apparent in financial kinds of worship with social dimensions like zakah, hajj and sacrifice. These kinds of worship have existed since the first days of Islam without undergoing any change and intervention in their general principles and essence in all Islamic communities and have been transferred to new generations.
The Wisdoms of Sacrificing Animals
1- Qurban lexically means something through which one can approach Allah. As it is understood from the word sacrifice (qurban) is an opportunity to be close to Allah and to gain His consent. The following is stated in the Qur’an:
“To every people did We appoint rites (of sacrifice), that they might celebrate the name of Allah over the sustenance He gave them from animals (fit for food). But your God is One God, submit then your wills to Him (in Islam): and give you the good news to those who humble themselves [The Pilgrimage (Al-Hajj),34 (22:34)].” In that verse, it is expressed that Allah Almighty commanded that decree in order to remind His slaves that He is the owner of all animals and that He offered them to human beings as an indication of His mercy and grace. Man, can fall into heedlessness and forget in the course of time that the real owner of his possessions and wealth is Allah Almighty, who gave him all the possessions as a grace. Like Qarun, he may think that he obtained all of the things through his own work, knowledge and ability; and he may start to appropriate the Divine blessings for himself and assume that he has a power and might. He may feel conceited and go beyond the limit. So, the command of sacrifice reminds him that all the possessions and commodities, vineyards and orchards, wealth and money are the bounties of Allah Almighty who bestowed them on him and that Allah is the real owner. He informs man that he cannot have anything without His permission and will. Thus, man gives up arrogance and becomes humble. He starts to behave like a real slave and tries to give thanks to Allah. And that behavior becomes an opportunity to approach to Allah and gain Allah’s consent.
2- Allah does not need sacrifice, nor does he need all of the other worship performed by man. However, with the command of sacrifice, Allah tests His slaves, measures their devotion and their attention to that Divine decree and their closeness to Him. The following is expressed in the Qur’an, Al-Hajj (The Pilgrimage) verse 37:
“It is not their meat nor their blood, that reaches Allah, it is your piety that reaches Him: He has thus made them subject to you, that you may glorify Allah for His Guidance to you and proclaim the good news to all who do good...”. As it is seen in this verse too, the purpose of sacrificing animals is sincerity, devotion and being close to Allah. The purpose is to remember Allah with the bounties He gave and especially to gain His consent. Unless those purposes and aims are intended, no matter how much meat is given away nor how much blood is shed, they have no value before Allah.
3- Sacrifice is also an opportunity to remind the salvation of Prophet Ishmael (peace and blessings be upon him) as a favor of Allah from being sacrificed. Allah, the Most High, tested Prophet Abraham (pbuh) and wanted him to sacrifice his only son, Ishmael. Both Hazrat Abraham and his son Hazrat Ishmael (peace be upon them) complied with that will sincerely. Hazrat Abraham laid down his son and started to slaughter him in the throat. However, the knife did not cut Hazrat Ishmael (pbuh). It was because the intention of Allah, the Most high, was not Hazrat Ishmael’s being slaughtered but to show and inform angels and people who will come till the end of time about those two noble prophets’ inaccessible submission and obedience, devotion and generosity. Because that wisdom occurred, Allah Almighty had commanded the knife not to cut Hazrat Ishmael. Instead of Hazrat Ishmael, He had sent down a ram to them from Paradise to be sacrificed. So sacrificing is a commemoration of that great and exemplary event.
4- Every year, thousands of animals are sacrificed by Muslims. It is, in a sense, a symbolic expression that a Muslim can sacrifice anything he has in order to worship Allah, comply with His command and give up anything he has for His sake.
5- The decree of sacrificing imposed by Islam is also a great bounty and mercy upon people. Poor people who have had difficulties and have not been able to eat meat for one year may have an opportunity to get a lot of meat to eat with the occasion of Eid al-Adha. Thus, the aspect of Islam that realizes social justice will be seen.