Young boy holding a sheep

Understanding Udhiya: The Ritual of Sacrifice in Islam

Posted by Mariya Collins on

Udhiya, also known as Qurbani, is a significant ritual in Islam that involves the sacrifice of an animal during the festival of Eid al-Adha. This practice holds deep spiritual and historical significance, symbolizing obedience to Allah.

Shepherd with flock of sheep at the break of dawn

The Origins of Udhiya

The ritual of Udhiya traces its roots to the story of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ismail (Ishmael). One night, through a dream, Allah commanded Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his beloved son, Ismail, as a test of his faith and obedience. As Prophet Ibrahim prepared to carry out this command, Allah called out to the Prophet, “'O Ibrahim! You have fulfilled the dream!' Verily! Thus do We reward those who perform good deeds, totally for Allah's sake only. Verily, that indeed was a manifest trial and We ransomed him with a great sacrifice (a ram); and We left for him (a goodly remembrance) among generations (to come) in later times.  'Salamun (peace) be upon Ibrahim!' Thus indeed do We reward the Muhsineen (good doers). Verily, he was one of Our believing slaves." (Surah Al Saffat 37: Ayat 99 to 111)

This event is commemorated during Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, which takes place annually, on the tenth day, in the Islamic month of Dhul-Hijjah.

Muslim family selecting a goat for Udhiya

The Practice of Udhiya

Udhiya involves the sacrifice of specific animals, typically sheep, goats, cows, or camels, during the days of Eid al-Adha. The process is governed by several key principles:

  1. Timing: The sacrifice is performed after the Eid al-Adha prayer, which marks the beginning of the festival. It can be conducted over the next three days, known as the days of Tashreeq.

  2. Eligibility: The person offering the sacrifice must be an adult Muslim of sound mind who can afford to do so without causing hardship to themselves or their dependents.

  3. Animal Selection: The animal must meet certain criteria to be eligible for sacrifice. It should be healthy, free from defects, and of a specific minimum age—usually one year for sheep and goats, two years for cows/buffalo, and five years for camels.

  4. Method of Sacrifice: The animal should be treated with kindness and respect. The act of sacrifice is carried out swiftly and humanely, with a sharp knife, while invoking the name of Allah. The person performing the sacrifice should say, "Bismillah, Allahu Akbar" (In the name of Allah, Allah is the Greatest).

  5. Distribution of Meat: The meat from the sacrificed animal should be divided into three equal parts: one part for the person performing the sacrifice and their family, one part for friends and neighbors, and one part for the poor and needy. This distribution ensures that everyone, including the less fortunate, can partake in the joy of Eid al-Adha.

Hands distributing Udhiya meat

The Spiritual and Social Significance of Udhiya

Udhiya is not merely an act of ritual slaughter. It carries profound spiritual and social meaning as well.

  1. Obedience and Devotion: The act of sacrifice symbolizes complete submission to Allah's will, emulating the obedience of Prophet Ibrahim. It is a reminder of the importance of putting our full trust in Allah.

  2. Compassion and Charity: By distributing the meat to those in need, Udhiya fosters a sense of community and solidarity. It encourages us to share our blessings and take care of the less fortunate.

  3. Gratitude and Reflection: Eid al-Adha is a time for Muslims to reflect on our blessings and express gratitude to Allah.

  4. Strengthening Community Bonds: The communal aspect of Udhiya brings Muslims together, reinforcing social ties and fostering a spirit of unity and mutual support.

Muslim man selecting a sheep for Udhiya

Conclusion

Udhiya is a deeply meaningful practice that encapsulates some of the core values of Islam: faith, obedience, compassion, charity, and community. As Muslims around the world come together to celebrate Eid al-Adha, the ritual of sacrifice serves as a powerful reminder of these timeless principles that guide our lives.

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