Imam Zijad’s Corner: True Meaning of Sacrifice in Islam

When we hear a word ‘sacrifice’, we usually think of an animal sacrificed in the name of Almighty Allah, but sacrifice in its true sense means, ‘giving away something of immense value and importance for the sake of Allah alone.’

This something could be measurable like wealth, like time or could be immeasurable like feelings, opinions, likes and dislikes, pleasures and comforts, family ties or merely our own ego. For an act to be called a sacrifice, it must involve the giving away of something or someone we love most dearly and cherish wholeheartedly.

The ritual known to us as sacrifice (Qurbani or Udhiyah) has a body and a soul. Its body, or form, is the act of slaughtering the animal. Its soul, or the truth about it, is to generate in one’s heart the supreme feeling of self-sacrifice.

In Islam every act of ‘Ibadah has its body and its soul. Prayer has its soul, charity has its soul, fasting has its soul, pilgrimage has its soul, and the sacrifice has its soul, each distinct from the other. In short, to line up to the spirit of a particular ritual or act of worship, it is imperative to adopt the very form that Allah has ordained for it. Thus alone one can reach its soul. The very thing that Allah asks for sacrifice has to be sacrificed. The Qur’an is informing us: “By no means shall you attain Al Birr (piety, righteousness – Allah’s reward), unless you spend (in the Cause of Allah) of that which you love; and whatever of good you spend, Allah knows it well.”                                                {Al ‘Imran 92}

In Islam, the sacrifice stands for higher and nobler purpose and ideal. It nourishes and elevates the soul. It develops the personality of a person and refines his/her Nafs (inner-self).

As Muslims, we must know that the Hajj and sacrifice, as all rituals of our Din have the meanings. We cannot be lost in the external form of the rituals. We cannot neglect those meanings. We have to make our duties to be the duties of concepts not merely the duties of rituals.

One who does not realize what he/she is doing in these rituals and does not feel the spirit of it, for an example in Hajj, only brings back gifts from Makkah. The suitcase full, but ‘self’ empty! One who does not realize the meaning of sacrifice should know that Allah doesn’t need the flesh and blood of the animals which we sacrifice for this occasion.

Thus, sacrifice in Islam is nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else than a natural, visible expression of homage and gratitude to the Creator. It is essentially symbolic – an external symbol of an internal dedication and voluntary submission to the Will of Allah. Our Creator does not need anything from us. All acts of sacrifice and worship are for our own benefits.

The act of sacrifice is done only for Allah Who does not delight in flesh or blood as He says in the Qur’an: “It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah, but it is piety from you that reaches Him. Thus have We made them subject to you that you may magnify Allah for His guidance to you. And give glad tidings (O Muhammad sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) to the Muhsinin (all who do right).”    {Al Hajj 37}

This ayah points out on the essence, inwardness and real object and purpose of sacrifice in Islam. It teaches us the supreme lesson that it is not the outward act of sacrifice which pleases Allah but the spirit underlying it and the motive behind it. The flesh or blood of the sacrificed animal does not reach Allah; it is righteousness of the heart which is acceptable to Him. Allah wants and demands from us the offering of our hearts. It is, however, a mistake to think that because it is not the outward act of sacrifice but the motive behind it that really matters, the outward act is of no importance. True, the outward act of sacrifice is the shell and the spirit underlying it is the kernel and essence, yet the shell or the body of a thing, like its spirit or kernel, is of very great importance because no soul can exist without a body and no kernel without a shell.

In short, a sacrifice is acceptable to Allah only if it is accompanied by piety and sincerity. Though sacrifice is a symbol from Allah, it has been made plain that it is acceptable only if it is accompanied by piety ‘It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah, but it is piety from you that reaches Him’. This also means to denounce the ritual of the days of Jahiliyah, when Mushrikun (polytheists) took the flesh to the Ka’bah and smeared its walls with the blood of sacrificed animals. Islam purifies it from all wrong notions and practices connected with it and makes it explicitly clear that the act of sacrifice is an outward symbol of man’s readiness to lay down what we love for the sake of Allah and to surrender all his/her interests in the cause of truth and righteousness. This should be the true motive of sacrifice, and it is with this spirit that this act should be performed.