‘EID ul-Adha is best described as a joyous time of sacrifice, for over the three days of the Islamic festival, millions of Muslims worldwide will sacrifice – or “Qurban” – camels, cows, goats and sheep, the meat being distributed to the needy.
At SANZAF, its Qurbani share programme was fully subscribed, alhamdulillah, with the result that hundreds of animals were sacrificed from KwaMashu to Kwandebele in KwaZulu Natal, to Philippi on the Cape Flats. Furthermore, those in the impoverished areas of SADC, in Malawi and Mozambique, were also able to benefit.
Animal sacrifice is one of the oldest forms of devotion. We all remember the story of Nabi Adam’s son, Habil, offering a she-goat to settle a conflict with his brother, Qabil (who apparently sacrificed crops), on who should marry the most attractive twin sister. As the Qur’an relates, Allah accepted Habil’s offering because he was the more righteous.
Our Qurbani reflects that heritage through Nabi Ibrahim [as], who in one of human history’s most poignant moments, held a knife over the throat of his beloved son, Isma’il, with the very same hands he’d used to make du’ah for him to be born.
For Nabi Ibrahim, and a young Isma’il, it was not a question of their fears and desires – as much as they would have had them – but a question of obeying Allah, and Allah alone. Nabi Ibrahim [as] had already passed the test of the sun, the moon and the stars and the leaving of Sayyidah Hajr in the Bakkah valley, but now he faced a trial no other prophet had ever faced before.
Ibrahim [as] took the 12-year old Isma’il to a place near Mina, outside Makkah. Some Hadith say that the knife refused to move, telling Ibrahim [as] it could not cut the throat of the ancestor of Muhammad [SAW]; other Hadith, and the Holy Book, tell us that Allah, in His Mercy, provided a ram to be sacrificed instead. The old scholars of Makkah once told me that the horns of this ram used to be displayed in the Ka’bah.
As we all know, the Qurban is part of the Hajj rituals – and of course – a vital component of ‘Eid ul-Adha for those outside the Hajj. Indeed, the scholars say that there is great boon, tremendous mercy and healing for those who sacrifice. They describe Qurban as a “natural expression of homage, a sign of gratitude and a display of submission” for which Allah honours the faithfulness of the sacrificer.
There are also traditions that state when a child is given the ‘aqiqah – a recommended Sunnah after birth – the sacrificed animal will carry that person over the Sirat ul-Mustaqim, the narrow path over the pit of hell, into Jannah after Judgement Day. I have seen historical pictures of these animals decorated with saddles, and dressed up with great finery to honour the occasion.
On ‘Eid day I attended a small Qurbani at a private home in Cape Town. Held in a picturesque backyard, only five sheep were sacrificed. It was quite a while since I’d last attended a Qurbani, and it proved to be a dignified, moving and intimate occasion, as the one animal was Qurban-ed for my son.
As it was brought before us, I couldn’t help seeing the submission of Isma’il in the eyes of the black-headed ewe. Then great calmness, and dignity, was afforded by the takbir…”Allahu Akbar…Allahu Akbar” recited in the drawn-out, melodic style of the Cape, which calmed the animal.
I witnessed the compassion of the knife-men as they gave the animal water, and held it down without struggle. What moved me profoundly was the respect we have to show to the animal, as a Creation of Allah. That Allah had put sheep and cattle on this earth for our use. That there was so much barakah in this animal, from its skin to its meat. That we were part of it.
As we walked back to the car, it reminded me of the verse of sacrifice in Surat ul-Hajj:
“…So invoke God’s name over them as you line them up for slaughter, and when they have fallen down dead, feed yourselves and feed the needy – those who do not ask as well as those who do. We have thus subjected them to you so that you may be grateful…”