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Last Updated: 2012/03/08
Summary of question
Why do Muslims slaughter sheep and other animals in their religious gatherings?
question
Why is it that in all of our religious gatherings, like hajj, we slaughter animals? Can we not celebrate these occasions by freeing an animal instead of slaughtering one?!
Concise answer

Man is the loftiest of creatures and God has created everything else in the world, including animals, for him so that he can benefit from them (use their meat, a means of transportation, etc.).  Slaughtering animals on happy occasions and religious gatherings has been encouraged by religious teachings. Considering the monetary value of animals that can be slaughtered (like cows, camels and sheep), to do so is a way of pleasing God by giving our wealth in His path. On the other hand, by doing so, a group of poor people will be provided with food to eat and, when carried out in high quantities, it can be a means of enhancing their economic situation. If there were no hungry or poor people that were in need of this food, it would seem cruel to slaughter animals, but when there are people starving and in urgent need of food, it does not make sense to feel sorry for the animal and turn a blind eye to the people that may die from hunger.

Moreover, such gatherings are a great opportunity to think of the blessing that God has granted man, to thank Him and try to get closer to Him. The philosophy behind giving the meat as charity to poor people is a way of thanking God for His blessings. Nevertheless, Islam has not encouraged such a thing for all gatherings and Muslims must take into consideration the situation to see if it is appropriate to do such a thing.

Detailed Answer

From an Islamic point of view, man is the loftiest of God’s creations, and everything else was created for him to reach perfection. The Quran says: “It is He who created for you all that is in the earth, then He turned to the heaven…”[1] In other words, God has created everything in this world to fulfill the needs of man. This includes animals about which the Quran says: “O you who have faith! Keep your agreements. You are permitted animals of grazing livestock, except what is [now] announced to you, disallowing game while you are in pilgrim sanctity. Indeed Allah decrees whatever He desires.”[2]

Slaughtering animals and giving their meat to the poor has been encouraged by Islamic teachings and can be traced back to rich Islamic culture. When prophet Ibrahim was commanded to sacrifice and slaughter his son Ismail, he prepared to sacrifice his only son without any hesitation. He showed that he was willing to sacrifice the closest person to him for God’s pleasure and passed this extremely difficult trial. To honor his effort and to stop him from sacrificing Ismail, God sent down a ram for him to slaughter instead. Similarly, when we place an animal facing the Qiblah and slaughter him in the name of God, it is a symbolic way of slaughtering our desires in the path of God. This act can even be obligatory in certain acts of worship and on certain occasions, and it may have reasons that we do not know about.

When explaining the acts carried out during Hajj and that it is obligatory upon Muslims to embark on this journey, the Quran says: “And proclaim the hajj to people: they shall come to you on foot and on lean camels coming from distant places, so that they may witness the benefits for them, and mention Allah's name during the known days over the livestock He has provided them. So eat thereof, and feed the destitute.”![3]

In the next verses God says: “We have appointed for you the [sacrificial] camels as one of Allah's sacraments. There is good for you in them. So mention the name of Allah over them as they stand. And when they have fallen on their flanks, eat from them, and feed the self-contained needy and the mendicant. Thus have we disposed them for your benefit so that you may give thanks.”[4]

These verses point out two of the reasons behind sacrificing animals:

1- Thanking God because of the numerous blessings He has granted us

2- Feeding the poor and needy

In another verse he says: “It is not their flesh or their blood that reaches Allah. Rather it is your God wariness that reaches him. Thus has he disposed them for your benefit so that you may magnify Allah for His guiding you. And give good news to the virtuous.”[5]

In this verse, He mentions a very important point: that He does not benefit from the flesh, meat and blood of the sacrificed animal. What He seeks is your righteousness and God-wariness, in other words, to give a part of your wealth in the His way and feed the hungry is a valuable act and a sign of one’s God-wariness.

We must pay attention that sacrificing animals in Islam has certain conditions:

1- The animal must be halal-meated so that people can benefit from the meat

2- It must be facing the Qiblah when slaughtered

3- It must be slaughtered with a specific method in which the four main vains are cut first

4- The slaughtering must be done with sharp metal so that the animal does not suffer much. There are also other mustahabb (recommended) conditions[6] that show that the philosophy of sacrificing animals is a very lofty one and not to simply kill an animal enabling some to say that it would be better to free an animal instead.

On the other hand, millions of livestock are being slaughtered around the globe which is completely necessary for the continuation of man’s survival. If this was stopped, it would create a crisis. However, Islam has given this issue a spiritual aspect making it a way for man to get closer to God, while others only benefit from its worldly benefits.

Therefore, sacrificing animals in religious gatherings has ethical, economical and social reasons and reminds us of man’s strong bond with the teachings of the prophets. However, freeing animals especially in the contemporary circumstances where natural sources have greatly decreased and many people are in need of the meat to survive causes the loss of many spiritual and worldly benefits.

 


[1] Baqarah:29.

[2] Ma’idah:1.

[3] Hajj:28.

[4] Hajj:36.

[5] Hajj:37.

[6] Tawdih al-Masaa’il of the maraji’, vol.2, pg. 568, issues 2583 and on.

 

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