As Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha today, we remember not only the willingness and resolve of Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) to wholly submit to God's command, but also our continued obligation of sacrifice and charity.
Eid al-Adha, one of two Islamic holidays dedicated to commemorating Abraham, marks the historic occasion when the prophet demonstrated his readiness to sacrifice his young son, but since it was only a trial from God, a ram was ultimately sacrificed as described in Qur'an 37:102-107:
And when he (Ishmael) was old enough to go about and work with him, (one day) Abraham said to him: My son, I see in my dream that I am slaughtering you. So, consider (and tell me) what you think. He said: Do as you are commanded. You will find me, if God so wills, among the steadfast.
When both surrendered (to God's command) and Abraham had laid him prostrate on his forehead,
We called out: O Abraham! You have indeed fulfilled your dream. Thus, do We reward those who do right. This was indeed a manifest trial. And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice.
Every Muslim who has surplus money and can afford a sacrificial animal is obliged to offer the sacrifice during this Eid. There are two major objectives behind this act, which is undertaken during the four days of the 12th month of the lunar calendar, as stated in Qur'an 22:28:
That they may witness the benefits (provided) for them, and celebrate the name of God, through the Days appointed, over the cattle which He has provided for them: So eat of it and feed the distressed and the needy.
First, the sacrifice is an occasion to celebrate the creed of monotheism and offer gratitude to God. It is an opportunity to remember the purpose of life and our relation to God. This is further elaborated in Qur'an 22:34:
To every people did We appoint rites (of sacrifice), that they might celebrate the name of God over the sustenance He gave them from animals (fit for food). Your Lord is One God; so, submit yourselves to Him alone. And give, (O Prophet), good news to those that humble themselves (before God).
Qur’an 22:37 removes pagan notions about the relation of animal sacrifice and God by clarifying that “Neither their flesh reaches God nor their blood; it is your piety that reaches Him.”
Second, the sacrifice is an opportunity to enjoy God's material blessings and share them with the poor, needy, and distressed.
This is an equally important end because Islam is not just a religion of worship and rituals. In fact, it holds mandatory charity as one of its pillars. Empathy with fellow human beings is supposed to be a top priority and a natural concern for every Muslim, as emphasized by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) when he warned that “a man is not a believer who fills his stomach while his neighbor is hungry.”
Eid is a time for altruism, and it is an imperative that Muslims do not forget the plight of those who are hungry and malnourished while they enjoy their celebration. For this purpose, the meat of the animal sacrificed during Eid must be divided into three equal parts: one intended for personal and family use, one given to relatives and friends, and the last given to the poor and needy.
In this context, Qur'an has gloriously highlighted what is generally ignored in our world – that is, to help those who do not seek help from others. As Qur’an 22:36 instructs, ".. when the animals fall down on their sides (after they are slaughtered), eat and also feed them who do not ask and those who ask.”
As a result, this Eid involves substantial physical activity, a major highlight of which is the distribution of meat to people near and far.
A story from the Prophet’s time illustrates the extent to which giving was inculcated in Muslims.
A companion reported that on one Eid, the Prophet instructed the people not to store any sacrificial meat in their houses after three days. When the Eid in the following year arrived, the people asked him if they should repeat the practice of not preserving the meat for long term use. The Prophet replied: “Eat and store up. That was a year in which we were in difficulty and I wanted you to help (by distributing the meat among the deserving people).”
To maintain this spirit and tradition, millions of Muslims around the world not only offer sacrifice in their homes or slaughterhouses in their communities, but many make arrangements with charities, social service organizations, or their relations to carry out sacrifice in poorer parts of the world to benefit people there.
According to the 2020 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, 690 million people around the world went hungry in 2019. As the WHO explains, COVID-19 is aggravating the dismal situation. Projections forecast “the pandemic could tip over 130 million more people into chronic hunger by the end of 2020.” In addition, “between a quarter and a third of children under five (191 million) were stunted or wasted – too short or too thin” and “a staggering 3 billion people or more cannot afford a healthy diet.”
These are the people who are served by much-needed sacrificial acts overseas. In 2019, U.K.-based Islamic Relief Worldwide provided meat to almost 3,140,000 of the world’s poorest across 34 countries in Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe. Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Development Bank manages the giant Adahi Project, which performs sacrifice on behalf of Hajj pilgrims – that is, Muslims who participate in the annual pilgrimage to Mecca – and non-pilgrims and distributes the meat in 27 poor and disaster-stricken countries after fulfilling local charity needs. Helping Hand, a relief and development organization based in the U.S., distributed meat to more than 496,000 beneficiaries in 60 countries under the auspices of its Global Qurbani Program.
Eid al-Adha is a time for Muslims to remember and demonstrate that every action and life experience becomes joyful when done in service of God and our fellow man.
Abdul Rauf is a thinker with interests in faith, politics, and global issues.