In addition to the obligatory sacrifice, the Prophet (saw) also sacrificed an animal on behalf of someone from the Ummah who couldn’t afford to sacrifice an animal. The Sahabah used to follow this Sunnah, as this beautiful tradition ensured even more families were fed on the days of Eid al-Adha.
The Spiritual Benefits of Qurbani: Allah, His Messenger (saw), and the Ummah
Qurbani is often a yearly activity that we check off our to-do lists without truly appreciating its spiritual benefits. Like Zakat, we sometimes think of Qurbani as a once-a-year transaction which is rewardable, of course, but not tangibly beneficial.
Yet the action of Qurbani is hugely significant in Islam and, with sincerity and contemplation, it can be a means to draw closer to Allah, His Messenger (saw), and the Ummah.
A Symbolic Sacrifice for Allah
Qurbani, or Udhiya as it is known in Arabic, is not simply the slaughtering of an animal and the distribution of its meat. Nor is it merely a commemorative ritual centred around the sacrifice of Ibrahim (as).
The word ‘Qurbani’ is derived from the Arabic, ‘qurban’, which has its root in the Arabic word ‘qurb’ – meaning ‘nearness’. The purpose of offering Qurbani is to draw near to Allah.
There are two Qur’anic stories that illustrate how we can draw closer to Allah through Qurbani: the story of Adam’s (as) sons, and the story of Ibrahim (as).
Story of Adam’s (as) sons
To resolve a difference between his sons Habil and Qabil, Adam (as) asked them both to make a sacrifice. Whoever’s sacrifice was accepted would be the clear winner.
Since Habil was a shepherd, he offered a ram to be sacrificed. Qabil tilled the land, so he offered some produce grown from the land. Habil took care to select the best animal, one which was healthy and well-fed, whereas Qabil wasn’t willing to offer the best of his produce.
Allah accepted Habil’s sacrifice, ascending it to heaven, and He rejected Qabil’s sacrifice. Habil explained to his brother that Allah only accepts from those who have taqwa. Qabil had clearly not made his sacrifice with sincerity, and Allah was aware of that. Qabil was jealous of the way Habil had been favoured over him, and he killed his brother.
So the first way to draw closer to Allah through Qurbani is to be completely sincere in what you are offering and to have taqwa.
Having taqwa means to be conscious of Allah in all our actions. If our Qurbani is merely a yearly ritual that we tick off our calendar without truly reflecting on it, have we been conscious of Allah while doing it?
The sacrificing of the animal is not important – the intention behind it is what matters.
Their meat will not reach Allah, nor will their blood, but what reaches Him is piety from you.”
When Habil sacrificed the best animal he owned, it was an outward manifestation of his piety. He was not merely going through the motions of Qurbani: he understood what the essence of Qurbani is.
So what is the essence of Qurbani? The story of Ibrahim (as) makes this clear.
Story of Ibrahim (as) and his son
When Ibrahim’s (as) firstborn son, Isma’il (as), was old enough to walk around with his father and work with him, it was revealed in a dream to Ibrahim (as) that he must sacrifice his son. Isma’il did not even question this command from Allah.
He (Isma’il) said, ‘O my father! Do as you are commanded. If Allah wills, you shall find me of the patient.'”
Both father and son were completely prepared for the sacrifice, but Shaytaan wanted to dissuade them.
In one narration, Shaytaan appeared before the sacrifice and tried to stop it from taking place, so Ibrahim stoned him.
In other narrations, Shaytaan appeared separately to Ibrahim, Hajarah, and Isma’il (as). Each time, he tried to convince them that Ibrahim was about to commit a terrible crime. Each time, they attested that if it was from Allah, they must accept it. Each of them stoned Shaytaan (Tabari and Hakim).
It seems impossible to us that someone could be prepared to sacrifice their beloved child, especially when obstacles have been placed in their way on three separate occasions. However, the family of Ibrahim was so forceful in their rejection of disobeying Allah that they threw stones at Shaytaan.
This is the essence of Qurbani: to reaffirm that we completely submit to Allah and we reject disobedience to Him.
We will sacrifice what is most dear to us if Allah asks it, just to be close to Him and gain His pleasure, even if Shaytaan tries to deter us. Qurbani is a reaffirmation that we will sacrifice our wealth, our time, our work, our homes – all for the sake of Allah.
As Ibrahim (as) prepared a knife to sacrifice his son and a shroud to bury him in, he couldn’t face Isma’il (as), so he turned his son’s face away. According to Ibn Kathir’s tafseer, they both remembered Allah and testified their faith in Him. Then Ibrahim prepared to sacrifice his son – and when the knife was at Isma’il’s neck, he heard a voice calling to him to stop.
And when they had both submitted and he (Ibrahim) had laid him on his forehead, We called to him, ‘O Ibrahim, you have fulfilled the vision’. Indeed, in this way We reward the doers of good. Indeed, this was certainly the clear trial. And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice, and We left for him (favourable mention) among later generations: ‘Peace upon Ibrahim.'”
Ibrahim (as) thus sacrificed a white-horned ram instead of his son.
Our Qurbani represents the devotion of Ibrahim (as), who was ready to sacrifice his beloved son for Allah’s sake, and the reward and blessing they both received from Allah as a result of their submission.
Again, it is not the animal that matters, but our willingness to submit wholeheartedly to Allah.
To summarise this point: the most important thing about Qurbani is sincerity and purity of intention, and by reflecting deeply on the meaning of Qurbani, we reaffirm that we are willing to sacrifice everything for Allah.
Thus, we draw closer to Allah and increase our piety.
A Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (saw)
The Qurbani that we perform today is according to the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (saw). On the first day of Eid al-Adha (10th Dhul Hijjah), after Eid prayer, we sacrifice an animal for the sake of Allah and then distribute its meat to the needy.
The Prophet (saw) evidently reflected on the rich heritage of Qurbani, for he (saw) even said:
I am the son of two sacrificed people.”
This refers to the fact that both his father Abdullah and his ancestor Isma’il (as) were almost sacrificed for Allah’s sake, emphasizing his connection with Isma’il.
He (saw) also used to look for rams similar to the one Habil (rh) and Ibrahim (as) sacrificed – white-horned rams – to offer as Qurbani on Eid al-Adha (Ahmad).
However, the Prophet (saw) also reflected on his present Ummah when he was performing Qurbani.
The Prophet (saw) sacrificed for the one who could not sacrifice from his Ummah, one who bore witness to the Oneness of Allah and [his] Prophethood.”
(Tabarani and Ahmad)
In addition to his obligatory sacrifice, the Prophet (saw) also sacrificed an animal on behalf of someone from the Ummah who couldn’t afford to sacrifice an animal. The Sahabah used to follow this Sunnah, as Anas bin Malik said, ‘The Prophet (saw) used to sacrifice two rams, and I also sacrifice two rams’ (Bukhari).
This beautiful tradition ensured even more families were fed on the days of Eid al-Adha. Yet this Sunnah has been forgotten today – how many of us follow the Prophet’s (saw) example and sacrifice an extra, Prophetic Qurbani?
Whoever revives a Sunnah of mine that dies out after I am gone, he will indeed have a reward equivalent to that of those among the people who act upon it, without that detracting from their reward in the slightest.”
There are great rewards for reviving the Sunnah of the Prophet (saw). He was the best model for mankind and there was wisdom in everything he did; reviving his Sunnah will benefit us as individuals and as an Ummah.
Thus, giving a Prophetic Qurbani this year is the perfect way to draw closer to Allah’s Messenger (saw) and please Allah even more.
A Celebration with the Ummah
Ultimately, although we are sacrificing for the sake of Allah, the meat is also distributed to the poor people in the Ummah. The sacrifice is given to the needy in the same way that Zakat al-Fitr is given at the end of Ramadan so that they can enjoy a meal on the days of Eid.
For poor families, meat is an unaffordable luxury and so it is a joyous occasion when they can enjoy a Qurbani meal.
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, even more people are struggling to support their families, and buying meat on Eid is out of the question. That’s why it’s even more important to give a Prophetic Qurbani this year, so these families don’t miss out on a healthy, filling meal to celebrate Eid al-Adha.
The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When one of the limbs suffers, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever.”
Poor families are not the only people who will benefit from your Qurbani. You can also choose to give to Syrian refugees, or war-torn communities in Yemen, Syria, and Kashmir, thus giving them a chance to celebrate Eid with us.
Your Qurbani is a gesture of kindness, compassion, and sympathy, showing these families that their suffering has not been forgotten.
Thus, when you give your Qurbani this year, remember that you are feeding struggling families in our Ummah and celebrating Eid with them.
May Allah accept all out Qurbanis and make them a means to draw closer to Allah, His Messenger and the Ummah, ameen.
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