“Their flesh and their blood reach not Allah, but the devotion/piety from you reaches Him. Thus have we made them subject to you that you may magnify Allah that He has guided you …” (S22:vs37)
On the days of Eid ul Adha (after Haj), Muslims all over the world offer millions of sheep, goats, cattle and camels for sacrifice. The meat is then distributed to the poor. This symbolizes the intended sacrifice by Nabie Ibrahim/Abraham(as) of his only son at the time, Nabie Ismail(as). Father and son submitted their individual will and ego to Allah. It is this level of piety that reaches Allah. Just before the sacrifice was about to take place, Allah, via Jibraeel/Gabriel(as), stopped them. They then offered a ram as sacrifice. Animals were very important and valuable assets. Sacrificing a ram symbolized submitting one’s ego and will to Allah.
Our forefathers lived very closely with animals, and interaction with livestock was a daily activity. They raised, provided shelter for and knew their animals well. Sacrificing livestock had real meaning to our forefathers. Today, contact with livestock is seldom experienced, as most Muslims live in urban areas. Most of us are “city slickers” and don’t even know how to handle livestock correctly. For this reason, it is important to provide proper guidelines on the handling of animals for Qurbani.
“There is not an animal on earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but forms parts of communities like unto you. Nothing have we omitted from the book, and they shall all be gathered to their Lord in the end.” (S6:vs38)
“The Prophet (pbuh) forbade the beating or the branding of animals …” (Muslim)
Caliph Umar (ra) saw a man deny water to a sheep destined for slaughter. He gave the man a beating with his lash and ordered him to water the sheep properly at the time of her death.
“If animals have been subjected to cruelties in their breeding, transport, slaughter and general welfare, meat from them is considered impure and unlawful to eat.”
—The late Imam B.A. Hafiz al-Masri (Woking, UK)
The above passages and quotes emphasize the importance of animal welfare in Islam. Millions of animals are shipped annually to all parts of the Muslim world. Most are shipped in brutally overcrowded conditions where many die from disease, being trampled or heat exhaustion. Others suffer injuries. This is not humane and is, therefore, un-Islamic. So what does one do? If one intends to offer an animal for Qurbani, consider if one intends to keep him or her at home or at a “Qurbani farm.” The following should be considered:
- There should be adequate shelter and space for the animals to move freely.
- Food and water must be freely available.
- Upon purchasing animals, look at their general appearance and the conditions in which they are kept. Do not accept thin, sickly injured animals or those kept in poor conditions. (If one does so to relieve the suffering of the animal, bear in mind that one may have to spend lots of time and money to restore the animal back to health. This is good, but the animal may not be ready for Qurbani.)
- Animals should not be stressed, beaten or chased in any way. Keep dogs away, and give new animals time to adapt.
- Visit farms when you are not expected, and notice how the animals are kept and handled. Are the kraals/pens clean? Is there enough food and water?
If you are not happy with the conditions, go elsewhere. This will encourage farmers to improve their animal husbandry. Raising one’s own animals a few months before Qurbani helps one develop a bond with and sense of pride in the animals. Sacrifice then means so much more. If one cannot raise one’s own animals and chooses to go the Qurbani farm route, one should try to purchase animals a few weeks prior to Qurbani. Ask if you may partake in the feeding and watering of the animals. This will also develop a bond between you. Children develop stronger bonds with animals than adults, and they should be sensitized with regard to the spiritual significance of Qurbani.
“When you must kill a living being, do it the proper way—when you slaughter, use the best method and sharpen your knife so as to cause as little pain as possible.” When the Prophet (pbuh) saw a man sharpening his knife in the presence of the animal destined for slaughter, he said, “Do you intend inflicting death on the animal twice—once by sharpening the knife within its sight and once by cutting its throat?” (Muslim)
The following should be ensured when slaughtering:
- Animals should be handled as gently as possible. Any form of stress or cruelty is haraam and will result in inadequate bleeding and poor quality meat. No animal should witness the slaughter of another.
- Knives should be sharpened often, be of sufficient length (45 centimeters for cattle) and be kept out of the animal’s sight.
- Lay the animal in the direction of Qibla with his or her neck over a hole or drain for the blood to flow into. Do not stand or place your foot on the animal. If the animal is very big, ask people to help restrain the animal by gently kneeling or holding the feet.
- Slaughter swiftly with no more than three strokes across the level of the throat, cutting all major blood vessels and the throat and esophagus (wind and food pipes). Let go of the animal, and allow him or her to kick in order to allow blood to flow freely (while saying the du’a for Qurbani or slaughter).
- Acknowledge that only Allah has the right to take life and that we do so as humble members of Allah’s creation because we are in need of sustenance, just like every other species.
- Bleeding should continue for at least six minutes for cattle and five minutes for sheep and goats.
- Wash away the blood before bringing in the next animal. The smell of blood causes more stress.
- Remember that these animals come from Allah and go straight to Jannah (paradise). If we neglect or mistreat them, we will be held accountable.
Many Qurbani farms and large abattoirs do not adhere to these guidelines because of the large number of animals slaughtered there. Can this meat be considered halaal? With such large numbers, the essence of Qurbani is easily lost, with most hujaaj not even seeing the animals slaughtered in their name. Eid-u-Adha is three days long, and Qurbani can be done during this period.
Children who have grown fond of the animals should not be forced to watch. Wait until they are old enough to understand the significance, or they may be traumatized by the experience. Enemies of Islam are constantly using our own ignorance to promote negative propaganda of Islam and Muslims.
The process of slaughtering and dressing (skinning and disemboweling) should be as clean as possible:
- Knives should be washed with hot water.
- Animals should be completely dead before skinning commences.
- Areas for slaughtering and dressing should be washed throughout the process.
- Carcasses must be washed with a high-pressure hose or hose pipe to remove all contamination and then chilled as soon as possible.
- If no chilling facility is available, arrange to take the meat to a butcher or cold storage facility.
- Failure to adhere to these basic hygiene guidelines can result in meat spoilage and can cause food poisoning.
- Offal and hides can be donated to the poor and needy and should not be buried.
These guidelines should be applied to all animals slaughtered, not just those for Qurbani.
If one cannot or chooses not to offer Qurbani, one may offer other means of sacrifice. Providing a water well for an impoverished village, sponsoring and educating an orphan or sponsoring a teacher provides longer-lasting relief from poverty than a few parcels of meat, which are easily consumed within a week or two.
In Islam, all that is demanded as a sacrifice is one’s personal willingness to submit one’s ego and individual will to Amighty Allah (swt).
The author can be contacted at [email protected].
"There is not an animal that lives on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but they form communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they all shall be gathered to their Lord in the end" - Al-Qur'an, 6:38
"Whoever is kind to the creatures of God, is kind to himself." - The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), narrated by Abdallah bin Amru in Bukhari and Muslim collections