Q. I would be very grateful if you could answer this question which has been bugging me for quite some time. Why are we required to sacrifice an animal during Eid ul Adha? I understand the story behind the event -- Prophet Ibrahim (a.s) -- and from the readings I have done, and I also understand that the sacrifice of the animal is so that it can be consumed as part of the celebration. I know most people donate this to the poor, but the ethos is actually about the celebration of the event. So if it is about celebration, why do I need to sacrifice an animal? And in light of current events, Hajjis who perform these ancient rites do not actually consume the meat; it is left to be distributed by the Saudi government. What is now happening is that due to the problems in transportation, not all of the meat can be shipped and therefore the remaining carcasses are incinerated. How can this be right? Most Hajjis do not need meat to celebrate. Why can't we celebrate by donating money instead of taking the life of an animal which isn't even being consumed? This must be increasing the burden on the planet. Please advise me. Jazakallah Khair.

A. There is a vast misconception about the hajj. It has NOTHING to do with the sacrificial son as is widely believed. It rather has to do with the COMMEMORATION (not celebration) of that which Abraham was commanded, since we know in early forms of the Semitic religion, animal sacrifice was a way of connecting to God. That, however, does not address your observation. And this is where the institutional perception of religion and ritual fails. People are so taken with the ritual even though the slaughter is horrendous to observe. The animals are herded and the lack of proper use and distribution of the meat is appalling. It would certainly be more in the spirit of Islam to either pay the cost in charity or arrange for a sacrifice to be done elsewhere in an impoverished area, i.e., the hajj is made by the believer, but s/he grants authority to someone or an organization elsewhere to actually do the sacrifice so that the meat can be used. We see no problem with this scenario. As noted earlier, however, people love ritual, even when it becomes meaningless. We feel that it will be individuals such as yourself, with your thought put into practice, which might bring about a reexamination of that act of devotion that has morphed into wanton destruction. And Allah knows best.

Posted March 20, 2011