Q: Animal sacrifice is one of the required rites of hajj, obligatory on those carrying out this major duty in Makkah in the month of Dhul Hijjah. Is it mandatory on those of us not performing the hajj to carry out the animal sacrifice (on the day of Eid-ul-Adha), as is the current practice?

Also, why do people provide a name for the Eid-ul-Adha sacrifice? Is this sunnah or a new tradition?

A: If one follows the tafsir, verse 2:196 in the Qur'an may imply that one must have already made the intention for the hajj, etc., and all preparations have been undertaken, and then is prevented from doing so. A clear reading of the verse -- the best translation of which is perhaps given by Muhammad Asad -- does not show this. The functional rendering of the word -- "atimoo" means the performance of the hajj, even though it may semantically give the inference of completing something, after having started it.

The scholars have a term in Islam for things that safeguard -- al-ahwat. This means that it is better to do something as opposed to not doing it. Sometimes this action may denote a simple precaution; and may even take the ruling of that which is compulsory, since we, as Muslims, must use our intellect in determining certain situations. Now the verses talk about "if you are prevented." In a medieval context, that meant prevented by warfare, some insecurity, or other hindrance. The use of the word strongly suggests that the hajj should be a ritual for which the utmost attempt is made, and not something which, when one has the wherewithal, s/he delays it out of choice.

In any case, the sentence continues "then offer whatever is easy for you" -- which denotes a sacrifice. Therefore, a possible rendition of this verse is that those who have not made the hajj may offer a sacrifice. It also serves the purpose of letting us participate in some way with the ritual of pilgrimage, even though we are not in the physical location of the rite proper. As is known, for centuries the Muslims who have sacrificed at home have distributed the meat in charity. It is true that the latter part of the verse leaves no doubt that what was actually being referred to is a state of actual prevention in terms of security of life, etc., as is also indicated by a study of the verses immediately preceding and following.

Now according to a report from Aisha, the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w) said: "The Eid-ul-Fitr is the day on which the people do not fast (after having fasted the previous days), and the Eid-ul-Adha is the day when the people make the sacrifice. (At-Tirmidhi)

If we examine the hadith, we see that "duha" in itself means "sacrifice," the Qur'anic term is "nahr." The Prophet also said "the people," not "the hujjah." It therefore implies that the sacrifice was not for the hujjah only. If we look at other traditions as well, we see that he used to make the Eid-ul-Adha very early, and delay the Eid-ul-Fitr a bit. He would also not have breakfast before the Eid-ul-Adha. This was because he liked to make his first meal that of the sacrificial animal.

However, Daraqutni's position is that the sacrifice is something specific to the hajj, so it is not obligatory. He also feels that there is no harm in a person having breakfast before attending the Eid prayer if that person did not intend to sacrifice. Therefore, when done outside of the hajj, the sacrifice takes on the aspect of something that may be ruled upon as "mustahab," meaning that it is very good if its purpose is to feed the less fortunate in the society.

So after a careful examination of the positions, I feel that this latter one is the "ahwat" and the "arjah" -- the more secure, and the more correct. As such, the Muslims who are financially able to undertake the sacrifice should do so.

Regarding the mention of a name, since the so-called prime aspect is in the sacrifice of Abraham (a.s), the name has been given. As to whether this was after the Prophet Muhammad's time or not, I do not have enough evidence to go either way. We do know that the traditions show that the Prophet Abraham was making the hajj before he was ordered to perform the sacrifice. Are these traditions correct? We do not know for certain. It is just as possible that even if they are correct, the Islamic re-adaptation of the ritual focused on the example of Abraham, the pious Muslim. The name would then be applicable. And Allah knows best.

Posted November 3, 1998. This question and answer was printed in the April 1995 issue of the Voice of Islam newsletter. (This newsletter is published by the Islamic Society of the Washington Area).