There are many things which must
not be taken on their face value; they seem to have a deeper significance and
philosophy. They symbolize certain realities and are not an end in themselves.
For example, a country’s flag symbolizes its national entity and honour. The
piece of cloth in itself is nothing if we come to think of it; however, if we
view it as a representative of our solidarity and honour, we may become so
emotional about it that our patriotism will not let us drop it to the ground. We
would even lay down our lives for it. The second thing that perhaps needs to be
considered is that once a country’s flag is invested with such a significance,
no other act or practice can replace it or replace our sentiments for it. Thus
for example we cannot say that a country’s national anthem can replace its flag
– both have their own independent significance.
Animal sacrifice is also a symbolic act.
It is not an end in itself as the prayer or the zakāh for example are. It is a
means to an end. We must discover the end.
The raison d’etre for animal sacrifice
on eid is to commemorate a great event which depicts an extraordinary expression
of submission to the command of Allah – the essence of Islam. The Prophet
Abraham (sws) while obeying the Almighty set a platinum example of this
submission. When we offer an animal in sacrifice, we actually symbolize our
intention that we are ready to sacrifice our lives for the cause of God whenever
the need arises.
Another conclusion that can be drawn is
that no other act of worship can replace animal sacrifice since animal sacrifice
has a specific significance. It is much like saying that hajj and zakāh are not
interchangeable since both have their own purpose and importance.
Actually an important thing which
hinders our understanding of animal sacrifice is that we think that its primary
purpose is to feed the poor and hence it instantaneously comes to our mind that
why don’t we help the poor in some other more productive way like for example
providing them with vocational training or sending the younger lot to school.
Now what needs to be realized is that feeding the poor is a very secondary
purpose of animal sacrifice. Its primary purpose as explained above is to
symbolize the fact that today we are presenting this animal for sacrifice before
God -- tomorrow if a need arises, we will present our life too for the cause of
God. So it is primarily this symbolism which must always be looked at when
understanding the act of animal sacrifice and not feeding of the poor with the
slaughtered animal’s meet. Moreover, it is to this reality that the following
لَن يَنَالَ اللَّهَ لُحُومُهَا وَلَا دِمَاؤُهَا وَلَكِن
يَنَالُهُ التَّقْوَى مِنكُمْ كَذَلِكَ سَخَّرَهَا لَكُمْ لِتُكَبِّرُوا اللَّهَ
عَلَى مَا هَدَاكُمْ وَبَشِّرِ الْمُحْسِنِينَ (٢٢:٣٧)
The flesh and blood [of] these
[sacrificed animals] does not reach God; it is only your piety that reaches Him.
Thus has He subjected them to your service so that you may give glory to God for
guiding you. [This is the way of the righteous] and [O Prophet!] give glad
tidings to these righteous. (22:37)
Thus while helping the poor in various
ways is itself a very commendable practice, yet it cannot take the place of