By Norm Phelps
published in SA Global Affairs, September 2010
fulfill the meaning of sacrifice by demonstrating piety in the form of
charity, not by taking the life of an innocent animal.
is a religion of compassion. The Qur'an and the Ahadith are suffused with
calls to donate one's wealth "to kinfolk, to orphans, to the destitute,
to the traveler in need, and to beggars, and for the redemption of captives."
Nor is Islamic compassion limited to human beings. The Ahadith record numerous
instances in which the Prophet (PBUH) taught that the compassion of Muslims
must protect all of God's sentient creatures. The following are just two
Prophet was asked if acts of charity even to animals were rewarded by God.
He replied: "Yes, there is a reward for acts of charity to every beast
we stopped at a halt, we did not say our prayers [salat] until we had taken
the burdens off our camels' backs and attended to their needs.
Muhammad regarded compassion to animals as a duty so important that even
salat should be delayed for the purpose of preventing animals from suffering.
primitive religion, animal sacrifice was intended to win the favor of the
gods by presenting them gifts they would enjoy. The Prophet rejected this
polytheistic notion and taught that sacrifice could serve only two purposes.
The first was to be an outward symbol of the worshipper's inner submission
to the will of God. The Qur'an is explicit about this:
flesh and blood does not reach God. It is your piety that reaches Him.
second purpose of sacrifice is to provide a means of performing charity.
Thus, the meat from a sacrificed animal is traditionally divided into thirds,
with one third kept by the sponsor of the sacrifice and his close family,
one third given to more distant relatives and friends, and one third donated
to the poor.
there are other occasions on which sacrifice is sometimes offered, in present-day
Islam, sacrifice is most closely associated with Eid al-Adha, when multitudes
of sheep and goats are slaughtered to mark the end of the Hajj.
year, hundreds of thousands of live sheep are shipped to Saudi Arabia,
mostly from Australia, New Zealand, and Eastern Europe, to be slaughtered.
The conditions in which they are raised on Western factory farms and transported
in cramped, hot, filthy cargo ships are horrific. The concentration of
more than two million pilgrims participating in the Hajj combined with
the lack of refrigeration capacity adequate to preserve the enormous amount
of meat coming available in a tightly compressed time-frame means that
much of the meat spoils and is not available for donation.
Basheer Ahmad Masri (1914-1992), a graduate of the prestigious University
of the Punjab in Lahore, who also studied at the world-famous Al-Azhar
University in Cairo and served as imam at the Shah Jahan Mosque in the
United Kingdom, is one of several Muslim scholars who have raised concerns
about the sacrifices of Eid al-Adha. They question whether the horrific
conditions in which animals bound for Mecca are raised on Western factory
farms and in which they are transported, as well as the inevitable wastage
of meat, might mean that the sacrifices are not pure, even though the actual
killing, taken by itself, may be performed entirely in accordance with
dhabh. They point out that Islamic law requires that animals destined for
slaughter be raised and transported humanely and killed with a minimum
of fear and pain. And they suggest that under present conditions, this
may not be possible.
inevitable wastage is also a concern. In his book Animal Welfare in Islam,
Imam Masri goes so far as to say that, "After reading the Qur'anic version
of sacrifice, there remains no doubt in one's mind that any sacrifice that
is allowed to go to waste is a sinful as well as a criminal violation of
in the interests of fairness, I must point out that in my country, the
United States, more than 27,000,000 animals are killed every day for secular
reasons, such as food, leather, and fur-many times the number who are killed
in Mecca for Eid al-Adha. The conditions in which these animals are raised,
transported, and slaughtered are also horrific. It is my hope that religion
can show us a better way.)
the June, 2010 issue of SouthAsia ("Magnificent Jewels"), I suggested that
true religion consists of a sacred core of spiritual truth supported by
specific dogmas and rituals intended to make this truth accessible to worshippers.
This core of spiritual truth, I suggested, has universal and unchanging
value, while the dogmas and rituals have value only to the extent that
they serve this supreme truth.
this principle to animal sacrifice, the Ahadith make clear-especially the
Hadith in which the Prophet refused to perform salat until the camels had
been relieved of their burdens, fed, and watered-that compassion for animals
is part of the core spiritual truth of Islam. Likewise, the Qur'an leaves
no doubt that the actual, physical sacrifice of animals is not part of
the core spiritual truth of Islam. Their flesh and blood does not reach
God. It is your piety that reaches Him. Imam Masri points out that in every
instance in the Qur'an in which sacrifice is discussed, it is treated as
a means to provide charity. Muslims fulfill the meaning of the sacrifice
by demonstrating piety in the form of charity, not by taking the life of
an innocent animal.
this spirit, Muslim scholars have pointed out that slaughtering an animal
and donating the meat may have been the simplest and most useful way to
perform charity in a desert community where protein was scarce and money
little used. In the modern world, however, it would be simpler and more
helpful to donate money, or perhaps community service, to help the poor.
The poor today have many needs. Meat can at best serve only one; money
can satisfy them all. By donating money to celebrate the Hajj, and on other
appropriate occasions, Muslims can demonstrate submission to the will of
God by performing charity in the way that will be of the greatest benefit
to the recipients - and with no necessity to take the lives of blameless
animals. Fulfilling the call of the Qur'an and the Ahadith, they will be
showing compassion to all of God's creatures, human and animal alike.
SERV member Norm Phelps is a Tibetan Buddhist
and an animal rights activist. His publications include The
Great Compassion: Buddhism and Animal Rights and The Longest Struggle:
Animal Advocacy from Pythagoras to PETA etc.