Just recently, one of my readers sent me an article posted in the Detroit Free Press on August 21, 2022. The article's title was "Proposed animal ordinance draws ire," written by Niraj Warikoo. It seems that citizens and city officials that live in the city of Hamtramck, Michigan, are debating whether to allow animal slaughter on an annual religious holiday that Muslims celebrate. The city council and mayor are all Muslims, thus this debate cuts close to home. The current ordinance prohibits keeping or harboring animals such as cows, sheep, goats, and chickens. Also, part of the ordinance bars cruelty and killing animals. As usual, I have an opinion but before I weigh in, let's explore the circumstances around the Holiday and review what Muslims in other places are doing.
The Facts Underlying Eid al Adha
One of the first facts is that religions that sacrifice animals are legal and common. The Supreme Court in 1993 ruled in favor of the followers of the Santeria religion to practice animal sacrifices. Some Jewish communities slaughter chickens in the fall around Yom Kippur. Muslims in other countries slaughter sheep, goats, cows, buffalo, and camels in celebration of the Eid holiday.
In a recent article about the pilgrimage to Mecca called the Hajj (Hajj 2022, July 2), the pilgrimage lasts five days, and then the pilgrims wrap up their trip with the slaughter of an animal to celebrate Eid al Adha. Interestingly enough, you can see pictures of the pilgrimage online, but the Saudi government prohibits photos of the slaughter because of its gruesome nature.
Eid al Adha signifies the completion of the annual Hajj pilgrimage – an obligation for all Muslims to follow the Five Pillars of Islam. In the Bible, Christians are familiar with the story of Abraham being told by God to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22). In the Qur'an (37:105), Muslims are told the same story but with Ishmael being sacrificed. In either case, before the sacrifice can take place, under God's command, Abraham releases the boy and sacrifices a ram instead. Eid al Adha is the celebration to commemorate Abraham's willingness to do whatever God commands without question. Thus, Eid al Adha means the "Festival of Sacrifice."
There is another aspect to this celebration that is not well known, and that is the obligation of Qurbani. Traditionally, Qurbani refers to the annual animal sacrifice that Muslims must make, but it also refers to the distribution of meat from the animal. The person paying for the sacrifice usually keeps one-third for his immediate family, one-third of the meat for his friends and distant relatives, and one-third for the poor and needy.
The sacrificed animals must be in good condition: they must not be blind, cannot be missing more than a third of their ear or tail, they must not have a lame leg, cannot be excessively thin or lean, cannot be toothless or missing over half their teeth, and must be able to walk without aid. These rules appear to be in place to keep unsuspecting buyers from purchasing poorly treated or starved animals.
The rules that dictate who is obligated to perform the animal sacrifice are not to be left out. Every Muslim is obligated to participate, with a few exceptions. Those who have not reached and passed puberty, those not of sound mind or body, those traveling more than 50 kilometers from home, and those who do not possess the Nisab value. Muslims are not obligated to participate if they are poor or needy. The way to measure that threshold is to determine is you are worth a minimum amount. That amount is called a Nisab value. While there are minimums if you own cows, camels, or silver, the most common measurement is 87.48 grams or approximately 3 ounces of gold. In today's currency, that's about $5,200. You are not obligated to participate if your wealth does not meet this threshold.
Sharia law also impacts whether it is compulsory to make an animal sacrifice. In the Hanafi dominion (predominately Afghanistan to Turkey), Qurbani is mandatory. However, in the Shafi'i, the Maliki, and Hanbali areas, those who perform the sacrifice will earn rewards in the afterlife, but there will be no punishment for neglecting them. No matter which school of law you follow, performing the Qurbani carries a great bonus as this is something the Prophet Muhammad did personally and encouraged his followers to do too.
How do Muslims in other countries participate?
In Indonesia, sheep are more desirable than goats, followed by cattle and buffalo. Most consumers buy from local farmers or animal stockyards. Then the buyer hands over the livestock to the Qurbani committee at the local mosque to be slaughtered and distributed by the committee. They rarely kill their sacrificed livestock and distribute it by themselves.
In Turkey, most Muslims do not directly buy animals from a farmer or animal market. They generally purchase meat in smaller quantities in packets ready to be distributed from local butchers and supermarkets. A modern urban life with little ties with rural areas is thought to motivate this choice. In Istanbul, city fathers have attempted to reconcile traditional values nurtured in Turkey's agrarian past with the realities of cramped urban living by establishing 169 city sacrificial centers throughout this metropolis of 12 million people for the three days of slaughter. The metropolitan centers also offer one-stop shopping: Residents can purchase a live sheep or cow from a farmer, have it reserved for slaughter, then return for the butchering and cutting.
Also, in Turkey is an air of entrepreneurship. One young man came up with a cyber-solution, offering Turkey's first online sheep sale and butchering service.
Both Indonesia and Turkey are developed countries moving fast into the future. The "Feast of Sacrifice" is not forgotten, but the details and the specifics of the slaughter are left to the religious elders, the ulama. Other Muslims, imbued by the convenience of material life and not conditioned to see or deal with pain or blood, would instead have others perform the sacrifice.
Go with the Indonesians. Let a committee at the mosque handle the animal sacrifice and the meat distribution. This procedure keeps my neighbor from turning his backyard into an abattoir, minimizes taxpayer funds involved in the operation and maximizes meat distribution. Citizens that want to get involved can, and the process is supervised by people who know what they are doing and who are motivated to do it right.
Credit to Wikipedia Commons for the accompanying photo from TheAnimalDay.org of a lamb sacrifice for Eid.