Qurban (Ritual Sacrifice)

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Qurban (قربان, Urdu and Persian ghorbani/qorbani قرباني) means "sacrifice" in Arabic. Its origin is actually Aramaic and ultimately Hebrew. The consonantal root ق-ر-ب q-r-b is semantically associated with the idea of closeness, such as the common adjective قريب "qarib" meaning "close" (also as a noun close one/relative). Its ultimate meaning stems from the ancient animal sacrifices of the priests in Holy of Holies temple in Jerusalem, who would "come close" to the שכינה‎ "shekhina", the holy presence of God (יהוה YHVH) in the Ark of the Covenant, to offer YHVH the sacrifice. Islamic scriptures (the Qur'an and Hadith) recount at least two close instances of human sacrifice which were averted at last second and contemporary Muslims continue to engage in yearly animal sacrifice on عيد الأضحى "Eid Al-Adha", the Eid of the Sacrifice. The word "Qurban" is also used in Christian Arabic to refer to the "sacrifice" of the Mass, where the priest consecrates the sacrificial "body and blood" of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Human sacrifice in Islamic scriptures

Ibrahim's attempted child sacrifice

Ibrāhīm (Arabic: ابراهيم, Hebrew: אַבְרָהָם) , the biblical patriarch Abraham in the Bible( allegedly born circa 1900 BC to 1861 BC – died between 1814 BC to 1716 BC, though the evidence for this is very late), is an important prophet in Islam. He is the son of Tarekh and the father of the Prophet Ismail (Ishmael) -his first born son- and the Prophet Ishaq (Isaac) his second born. Ibrahim is considered the Father of the Prophets in orthodox Islam. Ibrahim is commonly termed Khalil Allah, or "Friend of God" or "Braheem". Islam regards many of the biblical patriarchs as prophets of Allah, and hence as Muslims (i.e., monotheists). Ibrahim is regarded as a Hanif (a term of considerable confusion in the Qur'an that seems to indicate some type of monotheism or obedience to Allah). According to the Islamic tradition, Ibrahim was ordered to sacrifice his favored son Isma'il by Allah, an order that Ibrahim faithfully followed up until the last second when Allah stopped him and provided a ram to sacrifice in Isma'il 's stead, saving Isma'il .

This story of Ibrahim almost sacrificing Isma'il however can only be regarded as apocryphal, coming as it does more than a thousand years after the primary source which first describes this event, Genesis 22:1-14, and more than two thousand years after the event itself is said to have taken place. Moreover the change made to the story from the one found in the Bible, the son being Isma'il instead of his brother Ishaq, betrays a clear sectarian purpose. According to the Islamic tradition Isma'il is the progenitor of the Arabs, who were in the first centuries of Islam pre-eminent in their singular claim to the Islamic tradition, whereas in both the Judaic and Islamic traditions Ishaq(Yitzkhaq or Isaac in Hebrew) is the progenitor of the Jewish people. By moving the favored position of the miracle from Ishaq to Isma'il, the Islamic tradition is making a bold encroachment into the sacred history of the Jewish people and laying claim to their favor by god and Ibrahim.

This was certainly an evident test. And We redeemed him with a great sacrifice.

The "Festival of Sacrifice" or "Greater Bairam" id est عيد الأضحى "Eid Al-Adha" is a religious festival celebrated by Muslims (including the Druze) worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Isma'il as an act of obedience to God and the sacrifice's close-call aversion by Allah providing a ram to sacrifice in Isma'il's stead. Qurban is used to refer to the sacrifice of a livestock animal during Eid ul-Adha. Eid al-Adha is the latter of two Eid festivals celebrated by Muslims, whose basis comes from the Quran.[1] (Muslims in Iran celebrate a third Eid.) Like Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha begins with a short prayer followed by a sermon.

Muhammad's grandfather

The grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad, Abd-al-Muttalib, is also reported by the Islamic tradition to have had an almost-sacrifice. According to the sira of ibn Ishaq, he made a promise to the pagan god Hubal that if Hubal were to grant him ten sons he would sacrifice one of them to Hubal. After the birth of his tenth son, he went to the Ka'aba in order to engage in ميسر‎ "maisir" , or gambling by means of shooting arrows, on which one of his 10 children to sacrifice to the pagan god Hubal. He had each one of his sons write their name on an arrow and gave the ten arrows to an archer who cast die on which one of them he would shoot. After the die fell as it were on Abdullah, the future father of Muhammad, the Quraysh implored him not to sacrifice his son for fear of encouraging more sacrifices of sons. The Quraysh and his sons instead convinced him to consult a sorceress in Khaybar. The sorceress order him to offer the equivalent of the blood price for a man, 10 camels, to Hubal and use the same method to decide between sacrificing Abdullah and 10 camels. If the arrow fell on Abdullah, the sorcerres ordered him to add 10 camels to the existing number and try again and again until the arrow fell on the camels. After repeatedly playing the game of chance again and again, the arrows finally fell on the camels, by this point 100 of them, which he sacrificed, and this was seen as evidence of divine intervention. [2]

Historicity of human sacrifice in 7th century Arabia

Evidence from outside of the Islamic tradition, however, shows that human sacrifice, of children and prisoners of war, stopped before the 7th century AD in the 6th century in Arabia, which may indicate that this story was invented in order to further grant divine favor to the lineage of Muhammad from the Arabian tradition.

Social Impact of Qurban

Qurban during Eid-al-Adha provides much economic boon for the suppliers of the animals (usually but not strictly limited to goats, an association so strong that the holiday is know in Urdu as بکرا عید "bakra eid" or "the goat Eid") and also much leather for manufacturers. The economic strain of buying a whole goat to sacrifice, though, is often too much for poor families, despite feeling a compulsion to do this as it is a necessary ritual in orthodox Sunni Islam, and the massive amount of animals being slaughtered in the Islamic halal fashion at the same time leads to literal rivers of blood in some majority-Muslim cities like Karachi and Dhaka, blood which can unsanitarilly linger for days after the festival in poor areas.


  1. Quranic Basis for Eid al-Adha
  2. Muhammad ibn Ishaq. Sirat Rasul Allah. Translated by Guillaume, A. (1955). The Life of Muhammad. Oxford University Press. p.66-68