Eid-al Adha is the annual celebration of the memory of Prophet Ibrahim who offered to sacrifice his son for God; but God favored him and accepted the sacrifice of a ram instead.
The principle of sacrifice is our willingness to give up something dear to us for a high purpose. The Middle East, the cradle of monotheistic religion, is a desert region where crops are difficult to grow in most places. In ancient times food was scarce and cattle were the principal source of human sustenance as well as wealth. Therefore killing one of your animals and sharing the meat with others was a major act of sacrifice and charity. This was especially the case in the large gathering of Hajj. Sacrificing animals was a part of the Arab rituals of Hajj in the pre-Islamic period.
In modern times there has been widespread economic progress and food is much more plentiful. Cattle are no longer an important part of personal wealth of most people, even in the Middle East. It is therefore no longer meaningful to seek favor with God through animal sacrifice, at the time of Eid-al-Adha, or at any other time.
We should celebrate Eid-al-Adha by thanking God for providing our sustenance, reflecting on the principle of sacrifice and by contributing some of our wealth to causes that help humanity.
The ritual sacrificing of animals in public places on Eid-al Adha is still widespread in many Muslim countries. This practice does not raise God consciousness. Moreover, it is unsightly, unhygienic and a waste of precious economic resources. It should be discontinued.
We learn from the Old Testament that sacrifice of humans was practiced in the ancient Middle East. The switching of Prophet Ibrahim’s son by a ram symbolized an evolution of the concept of sacrifice to a less brutal form. This evolution continues into modern times, and we don’t have to kill even an animal to practice the principle of sacrifice.
The Quran points to this principle in the following verse related to animal sacrifice at the time of Hajj:
“It is neither their flesh nor their blood that reaches God; it is your God-consciousness that reaches Him….” ( 22:37)