We often hear the word ‘Qurbani’ or Sacrifice, but what does it really mean?

‘Qurbani’ comes from the root word ‘Qurban’ which literally means ‘every such thing or act which is a means of taking people closer to Allah. This can be a sacrifice of an animal, a Sadaqah or Khairat. Imam Abu Bakr Jasas explains that the meaning is even more general, and writes that every good action or deed that takes a person closer to Allah is called Qurban. The reason is that Qurban means to sacrifice and it comes from the root word (قرب), which means ‘to get closer’. Thus, it means that a person gets closer by means of sacrificing something. As for the technical meaning which is used in Shariah or Islamic law, Qurbani refers to that animal which is given as a sacrifice to Allah.

If one looks at the history of Qurbani, one will find that the act of sacrificing an animal with the intention of gaining nearness to Allah was present at the time of Adam (A.S.).

The first Qurbani or sacrifice was performed by the two sons of Adam (A.S) Habil and Qabil.  About this, the Quran says:

إِذْ قَرَّبَا قُرْبَانًا

‘And remember when the two sons of Adam gave a sacrifice unto Allah.’[1]

While giving the commentary of this verse, Hafiz Ibn Katheer mentions a hadith which is related by Ibn Abbas, in which it is stated that Habil (Abel) had given a sheep in sacrifice, while Qabil (Cain) had given something which had grown in his field.

Qurbani being an act of Ibadah, (even though it was present at the time of Adam (A.S.)), took a special form at the time of Ibraheem (A.S.). This originated from a special incident that occurred in this great Prophet’s life, and was actually a test and a trial from Allah.

Therefore, as a means of remembrance of that great sacrifice which Ibraheem (A.S) had given; Allah made it an established practice in the Ummah of Muhammad (S.A.S).

This which took place in the life of Ibraheem (A.S.) was such an incident that history never saw the like of it, and there was nothing comparable to it. In order to understand the reality of Qurbani, one should understand the incident that took place with Ibraheem (A.S.) which serves as the origin of Qurbani.

The Quran mentions that when Prophet Ibraheem (A.S.) started his mission as a prophet of Allah, the first person he invited to the worship of One God, was his father Azar who used to make idols and was also an idol worshipper. Giving due respect to his father, he ask him to at least leave off idol worship. But Ibrahim’s father, instead of answering the call of this great prophet, expelled him from his house, and threatened to persecute him if he continued with the message. He said to Ibraheem:

لَأَرْجُمَنَّكَ ۖ وَاهْجُرْنِي مَلِيًّا

“I will indeed stone you; now get away from me for a good long while.”[2]

Besides the father, the people also turned against Ibraheem (A.S.), and he was forced to leave the city due to the threats made by his father and the people. For his determination in preaching the truth, Ibraheem (A.S) had to face another trial when the people threw him in the blazing fire. The heat of this fire was so intense that even the birds flying far above were roasted and burnt. When Ibraheem (A.S.) was about to be thrown into the fire, Jibrail (A.S.) came to him and offered to help him. He said to the angel, “If the help is from you, then I am not in need, for the one in whose cause I am being  thrown  into the fire, has full knowledge of what is taking place. Whatever he has destined for me, I am well pleased with it.’’

The outcome of the fire was that Allah made it cool, and made it a means of peace for Ibraheem (A.S.). About this, the Quran said:

قُلْنَا يَا نَارُ كُونِي بَرْدًا وَسَلَامًا عَلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ

‘And we said, ‘O fire be cool and a means of peace upon Ibraheem!’[3]

The blaze which emerged towards the sky became a bed of roses for Prophet Ibraheem (A.S.).

Notwithstanding the fact that the unbelievers witnessed this great miracle, (instead of bringing faith in him), their hatred and disbelief increased. The result was that Ibraheem (A.S.) was forced to leave the city. At that time, while leaving he said:

وَقَالَ إِنِّي ذَاهِبٌ إِلَىٰ رَبِّي سَيَهْدِينِ

“And he said, ‘I am migrating for the pleasure of my lord, He will indeed guide me to somewhere which is better.’”[4]

At that time, Lut (A.S.) who had already brought faith on Ibraheem (A.S.) joined him and they both left Iraq and migrated to Palestine.

Ibraheem (A.S.), now at the age of 86 years, was forced to leave his home and relatives, and went away in poverty where there wasn’t anyone to help him besides Allah.

At that time, he made Dua to Allah saying ‘O my Lord bless me with a good son.’[5]

رَبِّ هَبْ لِي مِنَ الصَّالِحِينَ

Allah accepted his Dua and granted him a righteous son. About this, the Quran says,

فَبَشَّرْنَاهُ بِغُلَامٍ حَلِيمٍ

‘And we gave him glad tidings of a forbearing son.’[6]

This son was Isma’il (A.S.), who grew up as a pious young boy, and was eventually granted prophethood by Allah. Besides the fact that this ‘son’ was a great blessing from Allah, Ibraheem (A.S.) was put to severe tests and trials through this beloved son.

The first test was that Ibraheem (A.S.) was ordered by Allah to take his only son Isma’il and his wife, Hajra, and migrate to Hejaz where he was instructed to leave them. Hejaz was such a place where no sign of civilization could have been seen. Only desert was to be seen. No sign of water and food could be seen. Ibraheem (A.S.) was ordered to leave them at this place. He thus left them over there, and started back on his journey. He did not remain even for a short while to explain to his wife, as to why he was doing this. Hajra, seeing  that  Ibraheem (A.S.) was going away from the place, shouted to him and asked, “Where are you going after leaving us in this deserted place?’’ The friend of Allah, Hazrat Ibraheem (A.S.) did not look back. Then, Hajra thought that Ibraheem was a prophet of Allah and he would not do anything unless he is commanded by Allah.

So she then asked, “Is it a command from Allah?’’ Ibraheem (A.S.) answered in the affirmative. Hajra then replied that if it was a command from Allah, then Allah would take care of them. This was the first test, and Ibraheem (A.S.) was successful in it.  He went away, but Allah took care of his family and provided for them. In addition, He granted them the spring of water which is called ‘Zamzam’.

The second and greatest test that Ibraheem (A.S.) went through was that which the Quran itself gave an account.

About this, the Quran states;

فَلَمَّا بَلَغَ مَعَهُ السَّعْيَ قَالَ يَا بُنَيَّ إِنِّي أَرَىٰ فِي الْمَنَامِ أَنِّي أَذْبَحُكَ فَانْظُرْ مَاذَا تَرَىٰ

‘When this child (Isma’il) reached the age when he could now help his father in works etc., his father (Ibraheem (A.S.)) said to him, ‘My dear son, I have seen in a dream that I am sacrificing you. Say, what is your opinion about this?’[7]

Ibraheem (A.S.) had seen in a dream that he was slaughtering his son for Allah. Upon this, he told his son about it to see how his beloved son would react, since he understood from the dream that it was an instruction from Allah.

It is important to note that Ibraheem (A.S.), after receiving the instruction from Allah, did not have to consult anyone on this. But here, consulting his son was full of wisdom. Firstly, it was done in order that the test of obedience to Allah could be seen. Whether Isma’il (A.S.) would fully accept the command of Allah for this sacrifice or not. Secondly, it was that if he prefers to accept the command of Allah, then his act would be full of Thawab and rewards, since the basis of being rewarded depends on a person’s intentions. Thirdly, it was done so that the natural love that a father has for a son would not cause him to delay in giving the sacrifice, seeing that his son would have accepted the order to be sacrificed already.

Speaking about the sacrifice, the Quran says:

فَلَمَّا بَلَغَ مَعَهُ السَّعْيَ

‘It means that when the child had reached such an age where he started to help his father in works.’ It shows that it was not that the son was just born to his father and Ibraheem (A.S.) was asked to sacrifice him. No! The child grew with the father; the father became fond of his child and loved his child very much. When the child (Isma’il) grew to such an age where the bond and attachment between the father and son became very strong, and the child started to assist the father in little works etc., Allah decided to put the test upon Ibraheem (A.S.) at that time. At this moment, the instruction to sacrifice his beloved son came from Allah.

Here, Allah did not want the sacrifice of his son, neither did Allah want the sacrifice of any human being. It was a test. Seeing that the son was the dearest and most loving one to the father, Allah wanted to test Ibraheem, to see if he was willing to sacrifice his most beloved son for His sake. According to some historical traditions as mentioned in Ruhul Bayaan, the son, Isma’il (A.S.) was 9 years of age at that time.

From this, one can well imagine what great test Ibraheem (A.S.) had to undergo, and what great patience and forbearance was needed.

The great Prophet (Ibraheem (A.S.) then ask his son about the sacrifice. He said:

يَا بُنَيَّ إِنِّي أَرَىٰ فِي الْمَنَامِ أَنِّي أَذْبَحُكَ فَانْظُرْ مَاذَا تَرَىٰ

‘O my beloved son, I see in a dream that I am slaughtering you. Tell me, what do you think?’

The son wasn’t any common man. He was Allah’s devoted servant, a true worshipper and a mountain of steadfastness and patience. Being from the blood and flesh of the great friend of Allah, the son was also filled with the spirit of sacrifice.

He thus responded to his father and said,

قَالَ يَا أَبَتِ افْعَلْ مَا تُؤْمَرُ ۖ سَتَجِدُنِي إِنْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ مِنَ الصَّابِرِينَ

‘O my beloved father! Do whatever you have been commanded by Allah. You will indeed find me among those who have patience.’

Here, just as it was very difficult for Ibraheem (A.S.) to cut the throat of his son, in the same way it was a great task for the son to give his life for the sacrifice. But Allah had chosen this family for His sake, and all were successful in their trials.

Here, one can see the conduct of a true servant of Allah, Isma’il (A.S). He did not put the full confidence on himself, but instead, he left everything in the hands of Allah. As he said: سَتَجِدُنِي إِنْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ

‘You would find me among the patient ones ‘Insha Allah’, (if Allah wills).’

Another point to be noted here is his humility and humbleness. He humbled himself and said مِنَ الصَّابِرِينَ (You would find me among the patient ones). He did not say that ‘I would be patient’. Instead, he explained that patience and forbearance were not his qualities, but Allah had blessed a lot of His servants with these qualities, and he will be from amongst them. It is because of this humility and reliance on Allah, He (Allah) made this most difficult task an easy one.

A test which seemed very difficult for Ibraheem (A.S.), was now made easy by the son’s reply. The son and the father both prophets of Allah, now took the first step to fulfil the command of their Lord, and they came out from the house.

Satan, man’s enemy became angered, disturbed and annoyed. How can he see something like this happening? He decided to use all his tricks and schemes in order to stop Ibraheem (A.S.) from obeying the command of Allah. Knowing that Ibraheem (A.S.) was like a rock in steadfastness, and was firm in Allah’s command, Satan decided to go to Ismail’s mother first. He went to her and asked, ‘Where did Isma’il go?’ She said, ‘He went with his father for some work?’ Satan then said, ‘It’s not like that, you are ignorant of what’s going on. His father took him to slaughter him.’ Hajra said, ‘Can any father slaughter his son.’ Satan said. ‘Yes, the father says that Allah has given him such a command.’ Hearing this, Isma’il’s mother gave the same reply as Ismail and said, ‘Well, if Allah had given him such a command, then he is supposed to obey the command.’

Being hopeless on this side, he went after Ibraheem (A.S.) and his son who had already left Makkah and were going towards Mina. First of all, Satan came to Ibraheem (A.S) in the form of a good old friend, but Ibraheem was a man of faith and piety, and Satan could not have any effect on him. After that, Satan went close to him in the form of a huge idol and stood in the way so that Ibraheem could not pass. Upon the guidance from Allah, Ibraheem (A.S.) took 7 stones and stoned the Satan. On every stone, he said ‘Allahu Akbar’ before he threw it. Because of this, Satan moved away and went close to another spot where he stood, blocking the way. Ibrahim did the same as before. Satan again moved away and went close to another place. Ibraheem (A.S.) did the same act again. Satan now moved from there, and went to the place where the sacrifice was to be done.

This incident is mentioned in Ruhul Ma’ani, which has been taken from the Riwayat (tradition) of Qataadah (R.A). It is also mentioned in Tafseer Ibn Katheer, taken from the Riwayaat of Ibn Abbas which is mentioned in Musnad Ahmad.

About the incident, the Quran mentioned:

فَلَمَّا أَسْلَمَا وَتَلَّهُ لِلْجَبِينِ

Referring to the sacrifice itself it says, ‘When Ibraheem (A.S.) and his son were ready for this great sacrifice, and Ibraheem turned his son’s face towards the ground’ (less he might see his beloved son’s face and it may stop him from fulfilling this command of Allah).[8]

In some Riwayaat, it says that Ibraheem (A.S.) had sharpened the knife and put his full strength in slaughtering his son, but the knife was not able to cut the throat. Seeing this, Isma’il (A.S.) turned to his father and said, ‘O father, there isn’t any cloth for my burial, may be this  is what’s troubling you, so please take of my shirt so that you can use it for my burial.’ Ibraheem was about to take of the shirt when suddenly he heard an unseen voice. About this, the Quran stated:-

وَنَادَيْنَاهُ أَنْ يَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ. قَدْ صَدَّقْتَ الرُّؤْيَا

‘And we called him. O Ibraheem you have indeed proven your dream (which was a command of Allah).’[9]

When Ibraheem (A.S.) had proven that he was ready to sacrifice his only son for Allah, he became successful in this test, and Allah sent a ram from paradise which he was ordered to sacrifice.

This act was so dear and beloved to Allah that He made it a ritual upon the Ummah of Rasoolulah (S.A.S), as a remembrance of the great trial that this great Prophet and friend of Allah had to go through.

In this world, many things are used as signs of remembering someone. One sees a lot of statues in memory of so and so, and in remembrance of so and so. But, in the case of Ibraheem (A.S.), in order to remember him, and in order to let his action be a living example until the day of Judgement, Allah made it an established religious practice upon the Muslims, so that every year at the time of Qurbani, one will bear in mind, the great trial that the friend of Allah had to go through.

In Mishkat, a hadith is narrated that once the Sahabahs asked the Prophet (S.A.S), as to what was the origin of Qurbani. The Prophet (S.A.S) replied that it was the Sunnah (the practice) of their father, Ibraheem (A.S). The Sahabahs then enquired, ‘Then, what is the reward for us (if it is his sunnah)?’ The Prophet (S.A.S) replied that for every grain of hair on the animal, one good deed is written in one’s book of good deeds.[10]

When one looks at the incident of Ibraheem (A.S.) and his son, one will see that Allah did not want Ibraheem (A.S.) to sacrifice his son. Instead, He wanted to test him through something which he loved very much to see if he would give everything for the sake of Allah, as it comes in the Quran:

لَنْ تَنَالُوا الْبِرَّ حَتَّىٰ تُنْفِقُوا مِمَّا تُحِبُّونَ

‘You will never attain unto piety unless you sacrifice that which you love most.’[11]

Ibraheem (A.S.) certainly proved himself, and was willing to sacrifice whatever he had for Allah’s sake.

It was in this regard, he said,

قُلْ إِنَّ صَلَاتِي وَنُسُكِي وَمَحْيَايَ وَمَمَاتِي لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

‘Verily my prayer and my sacrifice, my life and my death, are all for Allah, the Lord of the worlds.’[12]

When Muslims do the Qurbani, it is expected that they sacrifice that which they love the most for the sake of Allah.



[1] Surah Maidah, Verse 27

[2] Surah Maryam, Verse 46

[3] Surah Anbiyah, Verse 69


[4] Surah Safaat, Verse 99


[5] Surah Safaat, Verse 100

[6] Surah Safaat, Verse 101

[7] Surah Safaat, Verse 102

[8] Surah Safaat, Verse 103


[9] Surah Safaat, Verse 104-5


[10] Ibn Majah, Pg.226, Published by Qademi Kutub Khana  / Similar narrations are reported in Ahmad, Hadith No.19303, Pg.78, Vol.7, Published by Maktaba Tijariya / Sunan Al Kubra, Hadith No.19016, Pg.485, Vol.9, Published by Dar el Hadith

[11] Surah Al Imraan, Verse 92


[12] Surah An ‘aam, Verse 162