Sacrificing Rituals

Zaidul Hasan

StoryThe virtuous Eid-ul-Azha is here. The second largest festival of Islam. All the Muslims of the world are preparing themselves to show their love and gratitude to the almighty. Qurbani means sacrifice. Muslims are being ready to offer their sacrifice of an animal to the almighty according to the age old great tradition. Almost all of us know the history of the tradition of Qurbani. But is Islam the only religion or belief that has a ritual of sacrificing animal? Was there any history of sacrificing animal before Islam? Let’s get to know something about that.
The sacrificing ritual
Offering sacrifice to the almighty or to the nature (for those who believed in supreme power of nature) is a long old tradition. Since the earliest period of human life sacrifices have been offered to a supreme power. Most early forms of sacrifice and ritual were connected to fertility myths. Ancient cultures observed that life tended to work in cycles–there is day and night, annual seasonal change, and of course birth and death. Ancient cultures saw these things as being dependent on one another and often created myths involving a deity that would die in the winter only to be brought back to life in the spring. Because of this association between death and life, many ancient cultures believed that killing an animal or human being could help ensure the success of the crop. Thus the ritual of sacrifice became practice.
Sacrifice being an ancient method of worship has been practiced commonly in many cultures. Sacrifices have been made in ancient Greece. It has been a common practice among the Aztec and Mayans too. Practice of sacrifices in ancient Israel is known too. Sacrifices have been made in Norse rituals, Germanic Paganism, Celtic Polytheism. Sacrifices have been a part of worship for a long time.
Sacrifice of life to a supreme power has always been made in two specific classifications. Sacrifice of animal life and sacrifice human life.
Human Sacrifice
Human sacrifice is sometimes regarded as a bizarre practice carried out by a few scattered societies who either were uncivilized or exceptionally cruel and violent. However, there is persuasive evidence that the sacrificial impulse has been common throughout history and has played an important role in society. People would be ritually killed in a manner that was supposed to please or appease a god or spirit.
Human sacrifices were practiced by various Pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica. When talking about human sacrifice, the Aztec would come to the table at the first place. The Aztec practiced human sacrifice on an unusually large scale; a sacrifice would be made every day to aid the sun in rising, the dedication of the great temple at Tenochtitlan was reportedly marked with the sacrificing of thousands, and there are multiple accounts of captured Conquistadores being sacrificed during the wars of the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
Mayan culture also had the practice of human sacrifice. In Maya culture human sacrifice was the ritual offering of nourishment to the gods. Blood was viewed as a potent source of nourishment for the Maya deities, and the sacrifice of a living creature was a powerful blood offering. By extension, the sacrifice of a human life was the ultimate offering of blood to the gods, and the most important Maya rituals culminated in human sacrifice. In Scandinavia, the old Scandinavian religion contained human sacrifice. Norse and German and Celtic Paganism had the practice of sacrificing human.
Children were often selected as the sacrificial offerings. Prisoners of war were also chosen for sacrificing to God or the supreme power.

Animal Sacrifice
Sacrifice of animal are practiced within many religions around the world and have appeared historically in almost all cultures, including those of the Sumerians, Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Germanics, Celts, Aztecs, and Mayans. From where this practice of animal sacrifice has come? Some say the practice arises from the ancient haunting. Haunting turned into slaughter with the domestication of livestock.  In antiquity, ritual slaughter and animal sacrifice was one and the same. So it is believed that meat was consumed after slaughtering ritually with a tribute to the gods.  It is also said that the most convincing evidence of the practice of ritual sacrifice comes from the much older Mesopotamian civilization. Ritual sacrifice to the gods in Mesopotamia developed as a means of justifying meat consumption by human beings–a privilege generally reserved for the elite of society–and that by the beginning of the third millennium B.C.E. ritual sacrifice was understood as a means of feeding the Mesopotamian gods.
Animal sacrifices were common throughout Europe and the Ancient Near East until Late Antiquity. Greek animal sacrifice marked a cultural boundary. Worship in Greece typically consisted of sacrificing domestic animals at the altar with hymn and prayer. Parts of the animal were then burned for the gods; the worshippers would eat the rest. Greek animal sacrifice was Christianized into slaughter ceremonies involving Greek Orthodox Christian ritual, known as ‘kourbania’.
Ancient Egyptian slaughter rituals are frequently depicted in tombs and temples from the Old Kingdom onwards. For the Egyptians, then, the sacrifice of a bull was the gift of a demigod to the gods. As in Iron Age religion in general, an important part of Germanic paganism was animal sacrifice. In ancient he most potent offering was animal sacrifice, typically of domesticated animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs. Each was the best specimen of its kind, cleansed, clad in sacrificial regalia and garlanded; the horns of oxen might be gilded.
Many Indo-European religious branches show evidence for horse sacrifice. The Ashvamedha  was one of the most important royal rituals of Vedic religion in India. In ancient roman religion a horse sacrifice was made known as ‘October Horse’. Horse sacrificing was also found in Norse and Irish ceremony.

Animal Sacrifice in
different religion
It has appeared within many religion of the world that sacrifice of animal is practiced. This has been practiced historically in every culture. We may take a look into some common religion about the ritual of sacrificing animal.
Judaism : The centrality of sacrifices in Ancient Israel is clear. Much of the Bible, particularly the opening chapters of the book Leviticus, detailing the exact method of bringing sacrifices. Animal sacrifices made in Judaism is known as ‘korban’. In Hebrew the noun korban is used for a variety of sacrificial offerings described and commanded in the Hebrew Bible. Such sacrifices were offered in a variety of settings by the ancient Israelites, and later by the Jewish priesthood, the priests, at the Temple in Jerusalem. A korban was often an animal sacrifice, such as a sheep or a bull that underwent Jewish ritual slaughter, and was often cooked and eaten by the offerer, with parts given to the priests and parts burned on the Temple mizbe’ah.
Ancient sacrifice in Israel was a part of religious worship at the Jerusalem Temple. The Hebrew Bible narrates that God commanded the Israelites to offer offerings and sacrifices on various altars, and describes the offering of sacrifices in the Tabernacle, in the Temple in Jerusalem until the First Temple was destroyed, and resumed with the Second Temple until it was destroyed in 70 CE.
The practice of offerings and animal sacrifices in Judaism mostly ended with the destruction of the Temple, although it was briefly reinstated during the Jewish-Roman Wars of the 2nd century AD and was continued in certain communities thereafter. Rabbinic Judaism continued to maintain that the Torah allowed observance of Jewish law without animal sacrifice based upon oral tradition and strong support from scripture. However, the practice and nature of sacrifices continue to have relevance to Jewish theology and law, particularly in Orthodox Judaism.
‘Shechita’ is the Jewish ritual slaughter for poultry and cattle for food. The method of slaughter of animals for food is the same as was used for Temple sacrifices. The act is performed by drawing a very sharp knife back and forth rapidly across the animal’s throat making a single incision incising the trachea and esophagus. The carotid arteries are also cut, allowing the blood to drain out. The knife must also be perfectly smooth, and free of any nicks.
Christianity : References to animal sacrifice appear in the New Testament, such as the parents of Jesus sacrificing two doves and the Apostle Paul performing a Nazirite vow even after the death of Christ. Christ is referred to by his apostles as “the Lamb of God”, the one to whom all sacrifices pointed. Christ’s crucifixion is comparable to animal sacrifice on a large scale as His death serves as atonement for all of man’s sins.
Some villages in Greece also sacrifice animals to Orthodox saints in a practice known as kourbània. Sacrifice of a lamb, or less commonly a rooster, is a common practice in Armenian Church and Tewahedo Church. This tradition, called matagh, is believed to stem from pre-Christian pagan rituals. Additionally, some Mayans following a form of Folk Catholicism in Mexico today still sacrifice animals in conjunction with church practices, a ritual practiced in past religions before the arrival of the Spaniards.
Hinduism : Hinduism itself forbids animal sacrifice. Although animal sacrifices practices as are still current are mostly associated with either Shaktism (doctrine of power) or with local tribal traditions. There are mentions of animal sacrifices in the Vedas. There are Hindu temples in Assam and West Bengal India and Nepal and Bangladesh where goats, chickens and sometimes Water buffalos are sacrificed. These sacrifices are mainly done at mandirs following the Shakti school of Hinduism where the female nature of Brahman is worshipped in the form of Kali and Durga.
Jhatka is the prescribed method for Hindu ritual slaughter. In this method the animal sacrificed is decapitated with a single blow.
Shikhism : Ritual slaughter of animals (mostly goats) is practiced by certain sects within Sikhism on certain religious events. This sacrifice employs technique of Jhatka. This sacrifice is now only popular among Nihangs and Hazuri Sikhs who sacrifice goats on the festivals of Diwali and Hola Mohalla and distribute it as ‘Mahaprashad’ among the congregants as part of ‘Langar’.
Buddhism : The Buddha condemned ritual animal sacrifice. The First Precept of Buddhism prohibits any type of killing. The Buddha criticized these bloody rituals as being “wasteful, ineffective and cruel”

Far East
Many people, especially the emperor Wang Mang of the Xin Dynasty, offered animal products in ancestor worship. Confucius approved of such practices, without actually mandating them.

Traditional African religion
Animal sacrifice is regularly practiced in traditional African religions. In New World versions of these religions, such as or Lucmi, such animal offerings constitute a portion of what are termed ebos – ritual activities that include offerings, prayer and deeds. The blood of the animals is thought to hold or life force.
Animal sacrifice is also found in the Cuban religion called Palo, which derives from African religion of the Congo, and in Haitian Vodou, a religion that derives from the Vodou religion of Dahomey. Animal sacrifice is also found in the Talensi tribe from Ghana, Africa.
Now sacrificing has a major role in Islam. Islam has a yearly festival of sacrificing to the almighty Allah to show gratitude. No other religion or culture has such a big festival to show gratitude to the almighty through sacrifice. On the occasion of Eid ul Azha (Festival of Sacrifice), affluent Muslims all over the world perform the Sunnah of Prophet Ibrahim by sacrificing a cow or sheep. The history of sacrifice in Eid ul Azha goes back four thousand years. Prophet Ibrahim was commanded by the almighty Allah in a dream to devote his dearest possession, his only son, prophet Ismail. Prophet Ibrahim decided t do the sacrifice. He talked with his son, prophet Ismail. Prophet Ismail did not hesitate even for a moment. Prophet Ibrahim took attempt to cut prophet Ismail’s throat. Almighty Allah was happy with their dedication and he passed them in the test. Prophet Ismail was unharmed and a ram was slaughtered instead. Muslims commemorate this ultimate act of sacrifice every year during Eid al-Azha.
The prescribed method of slaughtering all animals excluding fish and most sea-life per Islamic law is known as ‘Dabiha’. This method of slaughtering animals consists of a swift, deep incision with a sharp knife on the throat, cutting the jugular veins and carotid arteries of both sides but leaving the spinal cord intact.

The significance of sacrifice in Islam
Sacrifice has a significant value in Islam. This is not only significant but unique too.  First of all this is a sunnah to the holy prophet Ibrahim. We commemorate his ultimate sacrifice every year during Eid ul Azha through Qurban.
Secondly, the sacrifice in Islam is a breaking f the tradition. Before the pre-Islamic period, every religion and culture use to offer sacrifices to their gods or supreme power only in hopes of attaining protection or some favour of material gain. Their purpose of sacrifice was to pacify an ‘Angry God’. But Islam broke the tradition. Islam demanded personal sacrifice and submission as the only way to die before death and reach “fana’” or “extinction in Allah.” Jews and Christians had the concept of absolving one’s sins through the blood of another about sacrificing. But it is not found anywhere in the Holy Qur’an.
Neither is the idea of gaining favor by offering the life of another to Allah. In Islam, all that is demanded as a sacrifice is one’s personal willingness to submit one’s ego and individual will to Allah.
The sacrifice in Islam is even unique in the distribution of the meat f the sacrificed animal.
The meat is divided into three equal parts. One part is retained by the person who performs the sacrifice. The second is given to his relatives. The third part is distributed to the poor. Thus Islam ensures equality of every class and person. This is the uniqueness of Islam.
Eid ul Azha is very important for every Muslims. This is a chance to give thanks to Allah and praise Allah for the sustenance He has given us. We should follow the sunnah of prophet Ibrahim and sacrifice something of value to Allah to demonstrate our appreciation and gratitude for what we have been given.

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