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Muhammad and the Formation of Sacrifice

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Gerd Marie Adna

Islam has a festival of sacrifice, id al-adha, which is celebrated each year in the month of pilgrimage. Simultaneous to the celebration and the sacrificial ritual in Mecca, during hajj, sheep, camels and cows are slaughtered all over the Muslim world. The story about how Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, Ishaq or Isma’il (Q 37), is important. Also other parts of the Qur’an contribute to the understanding of the id al-adha. Further, texts from the first 500 years after hijra contribute to a new comprehension of the theology of sacrifice in Islam. In this monograph insights from the wider field of religious and anthropological studies (esp. R.A. Rappaport) are applied to the source texts about sacrifices and rituals in pre-Islam and Islam.
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Chapter 2: Theoretical and Research Historical Perspectives

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Chapter 2

Theoretical and Research Historical Perspectives

2.1 Islamic sacrificial rituals seen in the light of Roy A. Rappaport’s Religion and Rituals in the Making of Humanity

Islam is not one of the main religions dealt with in Roy A. Rappaport’s Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity. He hardly mentions early Islam, and does not comment on Islam’s sacrificial practices at all. Instead, his main examples are taken from his research among the Maring people of Papua New Guinea, from the rituals and related activities of Jews, American Indians and a variety of other ethnic and religious groups, and from rituals associated with secular institutions such as the Olympic Games and certain theatrical traditions.1

Rappaport compares various elements of both religious and social rituals. The connections that he identifies promise to be a useful tool in my description and analysis of the Islamic material. Although his discussion is in some respects unfinished, due to the fact that his monograph was published posthumously in 1999,2 it is nevertheless of broad scope and considerable interest, and I shall therefore use it to throw some light on the Islamic rituals connected to pilgrimage and sacrifice.

Viewed in the light of the broader academic discussion about ritual, I have chosen some of Rappaport’s terms that are likely to enrich my discussion about sacrifice in Islam. These fall into various groups of concepts: firstly, ritual order, self-referential and canonical...

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