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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 4: Pre-Islamic Sacrifices

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Chapter 4

Pre-Islamic Sacrifices

4.1 Introduction

As mentioned earlier,1 there are not many written sources available that describe pre-Islamic sacrifices and deities in the Arabian region. Where Islam showed an interest in this topic, it would appear that two ideas governed what was written: a sincere willingness to understand the earlier religious rituals, and an apologetic interest in convincing new believers that Islam was the most natural, the strongest and the best religion. But despite a certain intention to promote Islam, the Islamic texts and narratives that have come down to us do contain authentic information about the pre-Islamic period. There are several significant reasons why I wish to combine information about practices in both pre-Islam and Islam. Firstly, the few written sources that survive about pre-Islam are attributable to Islamic authors; they were written in Islamic times, and, at least partly, in an Islamic style and language. Secondly, the reports about pre-Islamic idols and sacrifices are not purely Islamic but are inherited from a culture with Jewish, Christian and Arabic roots. Thus, the language that came to characterise the “new” Islamic world reflects these cultures. Pre-Islamic idols and sacrifices were often associated with pilgrimages and markets, of various kinds,2 just as subsequently the Islamic ḥajj and ʿumra were to become a frame around Islamic ritual. Thus, the texts I examine present reports from pilgrimages and sacrificial rituals. These two themes are not always easy to separate, since some...

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