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Muhammad and the Formation of Sacrifice


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 6: ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib’s Sacrifice


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Chapter 6

ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib’s Sacrifice

6.1 Introduction

In the analysis of the Qurʾānic texts we observed that ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib, Muḥammad’s grandfather, was not mentioned there. However, we encountered warnings against casting lots by means of arrows (tastaqsimū bi-l-azlāmi) (Q 5:4 and 5:93), although the term maysir only occurs in the latter verse. In Q 3:44 the husband of Maryam is picked out by casting lots,1 and in Q 37:140–142 Jonah’s destiny is decided by a similar procedure.

Crone and Silverstein have shown that lot-casting was not an exclusive Arabic or Islamic tradition but was found in many neighbour communities before and after Islam.2 They also characterise descriptions of such practices in reports of Islamic writers as “hardly to be taken at face value as historical reports. Taken as literature, however, they certainly suggest that Muslims who came out of Arabia took the use of lots for the division of conquered land and booty for granted.”3 However, the practice was discussed by the Islamic commentators and lawyers, and then, it seems to have disappeared.4

The narrative that I will discuss in this chapter, linked to choosing people by lot, takes, irrespective of its slightly legendary character up a significant position in a number of texts comprising important Islamic traditions. Clearly, it offers a better comprehension of the genealogy of Muḥammad. In any discussion of ‘sacrifice...

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