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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 9: Islamic Sacrifice and Ultimate Sacred Postulates

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Chapter 9

Islamic Sacrifice and Ultimate Sacred Postulates

9.1 Islamic sacrifice and ritual orders, self-referential and canonical messages

In describing the contemporary Islamic sacrifice, Clarke Brooke says,

In Islam the ritual slaughter of the Hajj and Id al-Adha is not propitiatory by nature, nor by the sharing of the meat is charity the main purpose. The true meaning of the sacrifice is that in taking the life of an animal in God’s name, the sacrificer gives testimony to his submission to God and to His power of life or death over all creatures. The Muslim recognizes that the only sacrifice which Allāh demands of him is the submission of his will and purpose to that of God.1

Even if this passage sums up the main ideas behind the pilgrimage sacrifice as described in my material, especially with regard to the sacrifice as a token of submission to Allāh, my selection of material requires some finer or more nuanced distinctions. For instance, Brooke’s summary does not cover every sacrifice I have analysed above. When Q 108 states that Allāh has given Muḥammad “abundance”, the Prophet – and, by implication, every Muslim – is at the same time ordered, “to pray to Allāh and sacrifice (wa-nḥur)”.2 These phrases express two of the five pillars of Islam (arkān), prayer and sacrifice, considered as part of the ḥajj. These two rituals are linked to the...

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