Editorial feature: What is the future of Islamic animal sacrifice?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2008:
Editorial feature

What is the future of Islamic animal sacrifice?

At each of the past two Eids, the Feast
of Sacrifice that culminates the Haj or Islamic
season of pilgrimage to Mecca, ANIMAL PEOPLE
publisher Kim Bartlett and son Wolf Clifton were
in cities where many Muslim people practice
animal sacrifice in honor of the occasion:
Mumbai, India and Luxor, Egypt.
Also in Egypt for the 2007 Eid was Animal
People, Inc. alternate board member Kristin
Stilt, an Islamic legal historian on the faculty
of Northwestern University law school in
Evanston, Illinois. Stilt had been in Jordan
the two days prior to the Eid, helping with an
Animals Australia investigation of the livestock
trade, but had returned to Cairo by the time the
Eid began. It was not her first Eid in the
Middle East.

All three, plus ANIMAL PEOPLE editor
Merritt Clifton, participated in the first Middle
East Network for Animal Welfare conference, held
in Cairo a few days before the Eid.
Editor Clifton, after spending much of a
week doing personal quantification of Cairo
animal populations, had already returned to the
U.S. Among the first tasks awaiting attention
was the annual effort of sifting the news of most
importance from among the many incoming reports
about Eid activities. Most years these inform at
least one article, often a cover feature.
Some of the reports come from readers,
including Animal Save Movement president Khalid
Mahmood Qurashi of Multan, Pakistan, who
e-mailed-as in many past years-that the Eid
sacrifices are “a cruel and atrocious massacre of
innocent and faithful animals,” which he would
like to abolish. Some Eid reports are collected
from other information media by newswire monitor
Cathy Czapla, who has tracked the Eid since
1996. Some of the most useful reports come from
Islamic participants in ProMed, the electronic
bulletin board of the 15,000-member International
Society for Infectious Diseases.
The variety of sources, ranging from
direct observation of animal killing to abstract
agriculture and trade statistics, permits a
variety of perspectives even among the people of
Our different perspectives reflect some
of the same differences in outlook and tactical
consideration that have informed discussions of
the Eid killing by people who care about animals
since long before the Eid was called the Eid-and
long before the time of Mohammed.
The perennial underlying questions for animal
advocates are what can be done to reduce animal
suffering in connection with Eid sacrifice, how
to introduce changes in the associated customs
and practices, what the people of the
communities involved are ready to accept, and
what influence the format of Eid celebration may
have on other issues involving animals.
The origin of the Eid as celebrated in
Islamic culture is a symbolic remembrance or
re-enactment of how Abraham avoided sacrificing
his son Isaac in response to a command from God,
when God rewarded Abraham’s faith and obedience
by sending a ram to be sacrificed
instead. Different sources interpret the meaning
of the Eid sacrifices in different ways, and
this in itself contributes to differing
interpretations of what a good Muslim should do.
The story of Abraham and Isaac is common
to the background of all of the Abrahamic
religions: not only Islam but also Judaism,
Christianity by descent from Judaism, and many
of the idol-worshipping tribal desert religions
whose followers Mohammed drew together into Islam.
Eid-like sacrifices were practiced in
Judaism, but were restricted to the Jerusalem
temple. Jewish animal sacrifices ended after the
temple was destroyed during Bar Cochba’s Revolt
circa 70 A.D.
Christians never practiced animal
sacrifice. The most common interpretation of why
is that Jesus offered himself as the final
sacrifice to redeem human sin, in fulfillment of
the prophecies of Isaiah, who condemned animal
Yet despite the absence of the ritual of
animal sacrifice, major holidays within Judaism
and Christianity are still marked, like the Eid,
by ritual periods of abstinence followed by a
large family or communal meal, typically
featuring heavy consumption of animal flesh, and
also typically marked by participants making
donations to charity.
Theology aside, the practice of a winter
animal slaughter and feast is common to every
culture that keeps livestock confined through the
winter, and was probably ancient even in
Abraham’s time. Typically at a certain point
farmers become aware that the ratio of animals to
available forage or fodder must be adjusted to
ensure the maximum rate of survival of breeding
stock in spring, so they kill surplus males,
especially, and hold feasts to ensure that none
of the animals’ meat is wasted.
From the very beginnings of recorded
human culture, humans have attempted to expiate
feelings of guilt about slaughter through the
same mechanisms of ritualizing, distancing, and
becoming sadistic that slaughterhouse designer
and psychologist Temple Grandin quantified among
slaughterhouse employees in our own time.
Distancing, until relatively recently,
was rarely possible. Slaughtering was of
necessity done within sight and sound of most of
the people in a household or village. That left
the moral authorities of almost every time and
place trying to strike the balance between
ritualizing and sadism that they felt would best
serve social stability.
Sadistic collective killing, as in the
case of the communal bullfighting practiced in
many societies, can be used to bond young men in
a manner useful to their community in times of
war, or in coping with other threats, such as
attacks by wild predators or the perceived need
to purge a community of an alleged criminal.
Military drill instructors worldwide use mostly
symbolic sadistic collective killing to overcome
recruits’ inhibitions against murder. Usually
this takes the form of bayoneting mannequins,
but occasionally ANIMAL PEOPLE hears of instances
in which the victim was a live animal, most
often a dog or pig.
The power-holders of most societies have
recognized that sadistic behavior must be
confined within strongly enforced ritual bounds,
lest the participants turn their freshly whetted
appetite for mayhem on the community itself–a
frequent occurrence whenever civil society breaks
down, and civilians, especially women and
children, become the primary victims.
While some sadistic slaughter has often
been approved, accepted, and even encouraged,
therefore, ritualizing slaughter as sacrifice
has usually been the primary approved form of
killing animals worldwide. Only with the advent
of high-volume livestock farming and slaughter,
refrigeration, and mass transport to move
animals and flesh long distances, has slaughter
in most of the world become commonplace enough to
drift far in practice from sacrifice. As
recently as the first half of the 20th century,
even most people in relatively affluent societies
tended to purchase meat only for relatively
special occasions. Only in the second half of
the 20th century, after the introduction of
factory poultry farming, could Americans forget,
for instance, that the political slogan of only
a few decades earlier, “A chicken in every pot!”
originated with the promise of enabling every
American to cook a chicken on Sunday, the
Christian Sabbath, and not every single day of
the week.
Ritualizing slaughter has historically
served human society as a regulatory mechanism,
not only to restrain violence and conserve
resources, but also to promote food safety.
Independent of spiritual context, the kosher and
hallal slaughter laws prescribed within Judaism
and Islam are practical efforts to keep slaughter
within bounds safe in all respects for their
communities, as well as to reduce the level of
animal suffering.

Practical concerns

Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and
Jesus–among many others–all wrestled with the
many issues raised by slaughter before Mohammed
did, at intervals of centuries or longer. Each
had to deal with the same basic problems, in
specific local contexts.
One central problem was the matter of
supply-and-demand. Usually more people wanted
meat than could afford to raise and slaughter
enough animals to satisfy their craving.
A related problem was the excessive
strain that raising livestock for slaughter puts
upon other resources, including water, natural
vegetation, and edible crops–which may not be
raised specifically for livestock, but may be
diverted to livestock by the wealthy, or may
simply be consumed by animals wandering beyond
their intended confines.
A third problem, of critical concern to
people trying to govern functional societies,
was the potential of inequality for generating
A further question contemplated right
from the beginning of written traditions in both
the Abrahamic cultures and Hindu/Buddhist/Jain
cultures of India and the Far East was whether
humans should be eating animals at all, and if
so, under what circumstances?
Preventing cruelty to animals concerned
the people who thought deeply about slaughter and
wrote about it to the point that what might be
called the “animal welfare” and “animal rights”
perspectives had already separated in India by
the time of the Buddha and the Jain teacher
Mahavira, and in the Middle East by the time of
Isaiah. The “animal welfare” perspective
emphasized the importance of following
proscriptions on the manner of slaughter, so as
to minimize animal suffering. The “animal
rights” perspective held that enlightened humans
should not eat animals, period.
The “animal rights” perspective
understandably gained the strongest following in
the regions, chiefly India, where raising
plant-based diets was easiest.
Vegetarianism was not unknown in the
Middle East of Mohammed’s time, where some of
the Sufis may have been vegetarian since
apparently originating as the Jerusalem church of
James, the vegetarian brother of Jesus. As a
camel driver early in life, Mohammed may also
have come into contact with vegetarian ideals via
caravans from India.
Yet despite these examples, the
overwhelming majority of people known to Mohammed
ate meat, and were of herding cultures.
Regardless of any personal feelings Mohammed may
have had against eating meat, and he did
emphasize limiting consumption, the practical
problems he had to deal with were the same issues
of availability, pressure on resources, and
socially corrosive effects of excess that Moses
dealt with. Moses had reluctantly acceded to the
public demand for meat while expressing
frustrated criticism of the people’s choice, as
described in the story of the manna from heaven
that fell while the Hebrews wandered in the
Sinai. As for Moses, preaching vegetarianism
was for Mohammed not an option likely to have
captured much support.
What Moses and Mohammed both did was
strike a balance acceptable to enough people to
build and maintain a following. The written
record in the Hadiths of Mohammed’s deeds and
sayings describe his considerations. As Al-Hafiz
B.A. Masri repeatedly pointed out in his 1987
opus Animals In Islam, recently republished by
the Islamic Foundation & Compassion In World
Farming, Mohammed made so many statements
specifically concerned with preventing and
mitigating animal suffering that a reasonable
interpretation is that he had great compassion
for animals and wanted to protect them–over and
above the recognition that prevention of cruelty
to animals reflects a higher morality on the part
of human beings.
B.A. Masri, born in India in 1914,
taught Islamic religion in South Africa and
Britain as well as in his native land. His
honorific, “Al-Hafiz,” signified that he had
memorized the entire Qur’an. Masri edited the
monthly Islamic Review from 1961 to 1967,
visited and spoke in more than 40 chiefly Muslim
nations, and remained an internationally
recognized lecturer and broadcast commentator on
Islamic affairs until his death in 1993.
His focus throughout his teaching, which
ranged far beyond animal issues, followed a
concept expressed by the 14th century scholar Ibn
Qaiyim Al-Jawziyah:
“The canon law is based on wisdom and
public interest. It is all justice and all
mercy. Any case which changes it from justice to
injustice, from mercy to cruelty, from good to
evil, from wisdom to nonsense is alien to the
common law, even if the injustice, the cruelty,
the evil or the nonsense has been introduced into
it through misinterpretation.”
Imam Ibn Qaiyim was among the most noted
disciples of Imam Ibn Taymiyah, who was known
from an early age as an exceptionally wise and
respected judge. In 1300, however, Ibn Taymiyah
became a fighting man, after a Mongol horde
swept across Syria, annihilating the ruling
sultan’s army. Raising resistance fighters from
as far as Egypt, producing theories of holy war
(Jihad) that remain influential to this day, Ibn
Taymiyah personally led the campaign that pushed
the Mongols back. Envious political opponents
imprisoned Ibn Taymiyah, and Ibn Qaiyim with
him, from 1326 until his death in 1328.
Ibn Qaiyim continued his mentor’s
teachings until his own death in 1350, the most
important of which, Masri and many others have
believed, is that the teachings of Mohammed are
to be followed in spirit, not to the letter when
circumstances change.
Ibn Qaiyim compiled the Zâd al-ma’âd,
one of the best-known collections of Hadiths, or
sayings of Mohammed. This collection includes a
report that Mohammed recommended the use of cows’
milk and ghee [clarified butter], but
recommended against eating beef. Recent
commentators have noted that while Mohammed did
not forbid eating beef, allowed cattle to be
sacrificed, and ate the meat of sheep and goats,
there is no record that he himself ever ate beef.
Whether Mohammed intended by his example
to prevent the bloody conflicts with Hindus that
began long after his own time is a matter of
educated guessing. But many scholars have agreed
that Mohammed taught tolerance of religions
upholding similar values to Islam, and while he
would have opposed Hindu pantheism and idolatry,
he would certainly have appreciated Hindu respect
for animals.

Regulating sacrifice

Slaughter of animals, practiced chiefly
as sacrifice, was ubiquitous in Mohammed’s place
and time. What Mohammed could do to mitigate it
was to regulate it, much as Moses had, but in
some respects perhaps even more strictly. As
well as prescribing the hallal rules, which are
so similar to the kosher rules as to be
essentially the same in most interpretations,
Mohammed revisited the requirements of sacrifice.
Hebrew scripture maintains that the
Judaic tradition had forked away from the
traditions of the other tribes of the Middle East
in the time of Essau, shortly after Abraham’s
time and well before Moses. Except among the
Hebrews, where Mosaic law prevailed, sacrifice
and slaughter had been conducted according to
custom rather than written law. Among Mohammed’s
major accomplishments in establishing Islam was
bringing slaughter and sacrifice by most of the
non-Hebrew people of the Middle East under
parallel written and therefore relatively uniform
Mohammed did not anticipate that very
many people would actually be killing animals,
either at the Eid or at any other time. This is
clear from the way in which he prescribed that
the meat from a sacrifice should be divided: one
third to the family of the person offering the
sacrifice, one third to other relatives, one
third to the poor.
Since the family recognized by Mohammed
included up to four wives per male head of
household, plus their children, the initial
third alone would have been split into perhaps
dozens of portions.
The requirement that another third should
go to relatives carries with it the implication
that these relatives would not at the same time
be sacrificing their own animal, facing the same
direction to divide the remains. The relatives
too might have numbered in the dozens.
Then there were the poor: those without
the wealth to kill an animal, who in Mohammed’s
time were much of the total human population.
Altogether, a single sacrificial sheep
or goat until modern times might have been
expected to feed 50 to 100 people. The ideas
that the male head of a household might represent
only a single nuclear family and that every
household might eventually be able to afford a
sacrifice do not appear to have been part of
Mohammed’s construct.
At the same time, transitions in typical
household structure and rising affluence have not
always translated into amended approaches to
The Islamic university Darul-‘Uloom, in
Karachi, Pakistan, claims to “teach in
accordance with the beliefs of the Muslim
majority,” taking an “intellectual and pragmatic
approach reflecting the approach taken by the
great scholars and teachers of the Indo-Pakistan
The Darul-‘Uloom web page describes
sacrifice as Qurbani, an Urdu and Persian word
“derived from the Arabic word ‘Qurban,'” which
“means an act performed to seek Allah’s good
pleasure. Originally,” the site explains, “the
word ‘Qurban’ included all acts of charity
because the purpose of charity is nothing but to
seek Allah’s pleasure. But, in precise religious
terminology, the word was later confined to the
sacrifice of an animal slaughtered for the sake
of Allah.”
According to Darul-‘Uloom, “The
present-day Qurbani is offered in memory of this
great model of submission set before us by the
great father Abraham and the great son Isaac. So
Qurbani must be offered in our time emulating the
same ideal and attitude of submission. With this
in mind, one can easily unveil the fallacy of
those who raise objections against Qurbani on the
basis of economic calculations and statistics and
make it out to be a wastage of money, resources,
and livestock.
“Every adult Muslim, male or female,
who owns 613.35 grams of silver or its equivalent
in money, personal ornaments, stock-in-trade or
any other form of wealth which is surplus to his
basic needs, is under an obligation to offer a
Qurbani. Each adult member of a family who owns
the above mentioned amount must perform his own
Qurbani separately. If the husband owns the
required quantity, but the wife does not, the
Qurbani is obligatory on the husband only,” or
the converse, but “If both of them have the
prescribed quantum of wealth, both should
perform Qurbani separately.
“If the adult children live with their
parents, Qurbani is incumbent on each one of
them possessing the prescribed quantum. The
Qurbani offered by a husband for himself does not
fulfill the obligation of his wife, nor can the
Qurbani offered by a father discharge his son or
daughter from their obligation. Each one of them
should care for his own. However, if a husband
or a father, apart from offering his own
Qurbani, gives another Qurbani on behalf of his
wife or his son, he can do so with their
“No Alternate for Qurbani,” emphasizes
Darul-‘Uloom in boldface. “Some people think
that instead of offering a Qurbani they should
give its amount to some poor people as charity.
This attitude is totally wrong. One head of goat
or sheep is enough only for one person’s Qurbani.
But as for all other animals like cow, buffalo
or camel, one head of each is equal to seven
offerings thus allowing seven persons to offer
Qurbani jointly in one such animal.”
Adds Darul-‘Uloom, “It is preferable for
a Muslim to slaughter the animal of his Qurbani
with his own hands. However, if he is unable to
slaughter the animal himself, or does not want
to do so for some reason, he can request another
person to slaughter it on his behalf. In this
case also, it is preferable that he at least be
present at the time of slaughter. However, his
absence at the time of slaughter does not render
the Qurbani invalid, if he has authorized the
person who slaughtered the animal on his behalf.”
The Darul-‘Uloom interpretation varies
somewhat from other literalist views of the
Muslim obligation to sacrifice in recognizing
that women today often possess independent
wealth, and in extending to women, therefore,
a requirement usually imposed only on male heads
of households.
If strictly followed, the Darul-‘Uloom
prescription might require the estimated one
billion Muslims now inhabiting the earth to kill
at the Eid about 10% of the sum of all hooved
animals, other than pigs and horses, who are
slaughtered for meat worldwide each year.
Even if followed by only a small
percentage of devout Muslims, the Darul-‘Uloom
teaching would be of evident economic benefit to
the livestock producers of Pakistan, one of the
nations that annually exports the most animals to
other nations for Eid sacrifice.
But the Darul-‘Uloom view is not unique
to Pakistan. California Muslim Institute
president Imam Ali Siddiqui issued a parallel
fatwa [religious interpretation] in 1982, one
year before the government of Saudi Arabia
introduced a program to collect, freeze, and
export to the needy the remains of animals
sacrificed at the Eid each year in Mecca.
The program did not actually cap or limit
the numbers of animals who may be killed, in
respect to differing interpretations of Islam,
but has attempted ever since to educate pilgrims
toward an entirely different view of sacrifice
expressed by Allama Yusef Ali, a friend and
contemporary of Masri, noted for his
translation of the Qur’an, who was honored by
Pakistan in 1996 by being depicted on a postage

Charity is the goal

According to Allama Yusef Ali, as
quoted by Masri, charity “is the true end of a
sacrifice, not propitiation of higher powers,
for God is One, and He does not delight in flesh
and blood, but a symbol of thanksgiving to God
by sharing meat with fellow men.”
Added Muhammed Asad, who also translated
the Qur’an, “Whereas pilgrims are merely
permitted to eat some of the flesh of the animals
they have sacrificed, feeding the poor is
mandatory, and constitutes, thus, the primary
objective of these sacrifices.”
Commented Masri himself, “Muslims
generally believe that [the specific verses of
the Qur’an cited by Darul-‘Uloom and Imam Ali
Siddiqui] lay down a canonical law to offer
animal sacrifices during the festival of
pilgrimage, and that replacement of animals with
any other kind of offering would be wrong.
However, a close study of these and other such
verses makes abundantly clear that the Qur’anic
approach is not meant to take animal sacrifice as
an end in itself; it is meant to be used as a
means to serve a social need.
“One salient point that emerges from
these verses is that the main purpose of
[Mohammed] allowing the Muslims to continue with
animal sacrifices was to turn this age-old
tradition into an institution of charity,” Masri
emphasized. “Even the literal annotations which
some Muslim theologians put on these verses to
the effect that animal sacrifice is an act of
worship and thanksgiving to God becomes valid
only if the sacrifice ends up as an act of
charityŠSacrifice is meant to be an act of
worship and thanksgiving to solicit the
approbation of God neither in the sense of
atonement nor in the sense of transposing one’s
sins onto a scapegoat; but it is meant to be an
act of benevolence to fulfill a social
obligationŠAny sacrifice that is allowed to go to
waste is a sinful as well as a criminal violation
of Islamic law (Shariah). Verses 22:36 and 37
make this proviso abundantly clear.
“The original purpose of offering gifts
(Hady) at the sacred house of Ka’bah,” Masri
continued, “was to succour the ancient Meccans
who were the descendants of Prophet Abraham. In
those days the supply of provisions, such as
meat, was their most essential need. The whole
area was a desert. Under those circumstances,
it was a very sensible and practical proposition
for Islam to ask pilgrims to offer gifts in the
form of sacrificial animals. Today the Meccans
are in a position to import their food without
anybody’s helpŠIf gifts of cash, for example,
were to be substituted for animals, the money
could be used for various advantageous and needed
services of Islam.”
This theme was expressed about 50 years
earlier by Sheikh Mohamed Farid Wagdi of Egypt,
compiler of Wagdi’s Encyclopedia, who in
November 1932 had the honor of being among 20
scholars nominated by readers of the Cairo
newspaper Al-Ahram to form the membership of the
first Arabic Language Academy, from among 100
candidates. Wagdi was not, however, among the
20 members who were appointed the following year
by the Egyptian government.
According to Wagdi, ‘Islam sanctioned
sacrifice and expounded its wisdom and purpose;
the wisdom being to induce the rich to spend,
the purpose being to feed the poor unfortunate –
for thus saith the Lord ‘Eat of it and feed the
poor unfortunate.'”
Wagdi, noted Masri, went “so far as to
suggest that there might come a day when Muslims
shall have to substitute the rite of animal
sacrifice with other methods of giving alms.”
Forty-one years before the Middle East
Network for Animal Welfare conference convened in
Cairo, the Academy of Islamic Research convened
a Cairo conference which specifically discussed
ways and means of restraining excessive and
non-hallal sacrifice undertaken at the Eid in the
name of Islam.
Affirmed Academy member Sheikh Abdul
Rahman al Kalhud at that conference, “The Holy
Qur’an states in clear terms that the Creator
wants the sacrifice not as such but as a symbol
of the sacrificer’s devotion to God, as is
evident from the verse: ‘Their flesh will never
reach Allah, nor yet their blood, but your
devotion will reach Him.’ (Qur’an 22:37) This
verse expressly indicates that the sacrifice is
not meant in itself as an essential part of the
religion but as an act of charity to reach the
Added Academy member Sheikh Muhammad Noo
el-Hassan, “Anyone who witnesses the sacrifices
slaughtered during the time of pilgrimage, cast
away on the ground, left to decay and
putrifyŠanyone who witnesses this disgraceful
state of affairs, will be immensely grieved
about Muslims’ mismanagement and their
unawareness of Islamic rulesŠWe implore God the
Almighty to save Muslims from this ignorance and
to guide them to the right path.”
The 1966 Cairo conference passed a
resolution urging “all Muslim people and
governments” to adopt and promote the measures at
last put into effect by Saudi Arabia in 1983.
“The Qur’an Majeed does mention animal
sacrifices,” acknowledged Masri, “but at the
same time it mentions alternative offerings and
alternative acts of devotion. Verse 2:196
suggests fasting or almsgiving or whatever kind
of offering is feasible. These alternatives have
been suggested,” Masri noted, “not only for
those who are prevented from attending the
pilgrimage because of ill health,” as
literalists sometimes assert, “but for other
reasons. In verse 5:98 the Qur’an Majeed does
not even mention any reason, and leaves the
choice of alternatives to the individual: ‘O
believers! Slay no game while you are in a
pilgrim sanctity. Whosoever of you slays it
intentionally, shall pay the penalty by offering
to the Ka’bah a domestic animal the like of that
which he has slain–as determined by two persons
of equity among you; or he shall expiate by
feeding the indigent; or by keeping equivalent
fasts: so that he may taste the dire
consequences of his offense.’
“In this verse,” pointed out Masri,
“three options for restitution are left open for
the offender to choose from. It is true that the
alternative offerings and punitory payments are
there in consideration of the individual’s
circumstances. However, the important point to
note is that all these verses lay down a
principle–and that the principle should equally
apply to the circumstances of a community as a
Added Masri, “Various reasons for the
prohibition of hunting during the pilgrimage
period have been suggested by commentators. One
rational reason which the writer can think of is
that, during that period, there is enough meat
for all to eat and that the additional meat of
game would run to waste. This would, obviously,
be against the most important Islamic concept
that the killing of animals is sinful, except
for the bare necessities of lifeŠThe Qur’anic
injunctions are so exacting on the point of not
taking the life of an animal without a
justifiable cause that wasting meat, even by
offering it to deities and gods, is called a
devilish act. Even while allowing Muslims to eat
meat, the Qur’an Majeed urges them in
remonstrance in verse 6:141 not to waste it by
Concluded Masri, “It is significant to
note that there is no ritual involved in the
sacrificial slaughter. Those Muslims who have
started changing this plain matter-of-fact act
into a ritual should know better. The two
conditions of invoking the name of God and using
a sharp knife are the same in sacrificial
slaughter as in the normal slaughter for food.
The only differentiating stipulation in the case
of sacrificial animals is that they should be
healthy and free from any perceptible sign of

Islamic vegetarianism

Clearly there is a gulf in perspectives
between the scholars of Darul-‘Uloom and the
California Islamic Institute on the one hand,
and on the other, those who met in Cairo more
than 41 years ago.
An even wider contrast is offered by the
recent rapid rise of Islamic vegetarianism, a
tradition maintained mostly by Sufis until recent
years, but now discussed on as many as 134,000
web pages originating from almost every part of
the Islamic world. Among the strongest online
advocates of Islamic vegetarianism are some of
the young contributors to the female-oriented
Pakistani web site Paki.com, who have clearly
studied the Qur’an and Hadiths, and are
energetically making relevant passages better
“Sometimes we get negative, hostile,
indignant, or incredulous reactions from other
Muslims,” writes one anonymous contributor.
“One common line of attack goes, ‘You can’t make
harâm [forbidden] what Allah has made halâl!
That is a sin!’ Excuse me, but who ever said
anything about making anything harâm? Why even
bring that issue into it? In Islamic law there
are more categories than just obligatory and
harâm. There are various shadings of desirable
and undesirable, and in the middle there is the
neutral (al-mubâh). I’m not making meat ‘harâm.’
I just don’t wish for any, thank you.
“The Prophet recognized that each person
is a unique autonomous individual with his or her
own personality,” this writer continues. “He
did not enforce any overbearing uniformity on the
people. Especially when it came to eating, he
recognized that different people have different
tastes. And for that matter, not even the
Prophet and his Companions ate meat all the time.
It was only once in a while that they did, not
every day. Some Muslims seem to be under the
impression that eating meat is the sixth pillar
of Islam, but clearly there is no reason for
thinking so.”
From street level on the Eid in places
where blood fills the gutters, perceiving a
growing gulf in attitudes toward sacrifice among
Muslims may be considerably more difficult. Yet
there are wide contrasts in Eid practice, not
only between rural and urban people, nations and
other nations, Sunni and Shi’ite, but often
also among people living similar lives, almost
side by side.
Eid sacrifice at the present time takes any of four distinct forms.
Some Muslims kill animals themselves at
home, much as their ancestors did, but often
with much less skill, since many personally
perform slaughter only at the Eid.
Some Muslims kill animals at inspected
central locations, under the close observation
of professional slaughterers. This is the
approach now recommended by the public health
authorities of most of the largest and/or most
economically developed Islamic nations.
Some Muslims donate money to have animals
slaughtered for them, sometimes by rural
relatives, sometimes by neighbors, sometimes by
professional slaughterers, and increasingly
often, through charities established to relay
sacrificial meat to victims of wars and natural
Some Muslims simply donate money to
charities that they believe are doing work of
various kinds in the spirit of Mohammed–for
example, providing medical services to the poor.
Animal charities are seldom seen in that light,
but in Hadith 3:551, narrated by Abu Huraira,
Mohammed affirmed that, “Yes, the re is a
reward for serving any animal.”
In that spirit, Waseem Shaukat, DVM of Vets
Care Organization Pakistan e-mailed to ANIMAL
PEOPLE, “VCO has been arranging free veterinary
treatment camps at different localities of Lahore
on the eve of Eid-ul-Adha regularly every year
since 2001.” In December 2007, Shaukat wrote,
“About 38 veterinary doctors and veterinary
students provided their services to the animals
from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily,” for three
days. “According to the official records,”
Shaukat continued, “734 animals were helped in
Bakkar Mandi. An additional 53 animals were
treated in Shahdra Mandi.”

Sacrifice is declining

Quantifying how many Muslims follow each
of the four basic sacrificial practices, and
what they think of the others, is no easy
matter. Relatively little public opinion
surveying has been done on any subject in most
Islamic nations, let alone on topics as
sensitive as differences in religious behavior.
Official livestock statistics usually do not
distinguish animals sacrificed at the Eid from
those slaughtered at other times.
Yet editor Clifton has found some indicative data from the Haj itself.
As recently as 1950, the Haj pilgrimage
to Mecca attracted barely 250,000 people. The
throng grew to 300,000 by 1966, when the Academy
of Islamic Research discussed sacrificial waste
in Cairo, but the real surge in participation
came after the Saudi Arabian government opened a
new airport in 1981 to expedite pilgrims’
journeys to Mecca. A then-record two million
pilgrims killed as many as one million animals
that year, whose uneaten remains were mostly
burned in pits.
The Saudi effort to reduce the waste by
freezing carcasses and exporting the remains to
charity started relatively slowly, handling
63,000 carcasses in 1983 and 144,000 in 1984,
but gradually gained momentum. More than 8.8
million carcasses were relayed to charity during
the first 20 years of the program. The average
of 440,000 carcasses per year appears to have
been about half the total Haj slaughter volume.
Since then, media estimates are that the
average Haj slaughter volume is about 700,000,
except in December 2007, when the toll fell to
182,000. Major factors in the December 2007
crash include a suspension of livestock exports
to the Middle East by the Australian government,
after requirements for humane animal treatment
were not met, and a suspension of livestock
exports from Sudan due to an outbreak of the
tick-borne disease Rift Valley Fever.
Discounting the abnormally low December
2007 toll as a fluke, total Haj slaughter
appeared to have declined 30% in 25 years, even
as the total number of pilgrims increased to as
many as three million. The ratio of animals
slaughtered has fallen from one for every two
people, to perhaps fewer than one for every four
Parallel to that trend, and even as
Saudi Arabia has emphasized efforts to increase
food self-sufficiency, Saudi sheep production
has declined at about 2% per year during the past
20 years, even as sheep imports have fallen too.
Perhaps Saudis are simply eating less
mutton and more beef, a dietary transition that
Americans and most Europeans made during the
early 20th century.
But perhaps the quiet trend away from sacrifice has had an influence.
Additional data of note comes from a
report entitled Livestock Production in Egypt,
published in 2000 by Mohammed Abdel-Meguid and
Mahmoud Moustafa of the National Water Research
Center, El Kanater, Kalubyia, Egypt.
Abdel-Meguid and Moustafa estimated that about
half of all Egyptian livestock slaughter was done
in slaughterhouses, leaving the other half to be
done by consumers.
If half of the animals killed by
consumers happened to be killed at the Eid, the
total would be about one animal for every 70
Egyptians. This ratio would be comparable to the
implied ratio of Mohammed’s time–but Egyptians
increasingly live in nuclear families,
especially the 40% of the population who inhabit
Cairo and suburbs.
Counting the participants and bystanders
shown in photos of Eid sacrifices posted to web
sites, editor Clifton found an average of five
men, one woman, and .13 of a child per scene,
with the unseen photographer as another witness
of unidentified age and gender. If the photos
were representative of Eid sacrifices, and each
adult represented a family of six, total direct
involvement would be about 60% of the Egyptian
population, in a nation where 94% are Muslim.
If some of the adults shown are brothers
and sons, without families of their own yet,
total direct involvement could be 30% of the
Egyptian population, or fewer.
In December 2007, when a scarcity of
animals for slaughter depressed Eid sacrifice by
all accounts, direct involvement might have been
as low as 20%.

What changes are ahead?

The Haj data and the now eight-year-old
Egyptian data is too limited to “prove” anything
pertaining to public opinion, since public
opinion has not been surveyed, but it is
sufficient to raise questions.
One of those questions is whether Eid
sacrifice actually retains general approval among
Egyptian urban residents. Might it perhaps be an
artifact of bygone times that persists, despite
some discouragement by public health authorities,
chiefly because it has no organized opposition?
Would the rise of humane opposition be
well-received by the non-participating public,
and might humane opposition enable some of the
less enthusiastic participants to give it up?
Is Eid sacrifice in Egypt and elsewhere
in the Islamic world vulnerable to local versions
of what environmentalists call the “Not In My
Back Yard Syndrome,” in which things that are
accepted in principle–such as power stations and
landfills–are not accepted when presented in
uncomfortable proximity to people who are
equipped to oppose them?
Another question is whether organizing
opposition to Eid sacrifice and perhaps even
succeeding in abolishing it would really make any
positive difference to the animals.
As several Middle East Network for Animal
Welfare conference speakers illustrated with
slides, Eid sacrifice frequently violates hallal
standards, especially the requirements that
animals should not be pulled or dragged to
slaughter, should not be slaughtered in front of
each other, and should not be slaughtered where
they can smell the blood of other animals.
Yet as the same speakers also
illustrated, hallal requirements are likewise
often violated in commercial slaughterhouses –
and some of the most common slaughterhouse
abuses, such as blinding animals who are to be
killed and cutting their leg tendons so that they
fall down, are not usually part of at-home Eid
At the MENAW conference editor Clifton
argued that at-home slaughter at the Eid is a
visible and viable target for humane protest,
and is even more a rallying issue that Egyptian
animal advocates could use in
organization-building and fundraising.
This, Clifton asserted, is because
at-home slaughter involves cruelty to animals
that most Egyptians already know about and many
find offensive; can be opposed using the words
of Mohammed himself in denouncing the violations
of hallal standards; and can be juxtaposed with
the opportunity to earn the reward that comes
from serving any animal by donating to pro-animal
charities that are actively working to reduce the
levels of violence in society, eradicate rabies,
and otherwise build a kinder world for both
animals and humans.
Clifton contended that eliminating public
displays of cruelty to animals associated with
the Eid would become a first step toward
eliminating cruelty in slaughterhouses, because
the limits to acceptable public behavior tend to
become the limits to acceptable private behavior
over time.
ANIMAL PEOPLE publisher Kim Bartlett and
Kristin Stilt doubt from their observations that
even significant nonparticipation in Eid
slaughter indicates strong personal opposition to
it. Merely not participating in something, they
point out, does not mean being against it.
“We reluctantly agree with Kristin and
Kim about Egyptian interest in participating in
the Eid sacrificial ritual,” e-mailed Ahmed Diab
and Amr Handy, who are two of the three
cofounders of the newly formed animal advocacy
organization AWARE. “However, we don’t think it
is fair to throw judgements like that out without
studying the matter further. From our experience
of the slaughter ritual, we know that many young
children hate watching it, but their parents
force them to watch. We do think we should
investigate further.”
The question the parental conduct raises
is, to what extent do parents force children to
watch out of genuine enthusiasm for the
sacrifice, and to what extent are they merely
conforming to their perception of cultural
To what extent might forcing children to
watch the Eid slaughter be done in the same
spirit with which American parents two or three
generations ago forced their children to watch as
chickens were beheaded for Sunday dinner, as a
preparation for future duties that few imagined
might not always be part of life?
Are perceptions of the requirements of
Islam actually the major determining factors in
how families celebrate the Eid? Or does family
custom have a greater role, and will that role
evolve, simply as a matter of more people living
farther from rural environments where animals are
raised and slaughtered all year round?
Was Sheikh Mohamed Farid Wagdi prophetic
when he suggested more than 75 years ago that the
time would come when donating to charity would
replace animal sacrifice within mainstream Islam,
and is that time soon?
What role can and should the humane
community have in bringing this about?
The ANIMAL PEOPLE role, as ever, is as
a catalyst for discussion and debate. Whatever
ideas any of us have, Islamic animal advocates
will make their own tactical and philosophical
choices. We can only hope to help illuminate
their options.

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