10/26/2012 07:52 EDT | Updated 12/25/2012 05:12 EST

Should Muslims Reconsider Animal Slaughter on Eid?

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba as pray inside the Grand mosque in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012. The annual Islamic pilgrimage draws three million visitors each year, making it the largest yearly gathering of people in the world. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba as pray inside the Grand mosque in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012. The annual Islamic pilgrimage draws three million visitors each year, making it the largest yearly gathering of people in the world. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Friday, October 26th, marks the upcoming annual celebration of Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael, is a day of celebration around the Muslim world. However, for millions of animals it is anything but a day for rejoicing as this day marks the beginning of ritual animal slaughter.

Many individuals in the Muslim world are either refusing to participate in this ritual or speaking up and asking for an end to animal sacrifice. Some are notable animal advocates such as Amira Hassan from Tunisia, Seçil Aracı from Turkey and Amina Abaza the founder of the Society for Protecting the Rights of Animals in Egypt.

And it isn't just animal advocates who wish to see an end to this ritual. It is average Muslims who are re-evaluating if this ritual is actually part of the tradition of compassion and mercy as espoused by the Quran and the living example of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Story of Abraham

Shahid 'Ali Muttaqi has written a widely circulated and robust piece on the religious and historical inaccuracies connected to the Eid sacrifice. His piece indicates that the single largest contributing factor to why this ritual continues is the misinterpretation of the story of Abraham.

In the traditional story Abraham, upon seeing a vision, believes God is instructing him to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. As the story goes, when Abraham is about to begin the sacrifice God saves Ishmael's life by providing a ram in his place.

If one opens the Quran, at verse 37:102, to read the ACTUAL story the interpretation turns out to be rather different:

"He (Abraham) said: "Oh my son! I see in vision That I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is Thy view!" (The son) said: "Oh my father! Do As thou art commanded: Thou wilt find me, If Allah so wills one Practicing patience and constancy!" So when they had both Submitted their wills (to Allah), And he had laid him Prostrate on his forehead (For sacifice),

We called out to him, "Oh Abraham! Thou hast already fulfilled The vision!" thus indeed Do We reward Those who do right. For this was obviously A trial And We ransomed him With a momentous sacrifice."

The Quran states that Abraham had a dream in which he believed God was instructing him to sacrifice his son. What should be obvious, yet is overlooked, is that at no point does the Quran state the dream was from God or that God demanded this sacrifice. This is an important distinction to make since the insistence for animal sacrifice is based upon the notion that Abraham's vision came from God and God instructed Abraham to sacrifice his son. In fact it should be noted that God interjects to stop Abraham from sacrificing his son.

The next distinction to make in the story has to do with a translation of the last line -- "And We ransomed him With a momentous sacrifice."

In some translations of the Quran the term "Momentous sacrifice" has been replaced with animal sacrifice. There seems to be some debate among scholars on this last, but crucial, sentence. Quranic scholars such as Muhammad Asad have further interpreted this line to read "mighty" or "tremendous" and have indicated (in their references) that Abraham, himself, not God, sought out a Ram for slaughter.

In fact the Abrahamic sacrifice had nothing to do with the physical act of blood-letting. Abraham's sacrifice was ACTUALLY about his willingness to let go of the most important thing in his life, in order to fulfill, what he perceived to be, the will of the Divine Creator.

In order to properly commemorate Abraham's sacrifice it's important to ask ourselves if we are giving up something of intense value when we reduce the sacrifice to slaughtering an animal. Are we really making the same type of emotional and mental sacrifice that Abraham made? If not, then how exactly are we enhancing our spiritual development by continuing with this tradition?

Concern for the Disadvantaged

The next reason the practice of animal sacrifice continues has to do with the argument of using the meat of these animals to be able to feed disadvantaged people. Yes, it is true that some of the meat of the sacrificed animal goes to feed the poor.

However, we must ask ourselves -- are we concerned with feeding people for only a few days or maintaining the message of social justice the Quran espouses?

"It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but righteous is the one who believes in Allah, and the Last Day, and the angels and the Book and the prophets and gives away wealth out of love for Him (God) to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask and sets slaves free... 2:177"

There are numerous verses devoted to social justice in the Quran. This one has been interpreted by scholars to mean that holistic spiritual observation involves understanding and responding to the conditions of the disadvantaged in our communities. That giving "away wealth" does not only include money but our time, involvement and long-term commitment to helping shift the conditions of those who do not have. And, meaningless religious observation, done for the sake of tradition, as is the case with animal sacrifice, has limited scope to alter conditions.

If we are concerned with social justice and creating meaningful, long term change then we Muslims must reconsider funneling our money from this sacrifice and make other investments in our communities to help the disadvantaged. Maybe those investments would be towards grassroots organizations. Such organizations engage the communities they work for. They give power to their constituents to determine what they need (education, vocational training, health care) instead of assuming to know what they need (meat), thereby "helping to change the condition of a people" (Quran 13:11) for the long-term.

Treatment and Conditions of Animals.

It would not be possible to discuss this issue without recognizing the very beings that give their lives for this tradition -- the animals.

There is a strong tradition in Islam for the just and humane treatment of animals and especially those who are to be slaughtered. The Prophet Muhammad, who was a strong advocate for animals and sensitive to their suffering, advised his followers "Fear God in regards to these animals who cannot speak their will." Al-Hafiz B.A. Masri, one of the leading Muslim scholars on the issue of animal welfare writes:

"If animals have been subjected to cruelties in their breeding, transport, slaughter, or in their general welfare, meat from them is considered impure and unlawful to eat (Haram). The flesh of animals killed by cruel methods (Al-Muthiah) is carrion (Al-Mujaththamah). Even if these animals have been slaughtered in the strictest Islamic manner, if cruelties were inflicted on them otherwise, their flesh is still forbidden (Haram) food."

Yet this idea of humane treatment of animals in Islam is at complete odds with the reality of how animals are treated. Live animal exports to Muslim countries from places such as Australia and New Zealand account for a majority of the animals who are used for the Eid sacrifice. There is now indisputable documented evidence, from both Muslim and non-Muslim investigators, detailing a level of cruelty to these animals, that would have caused our Prophet to weep.

Live export animals are routinely packed tight into transport containers for journeys that can take weeks. During that time they are provided with no food, no water, and stand chained and immobile in their own urine and feces. Many animals die of dehydration and malnutrition. Many pregnant sheep or cows give birth to their babies in these conditions, only to watch them die a slow, painful death.

Even if we forget for a moment how these animals arrive at their destination. Consider that during the Hajj more than two million animals are sacrificed in one day. It is absolutely impossible to slaughter this number of animals, within a few hours, and think it is done in a humane manner. In many Muslim countries butchers are now admitting that the demand for sacrificing animals keeps them from using Islamic humane methods, thus, rendering the slaughter against the very tenants of Islam and the meat un- Halal (not fit for consumption by Muslims).

If this is not reason enough to forgo the Eid sacrifice then consider that the livestock industry is the leading contributor towards land, air and water pollution and degradation of our ecosystem.

Consider, that, the very act of involving ourselves in the ritual animal sacrifice places our earth at jeopardy. As Muslims, on Eid, and the rest of the year, should we not be mindful of whether continuing such a tradition is compatible with our Islamic responsibility to be care-takers of this earth.

Many Muslims have privately contemplated these very points and have determined this tradition does not serve their understanding of Islam. You will find some of their thoughts and comments at We invite all Muslims, progressive, moderate, conservative, atheist or agnostic , to join us and voice your story, and inspire others, to exchange the tradition of animal sacrifice for one of mercy and compassion.

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