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Understanding Islamic Sacrificial Slaughter

Sheep in Morocco. Photo: Raoul RIVES - CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons - 38685460

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Udhiyah and qurbani are interchangeable Arabic terms for the sacrificial slaughter of a sheep, goat, cow or camel as mandated for Muslims during the Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Adha. A sacrificial slaughter is also carried out after the birth of a child, in which case it’s referred to as an aqiqah, and also during the rites of Hajj, in which case it’s called hadiy.

In all instances, the slaughter must be humanely performed according to strict Islamic guidelines on a young, healthy animal which is free of defects such as broken teeth or horns or physical deformities.

Sacrificial Slaughter – Not What You Think It Is

The concept of a sacrifice might conjure up dramatic images of stone alters and secret rituals, but that’s not the case at all with udhiyah. An Islamic sacrificial slaughter usually involves no ceremonial fanfare and is performed quietly and simply in the same way as normal Islamic slaughter. What differentiates udhiyah, hadiy and aqiqah from regular slaughter is the intention behind it. Regular Islamic slaughter is used all the time to obtain meat, but sacrificial slaughter occurs as an act of worship and often as an act of charity since some of the udhiyah meat and all of the hadiy meat is traditionally distributed to the needy.

The concept of a hand slaughter can be off-putting to those who are accustomed to obtaining meat from a butcher shop or grocery store, but for those who raise their own livestock for meat, it’s a routine part of a self-sufficient or homesteading lifestyle. Hand slaughter is also the religiously mandated method of obtaining halal meat for Muslims and kosher meat for Jews; in both cases, the methods have been proven to be humane.

Requirements for Selecting the Sacrificial Animal

Only certain animals qualify for Islamic sacrificial slaughter. As specified in the Qur’an (6:143-144), these include sheep, goats, cattle and camels. The animals can be male or female and must meet certain other requirements:

  • The animal is healthy with no known defects:
    • It should not be blind or have an eye problem.
    • It should not be sick, and neither emaciated or overfed.
    • It should not be injured or lame.
    • It should be free of physical deformities.
  • The animal has reached physically maturity. This differs by animal:
    • Sheep should be at least one year old, although if that is a difficulty, it may be as young as six months of age.
    • Goats should be at least one year old
    • Cattle (cows, bulls or buffalo) should be at least two years old.
    • Camels should be at least five years old.
  • A single sheep or goat qualifies as a sacrifice for one individual, while cattle and camel may be shared by up to seven people.
  • For an aqiqah, two sheep or goats should be sacrificed on behalf of a male child and one for a female child.
  • The animal must belong to the person sacrificing it.
  • The sacrifice for udhiyah and hadiy must occur on the 10th, 11th, 12th or 13th days of the Islamic month of Dhul Hijjah.
  • An aqiqah sacrifice traditionally occurs on the 7th, 14th or 21st day following the baby’s birth, but there is no time limit.

In Morocco, sacrificial slaughters usually take place at home. In non-Muslim countries, Muslims might not have access to properties or facilities where they can temporarily house an animal or carry out a hand slaughter themselves. In that case, they may resort to making a monetary donation to various charitable organizations which oversee the purchase and slaughter of sacrificial animals and the distribution of meat to the poor. Or, if they have family and friends overseas, they might designate someone abroad to select an animal and oversee an udhiyah or an aqiqah on their behalf.

About The Author

Christine Benlafquih is Founding Editor at Taste of Maroc and owner of Taste of Casablanca, a food tour and culinary activity business in Casablanca. A long time resident of Morocco, she's written extensively about Moroccan cuisine and culture. She was the Moroccan Food Expert for The Spruce Eats (formerly About.com) from 2008 to 2016.
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