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Animal Sacrifice at Hajj

Can Animal Sacrifice (Qurbani) at Hajj be substituted with another offering?

Can Animal Sacrifice (Qurbani) at Hajj be subtituted with another offering?

Hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca, is obligatory (wājib) for all Muslims who have the necessary means and ability (istiṭāʿa). One of the rituals of Hajj (or more specifically Hajj al-tamattu) that is annually perfumed is qurbani, where the pilgrim offers a sacrifice of an animal (normally a camel, cow, or sheep) on the day of Eid al-Adha to mark the completion of Hajj. The meat of qurbani is distributed amongst other pilgrims and the needy. According to Islamic scriptures the practice of qurbani is a reminder of the sacrifice that Prophet Ibrahim was prepared to offer - of his son, Ismail - as a mark of absolute submission to God.

In recent years, some have questioned whether it is necessary to offer the sacrifice of animals as opposed to an alternative, which can be distributed more efficaciously amongst the poor depending on their needs and priorities. For obvious reasons, this question is usually posed by animal right activities, vegetarians, and vegans. In recent years, this question is also posed by environmentalists that uphold that excessive slaughtering of animals and the animal processing industry has a significant impact on the environment and increases the carbon footprint of the world.[1]

ICCI Majority Opinion

It is permissible for a pilgrim to substitute the sacrifice (qurbani) of an animal at Hajj with an alternative offering that is of the same – or more – value depending on the needs and priority of the Muslim community.


1.  Hajj is categorised as a compound obligation which consists of several rites (obligations and prohibitions) that together make up the whole act. According to the Qur'an, the different rites of Hajj trace back to Prophet Ibrahim.[2] The current sequence of the performance of these rites is set by Prophet Muhammad (as reported in the narrations of the Imams).[3] 

Qur'anic verses, the reported Sunna of the Prophet, the practices of the Imams, and opinions of past and contemporary jurists (fuqaha) hierarchically categorise the rites of Hajj in two broad sub-categories:

a) Non-substitutable rites of Hajj – these rites cannot be avoided or substituted by pilgrims and their sequence cannot be faltered with. They include spending a day in devotion at mount Arafa and staying overnight in devotion in Muzdalifa.[4] If a pilgrim for whatever reason cannot perform these rites (or at least one of the two rites), whereby they cannot be present at Arafa or Muzdalifa then the overall obligation of Hajj on them is alleviated altogether.

b) Substitutable rites of Hajj – these rites, in certain circumstances, can be avoided or substituted by a pilgrim. As such, the sequence of these rites can be altered, or they can be performed on behalf of a pilgrim by another person. Some examples of these rites are circumambulation around the Kaʿba, running between mounts Marwa and Safa, stoning devils etc. Accordingly, if due to weakness, old-age, ill health, menstruation etc. a pilgrim is unable to perform any such rites, so long as they are substituted, his/her Hajj would be deemed valid according to Sharia.[5]

2. Offering a sacrificial animal can be understood to be a substitutable element of Hajj. The reasons for this are:

a) The Quran explicitly indicates that if a person does not find or cannot afford a sacrificial animal then they can substitute it with fasting for three days at Hajj and a further seven days when they return home. It says:

…And when you are secure, then whoever performs ʿumra [during the Hajj months] followed by Hajj [offers] what can be obtained with ease of sacrificial animals. And whoever cannot find [or afford such an animal] – then a fast of three days during Hajj and of seven when you are returned [home]. Those are then complete [days]. This is for those whose family is not in the area of al-Masjid al-Haram.[6]

The substitutability of fasting is even extended if one later finds a sacrificial animal. Ḥammād b. ʿUthmān asked Imam al-Sadiq (as) about a person who observed fasting for three days because he could not find a sacrificial animal. When he was about to leave Mina after three days of fasting, he found an animal that he could purchase and slaughter. Imam replied: Fasting is sufficient, and he was no more required to sacrifice the animal.[7]

b) According to the report from Imam al-Sadiq (as)[8] and the opinions of past jurists[9] pilgrims are not required to physically choose or slaughter a sacrificial animal, rather they can outsource this responsibility to another person.

c) Usually, the sequence of offering a sacrificial animal is preceded by stoning the devils at Mina; and followed by shaving of the head. However, the apparent meaning of the following reports clearly indicate that the sequence of these elements can be altered:

Imam al-Sadiq (as) reports that a group of people came to the Prophet and informed him that they had shaven before offering a sacrificial animal, at this the Prophet said, “there is no problem.”[10]

Also, Imam al-Sadiq was asked by a person who shaved his head prior to offering a sacrificial animal, to this the Imam replied, “there is no problem, and the pilgrim does not need to repeat.”[11]

d) Although, it is commonly accepted that the place of slaughtering a sacrificial animal is within the precinct of Mina,[12] in present day Saudi, Hajj authorities have situated slaughtering abattoirs outside Mina. As such, many contemporary jurists concede that if it is not possible to offer a sacrificial animal in Mina, then it is possible for a pilgrim to slaughter outside the precinct of Mina (including the abattoirs that are specified by Saudi Hajj authorities).

3. The Qur'an and Sunnah allude to three types of Hajj; Hajj al-ifrad, Hajj al-qiran, and Hajj al-tamattuʿ.[13] Offering a sacrificial animal is a required element of Hajj al-tamattuʿ and Hajj al-qiran. It is not an obligatory element that is required for Hajj al-ifrad. The purpose of offering a sacrificial animal can be deduced from Qur'an 22:28, 22:34 and 22:36-37. For instance, the Qur'an expresses:

And the camels and cattle We have appointed for you as among the symbols of Allah; for you therein is good. So mention the name of Allah upon them when lined up [for sacrifice]; and when they are [lifeless] on their sides, then eat from them and feed the needless and the beggar. Thus, have We subjected them to you that you may be grateful. It is not their [i.e., the sacrificial animals] meat not their blood, that reaches Allah: it is your piety that reaches Him: He has thus made them subject to you, that you may glorify Allah for His guidance to you: And proclaim the good news to all who do right.[14]

The apparent meaning of the verses of the Qur'an indicates a two-fold purpose of offering sacrificial animals:

a) To celebrate the name of Allah over the sacrificial animal as opposed to slaughtering in the name of pagan gods:

Exegetical literature concerning theses verses indicate that prior to the advent of Islam, the practice of offering sacrificial animals formed a prominent part of pagan rituals and devotional culture. Pagans would particularly offer sacrificial animals as part of their pilgrimage rituals to Mecca. Exegetical literature also points out that pagans would willingly slaughter animal for the sake of their many gods and would enjoy the produce of the slaughter without any hesitation.[15] However, they would hesitate to enjoy the produce of the slaughter if they had slaughtered a sacrificial animal in the name of Allah. If they would slaughter in the name of Allah, they would place many restrictions on the offering, to the extent that they would prohibit the consumption of the meat slaughtered in the name of Allah[16] Therefore, by insisting the notion of celebrating the name of Allah over sacrificial animals, the Qur'an is clearly instilling the centrality and importance of monotheistic values on a pre-existing pagan ritual. This is clearly demonstrated in the part of the above verse that reads:

“It is not their [i.e., the sacrificial animals] meat not their blood, that reaches Allah: it is your piety that reaches Him: He has thus made them subject to you, that you may glorify Allah for His guidance to you: And proclaim the good news to all who do right.”[17]

b) To cater for the needs of pilgrims and the needy:

Apart from celebrating the name of Allah, exegetical literature elucidates that the above verses also encouraged pilgrims to consume slaughtered meat without any hesitation. Many exegeses note that pilgrims, rich and poor, from Mecca and other regions would be present at Mina. Accordingly, the Qur'an claims 

“eat from them [i.e., the sacrificial animals] and feed the needless and the beggar.”[18]

Considering the two-fold purposes of offering sacrificial animals at Hajj, it can be concluded that at present the cultural paradigm of offering sacrificial animals in the names of idol-gods is no longer practiced amongst Muslims (or even non-Muslims), neither do Muslims who gather at Hajj hesitate in consuming the produce of sacrificial animals offered to Allah. As such, in essence offering sacrificial animals is no longer needed to emphasise that Allah is the only God and to enforce monotheism.

Moreover, the needs of pilgrims (both rich and poor) that gather at Mina during Hajj are well catered. In fact, due to mass slaughtering during the season of Hajj, the meat of most sacrificial animals is canned and sent abroad (or outside Mina). Accordingly, it can be said that mass slaughtering of animals is no longer required to feed people at Mina. This is also supported by the report of Imam al-Sadiq (as), which states that the Imam was asked if it is permissible for sacrificial meat to be taken out of Mina and the Imam replied that it is permissible. Imam said, “the community at present is affluent, whereas in the earlier times people were financially constraint and hence needed sacrificial meat to feed on during their stay at Mina.[19]

4) The overall obligation of Hajj is normally categorised as a devotional obligation (or falls within the broad category of ʿibādāt). The wisdom (ḥikma) behind why God ordains certain devotional acts is not always known to the believers, particularly when the cause (ʿilla or ḥikma) behind its ordinance is not stipulated. However, as mentioned previously, Hajj is a compound obligation that consists of many rites and observances. God’s wisdom behind ordaining some elements of Hajj, such as circumambulating around the Kaʿba and running between the mounts Safa and Marwa seven times, is unknown to us. Whereas, as shown in the above point, God himself has introduced the wisdom behind the ordinance of offering a sacrificial animal. Accordingly, if the abovementioned two-fold wisdom (or purpose) of offering an animal sacrifice can be fulfilled in other ways, then instead of offering an animal, a pilgrim can offer its value in wealth. This is also alluded to in the following verse:

And complete Hajj and ʿUmra for Allah. But if you are prevented, then [offer] what be obtained with ease of hady. And do not shave your heads until the hady has reached its place. And whoever among you is ill, or had an ailment of the head, then offer a ransom of fasting or charity or sacrifice. And when you are secure, then whoever performs ʿumra [during the Hajj months] followed by Hajj [offers] what can be obtained with ease of hady. And whoever cannot find [or afford a hady] – then a fast of three days during Hajj and of seven when you are returned [home]. Those are then complete [days]. This is for those whose family is not in the area of al-Masjid al-Haram. [20]

As it can be seen, the Qur'an has used the term hady. Although, this term is normally translated by jurists to refer to a sacrificial animal, it is derived from the roots ha-da-ya which, in Arabic, literally means ‘offering.’ During the context of revelation, the form of ‘offering’ normally was a sacrificial animal. However, in the present-day context, a believer has a choice of offering a form of ‘hady’ that better suits the priorities and needs of the needless and the needy.

ICCI Minority Opinion

It is obligatory for a pilgrim to sacrifice at least a healthy sheep at Hajj. As for someone who cannot afford, or unable to find one, then they may instead fast three days during the hajj and seven when they return.


1) The obligation of offering a sacrifice of at least a healthy sheep at Hajj is alluded to from the apparent indication of the Qur'an:

Complete the hajj and the ‘umrah for Allah’s sake, and if you are prevented, then [make] such [sacrificial] offering as is feasible. And do not shave your heads until the offering reaches its [assigned] place. But should any of you be sick, or have a hurt in his head, let the atonement be by fasting, or charity, or sacrifice. And when you have security—for those who enjoy [release from the restrictions] by virtue of their ‘umrah until the hajj—let the offering be such as is feasible. As for someone who cannot afford [the offering], let him fast three days during the hajj and seven when you return; that is [a period of] ten complete [days]. That is for someone whose family does not dwell by the Holy Mosque. And be wary of Allah, and know that Allah is severe in retribution. [21]

2) In support of the aforementioned Qur'anic verse, there are several narrations from the Prophet and his family that apparently indicate that at least a sheep must be offered as a sacrifice at Hajj al-tamattuʿ. For instance:

a) Muḥammad bin Muslim narrates that he asked one of the imams (either fifth or sixth imam) about a man performing Hajj al-tamattuʿ, what is the minimum sacrifice one must offer? The Imam replied: one sheep is sufficient. [22]

b) Ṣafwān bin Yaḥyā reported from the sixth Imam about a person who performed ʿUmra in the month of Rajab. The Imam responded that if he stayed in Makkah to perform the Hajj when the time for it occurs, then he must offer a sacrifice. [23]

3) In addition to the Quran and Sunnah, Muslim scholars uphold a consensus (ijmāʿ) that it is obligatory upon the person performing Hajj al-tamattuʿ to offer a sacrificial animal. [24]



[1]  Mitigation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Livestock Production: A Review of Technical Options for Non-CO2 Emissions. Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2013. 

[2] Qur'an 2:124–127 and 22:27–30. 

[3] Al-Shaykh al-Ṭūsī, Tahdhīb al-aḥkām, ed. Ḥasan al-Musawī Kharasān (Tehran: Dār al-kutub al-Islāmiyya, 1407/1986), 5:454-457. 

[4] Al-Shaykh al-Ṭūsī, Tahdhīb al-aḥkām, 5:289.

[5] This categorisation (of substitutable and non-substitutable) is not peculiar to Hajj. We have the same division in many other rituals, such as the (ritualistic) prayers and fasting, and in fact in Islamic law as a whole. Some scholars, such as ʿAllāma Ṭabāṭabāʾī and Shahīḍ Muṭahharī, divided the content of Islamic law into “what is immutable” i.e., that which is context-free and “what is mutable” that which is contextual, or context bound. Here mutable is interchangeable with substitutable. See, for example, Ṭabāṭabāʾī Collected Essays, Questions and Answers (Tehran: The Publisher of Islamic Culture, (1371 Sh/1993), 1:47-85; and Muṭahharī Islam and the Requirements of the Time (Tehran: Sadra Publisher, 1381 Sh/2003), v. 1 & 2, in particular, 1:139-146. 

[6] Qur'an 2:196. 

[7] Al-Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, 4:509. 

[8] Al-Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, 4:474 (hadith nos. 4 & 5). 

[9] Al-Narāqī, Mustanad al-Shīʿa, 11:108; al-Yazdī, al-ʿUrwat al-wuthqā, 2:503.

[10] Al-Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, 4:507 (hadith nos. 1 & 2); 4:504. 

[11] Al-Ṭūsī, Tahdhīb al-aḥkām, 5:237. 

[12] For instance, the place of sacrifice according to the report of Imam al-Sadiq must be Mina. Imam al-Sadiq (as) was asked about a man who had lost his sacrificial animal; the animal was found by one of the man’s companions who then slaughtered the animal on his behalf? He replied: if he slaughtered the animal in Mina then it suffices as the sacrifice of Hajj otherwise it does not. Al-Ṣadūq, Man lā yaḥḍuruh al-faqīh, 2: 499-500. 

[13] Hajj al-ifrad is the Hajj that is performed without an ʿUmrah. This Hajj is performed by those living in the vicinity of Mecca. The sacrifice of animal is not required in this Hajj. In Hajj al-qiran, the pilgrim intends to perform both Hajj and ʿUmrah in a single ihrām. The sacrifice is not required in most of the circumstances. This Hajj is also performed by those living in the vicinity of Mecca. Hajj al-tamattuʿ is essentially one ʿUmrah and one Ḥajj in two separate iḥrams.

[14] Qur'an 22:36-37. 

[15] Al-Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān, 14:372. 

[16] Āyatullāḥ Makārim Shirāzī, Tafsīr-i namūneh 5:456-457 and ʿAllāma Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān 7:362. 

[17] Qur'an 22:37. 

[18] Qur'an 2:36.

[19] al-Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, 4:236, 500; al-Ṣadūq, ʿIlal al-sharāʾiʿ, 2:439. 

[20] Qur'an 2:196.

[21] Qur'an 2:196. 

[22] Al-Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī, Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, 14:79. 

[23] Al-Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī, Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, 14:79.

[24] For instance, see Ṭabāṭabāʾī, Sayyid ʿAlī, Riyāḍ al-masāʾil (Qum: Muʾassasat al-Nashr al-Islāmī, 1415/1994) 6:419: Al-Narāqī, Mustanad al-Shīʿa fī aḥkām al-sharīʿa, (Mashhad: Muʾassasat Āl al-Bayt 1417/1996) 12:307: Al-Najafī, Muḥammad Ḥasan, Jawāhir al-kalām fī sharḥ sharāʾi al-Islām (Qum: Muʾassasat al-Nashr al-Islāmī, 1432/2010) 19:114.