Originally, 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.
The sacrifice of an animal has always been treated as a recognised form of worship in all religious orders originating from a divine book. Even in pagan societies, the sacrifice of an animal is recognised as a form of worship, but it is done in the name of some idols and not in the name of Allah, a practice totally rejected by Islam.
In the Shariáh of our beloved Prophet (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam) the sacrifice of an animal has been recognised as a form of worship only during three days of the month of Dhul Hijjah, namely the 10th, 11th and 12th of the month. This is to commemorate the unparalleled sacrifice offered by Prophet Sayyidina Ibrahim (Álayhis salaam) when he, in pursuance to a command of Allah conveyed to him in a dream, prepared himself to slaughter his beloved son Sayyidinah Ismail (Álayhis salaam) and actually did so, but Allah Almighty, after testing the ultimate limits of his submission, sent down a sheep and saved his son from the logical fate of slaughter. It is from that time onwards that sacrifice of an animal became an obligatory duty to be performed by every well-to-do Muslim.
Qurbani is a demonstration to Allah and proof of complete obedience to Allah's will or command. When a Muslim offers Qurbani, this exactly what he intends to prove. Thus, the Qurbani offered by a Muslim signifies that he is slave of Allah at his best and that he would not hesitate even for a moment, once he receives an absolute command from his Creator, to surrender before it, to obey it willingly, even it be at the price of his life and possessions. When a true and perfect Muslim receives such a command from Allah, his natural instincts stop him from indulging in the futile search for the reasoning behind the command; nor does he make his obedience dependent upon the command's 'reasonableness' as perceived through his limited understanding. He knows that Allah is All-Knowing, All- Wise and that his own ability to reason cannot encompass the knowledge and wisdom underlying the divine command, even if he cannot find any reason or wisdom behind it.
This is exactly what the Prophet Ibrahim (Álayhis salaam) did. Apparently, there was no reason why a father should slaughter his innocent son. But, when came the command of Allah, he never asked about the reason for that command, nor did he hesitate to obey it. Even his minor son, when asked by his father about the dream he had seen, never questioned the legitimacy of the command, nor did he pine or whine about it, nor did he ask for one good reason why he was being slaughtered. The one only response he made was:
"Father, do what you have been ordered to do. You shall find me, God willing, among the patient".
The present-day Qurbani is offered in memory of this great model of submission set before us by the great father and the great son. Qurbani must be offered in our time emulating the same ideal and attitude of submission.
This then is the true philosophy of Qurbani. With this in mind, one can easily unveil the fallacy of those who raise objections against Qurbani on the basis of economic calculations and lounge statistics and make it out to be a wastage of money, resource and livestock. Unable to see beyond mundane benefits, they cannot understand the spirit Islam wants to implant and nourish among its followers, the spirit of total submission to Allah's will equips man with the most superior qualities so necessary to keep humanity in a state of lasting peace and welfare.
Qurbani is nothing but a powerful symbol of the required human conduct vis-à-vis the divine commands, however, "irrational" or "uneconomic" they may seem to be in their appearance. Thus, the distrustful quest for mundane economic benefits behind Qurbani is, in fact the negation of its real philosophy, and the very spirit underlying it.
No doubt, there are, in every form of worship ordained by Allah, certain worldly benefits too, but they are not the main purpose of these prescribed duties, nor should they be treated as preconditions to submission and obedience. All acts of worship, including Qurbani, must be carried out with the spirit of total submission to Allah, irrespective of their economic, social or political benefits. This is what Ibrahim (Álayhis salaam) did, and this is what every true Muslim is required to do.
WARNING FOR THOSE WHO IGNORE QURBANI
There is a Hadith from Hadhrat Abu Hurayra (Radhiallaahu Ánhu) that Rasulullah (Sallallahu-alayhi-wasallam) said, 'That person who has the means of performing Qurbani but does not do so should not even come near the Eidgah (Place of Eid Salaat).
Mufti Taqi Usmani