Does Islam Reject the Need for Vicarious Sacrifices? Pt. 1

Certain Muslims appeal to the following passage,

It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah, but it is piety from you that reaches Him. Thus have We made them subject to you that you may magnify Allah for His Guidance to you. And give glad tidings (O Muhammad) to the Muhsinun (doers of good). S. 22:37 Hilali-Khan

In order to prove that God doesn’t require blood sacrifices for forgiveness of sins, since it is not the blood that atones but one’s piety. We have decided to address the gross misuse of this verse in order to undermine the necessity of vicarious sacrifice (specifically that of the Lord Jesus’) for redemption and reconciliation to God.

To begin with, this ignores the immediate context from which this passage is taken. Here is the actual context so as to properly understand what this text is actually saying:

In them (cattle offered for sacrifice) are benefits for you for an appointed term, and afterwards they are brought for sacrifice unto the ancient House (the Haram – sacred territory of Makkah city). And for every nation We have appointed religious ceremonies, that they may mention the Name of Allah over the beast of cattle that He has given them for food. And your Ilah (God) is One Ilah (God Allah), so you must submit to Him Alone (in Islam). And (O Muhammad) give glad tidings to the Mukhbitin [those who obey Allah with humility and are humble from among the true believers of Islamic Monotheism], Whose hearts are filled with fear when Allah is mentioned; who patiently bear whatever may befall them (of calamities); and who perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat), and who spend (in Allah’s Cause) out of what We have provided them. And the Budn (cows, oxen, or camels driven to be offered as sacrifices by the pilgrims at the sanctuary of Makkah.) We have made for you as among the Symbols of Allah, therein you have much good. So mention the Name of Allah over them when they are drawn up in lines (for sacrifice). Then, when they are down on their sides (after slaughter), eat thereof, and feed the beggar who does not ask (men), and the beggar who asks (men). Thus have We made them subject to you that you may be grateful. S. 22:33-36 Hilali-Khan

As can be seen from the above, the passage does not negate the need for sacrifices. Rather, it actually goes out of its way to emphasize that the Muslim deity has enjoined sacrifices upon all nations. Note the explanation given by the renowned Muslim scholar and Quran expositor Ibn Kathir:

Rites of Sacrifice have been prescribed FOR EVERY NATION IN THE WORLD

Allah tells us that sacrifice AND SHEDDING BLOOD in the Name of Allah has been prescribed for all nations. `Ali bin Abi Talhah reported that Ibn `Abbas said…

(And for every nation We have appointed religious ceremonies,) “Festivals.” `Ikrimah said, “Sacrifices.”…

(And for every nation We have appointed religious ceremonies,) Zayd bin Aslam said, “This means Makkah; Allah did not appoint religious ceremonies anywhere else for any nation.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Q. 22:34; capital and underline emphasis ours)

Compare the following narration with Ibn Kathir’s statement regarding the shedding of blood:

Sunan Ibn Majah

The Chapters on Sacrifices

It was narrated from ’Aishah that the Prophet said: “The son of Adam does not do any deed on the Day of Sacrifice that is dearer to Allah than shedding blood. It will come on the Day of Resurrection with its horns and cloven hoofs and hair. Its blood is accepted by Allah before it reaches the ground. So be content when you do it.”

Grade: Da’if (Darussalam)

English reference: Vol. 4, Book 26, Hadith 3126

Arabic reference: Book 26, Hadith 3246 (; italic and underline emphasis ours)(1)

In light of the above citations, it obviously makes no sense for Allah to require bloody sacrifices from all nations if the blood played absolutely no role whatsoever in satisfying and/or appeasing the Muslim god. In fact, to say that the blood doesn’t have any type of impact would turn Allah into a barbaric deity, since he ordained millions of bloody sacrifices throughout the centuries for no purpose at all. Do Muslims really want to say this about their god, that he is a sadistic being who issues meaningless orders just because he can do so?

With that said, here are some Muslim commentaries that provide the supposed historical context for Q. 22:37, and therefore explains why the verse seems to denigrate the importance of blood sacrifices:

(Their flesh and their blood reach not Allah) because in the pre-Islamic time they used to splash the blood of sacrifices on the walls of the Holy House and sully themselves with this blood and so Allah forbade them from doing so; it is also said that this means: Allah does not accept their flesh or blood, (but the devotion from you reacheth Him) but He accepts your pure and sincere works. (Thus have We made them subject unto ye that you may magnify Allah that He hath guided you) as He guided you to His religion and wont. (And give good tidings to the good) to those who are good in their words and deeds; and it is said that the good means: the generous with their sacrifices. (Tanwîral-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs)

The Goal of the Udhiyyah (Sacrifice) according to Allah is the Sincerity and Taqwa of His Servant

Allah says: this sacrifice is prescribed for you so that you will remember Him at the time of slaughter, for He is the Creator and Provider. Nothing of its flesh or blood reaches Him, for He has no need of anything other than Himself. During the time of Jahiliyyah, when they offered sacrifices to their gods, they would put some of the meat of their sacrifices on their idols, and sprinkle the blood over them. BUT Allah says

(It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah,) Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that Ibn Jurayj said, “The people of the Jahiliyyah used to put the meat of their sacrifices and sprinkle the blood on the House, and the Companions of the Messenger of Allah said, ‘We have more right to do that.’” THEN Allah revealed the words

(It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah, but it is Taqwa from you that reaches Him.) That is what He will accept and reward for, as mentioned in the Sahih

<<(Allah does not look to your appearance or your colors, but He looks to your hearts and deeds.>> And in the Hadith; <<Indeed charity falls in the Hand of Ar-Rahman before it falls in the hand of the one asking.>>

(Note) The Udhiyyah is Sunnah Mustahabbah One animal is sufficient on behalf of all the members of one household. Ibn `Umar said, “The Messenger of Allah continued to offer sacrifice for ten years.” This was recorded by At-Tirmidhi. Abu Ayyub said: “At the time of the Messenger of Allah, a man would sacrifice a sheep on behalf of himself and all the members of his household, and they would eat from it and feed others, until the people started boasting (by sacrificing more than one) and things reached the stage that you see now.” This was recorded by At-Tirmidhi, who graded it Sahih, and by Ibn Majah… (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Q. 22:37; capital and underline emphasis ours)

It now makes sense why Muhammad seemed to have played down the necessity of the shedding of blood. It was to prohibit Muslims from engaging in the grotesque practice of smearing blood on themselves and on the Kabah. It was also to emphasize the fact that Allah wasn’t like the other so-called gods, whom the pagans erroneously thought would actually consume the blood and meats that were presented to them.

In other words, unlike idols, Allah didn’t command sacrifices and the shedding of blood because he needed them for food to satiate himself. Rather, Allah ordained such sacrifices for other reasons, the most important of which has to do with making atonement for offenses committed against God’s revealed Law. We will have more to say about that in the second part of our discussion, as we discuss Muhammad’s confirmation of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.

Finally, it is certainly true that mere ritual or sacrifice does nothing to appease God if they are not also accompanied by sincere repentance and devotion to him. This is a fact which the Holy Bible wholeheartedly affirms:

“‘With what should I come before the Lord, and bow down before God on high? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O man, what is good—and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:6-8 – cf. Isaiah 1:9-17; Hosea 6:6-13; Amos 5:21-27

“For You do not desire sacrifice, or I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. Do good to Zion in Your good pleasure; build the walls of Jerusalem. THEN You will be pleased with the sacrifices OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then they will offer young bulls on Your altar.” Psalm 51:16-19

So in that regard, the Quran is saying nothing new. The Holy Bible already warned believers that merely sacrificing and shedding blood is not sufficient in and of itself to reach the true God if done by hearts that are dead and filled with sinful desires and lusts.

With that said, we are ready to proceed to the next part of our rebuttal (


(1) A Muslim may interject at this point and argue that the hadith from Ibn Majah is classified as Da’if, meaning weak, and therefore cannot be used to affirm the importance that blood sacrifices play in procuring forgiveness of sins. The Muslim who would raise this objection is either exposing his dishonesty or his ignorance of the consensus of Islamic scholarly opinion concerning the use of so-called “weak” narrations.

In the first place, a narrative deemed too weak means that it actually passed the test, being deemed reliable enough to be included within the Islamic corpus. For a more detailed discussion, we recommend viewing the following discussion by noted Muslim scholar Hamza Yusuf, “The hadith is weak (daief) brother!.”

Secondly, the majority of Muslim scholars agreed that weak narrations can be employed to encourage good deeds and good behavior, but not used to establish legal rulings (though not all hadith scholars accepted this last point):

  1. a) From the Epilogue of hafiz al-Sakhawi’s “al-Qawl al-badi` fi al-salat `ala al-habib al-shafi`”

[The Admirable Doctrine Concerning the Invocation upon the Beloved Intercessor]

Shaykh al-Islam Abu Zakariyya al-Nawawi (rad.ia-LLahu `anhu) said in the ‘Adhkar’:

“The ulama among the experts in hadith and the experts in law and others have said: it is permissible and (also) recommended that the religious practice (al-`amal) concerning good deeds and good character (al-fadâ’il), encouragement to good and discouragement from evil (al-targhib wa al-tarhib) be based (even) on weak hadith (bi al-hadith al- da`îf) as long as it is not forged (mawdu`)

As for legal rulings (ahkâm) such as what is permitted and what is forbidden, or the modalities of trade, marriage, divorce and other than that: one’s practice is not based upon anything other than sound (sahih) or fair (hasan) hadith, except as a precaution in some matter related to one of the above, for example, if a weak hadith was cited about the reprehensibility (karahat) of certain kinds of sales or marriages. In such cases what is recommended (al-mustahabb) is to avoid such sales and marriages, but it is not obligatory (la yajib).”

I say: It has been reported from Imam Ahmad that one may practice on the basis of the weak hadith if there is no other hadith to that effect and also if there is no hadith that contradicts it. In one narration he is reported to say: “I like weak hadith better than men’s opinions.”

Ibn Hazm has similarly mentioned that all Hanafi scholars unanimously agree that the school of Abu Hanifah (rad.ia-LLahu `anhu) holds that weak hadith is preferable to opinion (ra’y) and analogy (qiyâs). Ahmad was asked about someone finding himself in a country with, on the one hand, a memorizer of hadith (sâhib hadîth) who does not know the sound from the unsound, and, on the other, an authority in opinion (sâhib ra’y): who should he consult? He replied: “Let him consult the memorizer of hadith sâhib hadîth and not the authority in opinion (sâhib ra’y).”…

Abu `Abd Allah Ibn Mandah reported from Abu Dawud, the author of the ‘Sunan’ and a student of Imam Ahmad, that Abu Dawud used to cite the chain of transmission of a weak hadith if he did not find other than it under that particular heading (bâb), and that he considered it stronger evidence than authorized opinion (ra’y al-rijâl).

What emerges from this is that there are three diverging views:

– No practice is based on weak hadith whatsoever (mutlaqan); – Practice is categorically (mutlaqan) based upon it if no other evidence is found under the same heading; – The majority of the scholars (al-jumhur) hold that it can be used as basis for practicing good deeds and achieving good character (yu`malu bihi fi al-fadâ’il) but not for legal rulings (dûna al-ahkâm). And God is the Granter of success.

  1. b) Translated from Muhammad Zaki Ibrahim in “Usul al-wusul” (Cairo: Azhar, 1984):

If not proven to be forged, in which case there is absolutely no truth in it, the hadith da`îf (weak), although the pillars of veracity in it are not complete, nevertheless retains a part of truth.

Imam Nawawi said:

“The ulama among the muhaddithun…” [as quoted by Sakhawi above].

I say: This is the principle adopted by the hadith master (hafiz) Ibn al-Salah, as well as what we know of the imams of hadith science among the early generations (salaf) such as Sufyan al-Thawri, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Ibn `Uyaynah, Ibn al- Mubarak, Ibn Mahdi, and Ibn Ma`în… Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi devoted a chapter to that topic in his ‘Kifayah’.

End of translated excerpts…

I recapitulate the list of hadith masters who accept the use of hadeeth da`îf at the very least for religious practice related to ethics (fada’il al-a`mal) and in some cases even for legal rulings (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, and the entire Hanafi school), according to the above three sources (Sakhawi, Ibrahim, Keller):

1- Nawawi 2- Ibn al-Salah 3- Sufyan al-Thawri 4- Ahmad Ibn Hanbal 5- Ibn `Uyaynah 6- Ibn al-Mubarak 7- Ibn Mahdi 8- Ibn Ma`een (forgery specialist) 9- al-Khatib al-Baghdadi in ‘al-Kifayah’, chapter entitled: “strictness with regard to ahadith pertaining to rulings  and leniency with regard to those pertaining to virtuous actions” 10- Bukhari as proven by his use of them in ‘al-Adab al- mufrad’ 11- Ali al-Qari (forgery specialist) 12- Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani. 13- Ibn Abd al-Barr in ‘al-Isaba’. 14- Ibn al-Qayyim in ‘I`lam al-muwaqqi`een’. 15- Sakhawi 16- Abu Sa`eed al-`Ala’i (forgery specialist). 17- Abu Dawud. 18- Hanafi school…

It is the Consensus of the Ulema that weak hadiths can be narrated and put into practice in Islam according to al-Bayhaqî, Ibn `Abd al-Barr, al-Nawawî, Ibn Taymiyya, al-Qârî, and `Alawî ibn `Abbâs al-Mâlikî in his manual al-Manhal al-Lat.îf fî Ma`rifat al-H.adîth, provided certain conditions are met.[4] Ibn al-Sâlah, al-Nawawî and al-`Irâqî’s sole conditions were that

(1) the hadith be related to good deeds (fad.â’il al-a`mâl) without bearing on legal rulings and doctrine and
(2) the hadith not be forged…

The dissents reported from Imâm Muslim, Ibn Hazm, and Ibn al-`Arabî are inaccurate. The correct position of Imâm Muslim in the introduction to his Sahîh. is that he forbade the use of forgers and other abandoned narrators, not of truthful weak ones, in conformity with the position of Ahmad and the rest of the Salaf.[7]

Muslim also says: “The sound reports from the trustworthy (thiqât) narrators and those whose reliability is convincing are more than that we should be forced to transmit reports from those who are not trustworthy and whose reliability is not convincing.” The difference is clear between saying we are not forced to use weak narrators and saying that one absolutely cannot transmit from them.

A proof of this is his use of the weak narration from `Â’isha: “Treat people according to their ranks” and the fact that his strictness in narrators drops a notch or two in the hadîths of raqâ’iq or fadâ’il al-a`mâl in the Sahîh, as in the case of Shaddâd ibn Sa`îd Abû Talhâ al-Râsibî or al-Walîd ibn Abî Walîd.[8]

The correct position of Ibn al-`Arabî is as he states himself regarding a certain weak hadîth: “Its chain is unknown, but it is preferable to put it into practice…”[9] As for Ibn Hazm’s statement against the use of weak narrations in absolute terms:[10] he elsewhere states preferring the use of weak hadîth over the use of juridical opinion (ra’î), as does Ibn al-`Arabî himself.[11] (GF Haddad and Muhammad Sarkisian, Validity Of Weak Hadith; bold and underline emphasis ours)

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