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Camel Sacrifice

...What they offer there is unclean. Haggai 2:14 (NAS)

Dietary Laws

God instructed Moses (Musa) that the people of Israel were not to eat nor to touch the dead carcass of a camel or a swine. These animals were ceremonially unclean animals. In addition, they could not offer them to God in sacrifice. Only a clean, domesticated animal, such as a sheep, goat, or a cow, would be a suitable sacrifice to God.

However, of those that chew the cud or that have a split hoof completely divided you may not eat the camel, the rabbit or the coney. Although they chew the cud, they do not have a split hoof; they are ceremonially unclean for you. The pig is also unclean; although it has a split hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses. Deuteronomy 14: 7-8

The Israel’s dietary commands are given in the book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. The book of Leviticus was written to the Levites who were one of the 12 tribes of Israel. They were dedicated to serve the Lord in the religious life of Israel (Numbers 18:2-6). They served in the wilderness tabernacle and later in the Solomonic temple, under the direction of the Aaronic priesthood. By contrast, the book of Deuteronomy was addressed directly to the common people of Israel. So, each individual Israelite was responsible to observe faithfully the laws of the Lord too.


The reason for the dietary prohibitions given in Leviticus is holiness. God’s people must be holy, because the LORD is holy. As an external, visible symbol of holiness, they could not eat camel or swine meat.

I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. "'These are the regulations concerning animals, birds, every living thing that moves in the water and every creature that moves about on the ground. You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.'" Lev 11:45-47 (NIV)


However, the first reason for the dietary prohibitions in Deuteronomy is sonship. The first verse of Chapter fourteen of Deuteronomy begins with "You are the sons of the LORD your God" (NAS). They had a personal relationship with God that was superior to slavehood. It is greater to be a son of God than to be His slave. This is easy to understand. For example, a father may have a son as well as a slave. A son’s relationship is an enduring relationship of love and nature while a slave relationship is dependent upon his labor and productivity. A slave may be sold and dismissed, but a relationship between a son and a father can never be dissolved. King Solomon (Suliaman) wrote about a father’s delight in his son, "...he loves, as a father the son he delights in. Proverbs 3:12 (NIV). The contrast between sonship and slavehood is noted in the New Testament too.

So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. Galatians 4:7 (NIV)

The children of Israel belonged to the family of God; and, with the privilege of sonship, there came responsibility. They needed to conduct themselves in holiness as sons of the LORD.

So, we see that the dietary and sacrificial requirements were based upon God’s holiness and spiritual sonship.

Split hoof

The commandment was clear. The Israelites could eat only animals that had a split hoof and chewed the cud. The LORD said, "Do not eat any detestable thing" (Deut 14:3). To eat camel or swine flesh would be to eat a detestable thing. The camel lacks a split hoof while a pig does not chew the cud. So, both animals were equally detestable.

Of course, God gave these commandments as a spiritual lessons for us. The split hoof was an exterior feature while chewing the cud was an interior feature. So, likewise, the sons of the LORD need to have a morally-good exterior behavior as well as a spiritually-good interior thought-life.

You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud. Leviticus 11:3 (NIV)
You may eat any animal that has a split hoof divided in two and that chews the cud. Deuteronomy 14:6 (NIV)

There are many religious people who observe multitudinous religious rituals. They may manifest an outward walk that is separated from evil. They are like the religious Pharisees who walked outwardly for everyone to see. But, inwardly, they possessed proud hearts. They appeared to serve God just so others could see them. They were like swine that have the split hoof of outward separation from evil, but they were unclean on the inside because their minds and hearts were contrary to the moral attributes of God. They did not love their enemies. Those who observe religious rituals while hating their enemies are like swine.

Chewing the Cud

Food is necessary for the growth and nutrition of an ungulate animal. Chewing the cud is so the animal’s food is digested properly. An ungulate animal first grazes on the field’s grass and other foliage. In the process, it may consume quickly a large quantity of food. Afterwards, it hast to lie down and regurgitate the grass and foliage and spend time chewing the cud. This makes the grass suitable for digestion. Essentially, chewing the cud is one of the steps in the process whereby the grass becomes part of the animal itself.

Spiritually, it teaches us that the God’s truth needs to be assimilated by reflection and mediation. A person may listen to a lecture or read a book and learn a lot of things quickly. This is like a grazing animal that can consume grass rapidly. For the person to make the truth his own, the person needs to reflect and to meditate upon the significance of the truth. It is not simply being able to recite truth; a tape recorder can recite scripture. Chewing the cud is the process whereby the knowledge of God becomes part of us by reflection.

I wisdom dwell [with] prudence, and find the knowledge [which cometh] of reflection. Proverbs 8:12 (Darby’s trans).

The sons of God should be intelligent and enjoy divine truth. This requires times apart from the busy requirements of life. Thus, chewing the cud symbolizes our reflective interior spiritual life. It is necessary for our spiritual growth and life.

However, as vital as the interior spiritual life is, it must be accompanied with an outwardly good moral life. The camel chews the cud, but it lacks the split hoof. Thus, it was an unclean animal. It is like a person who enjoys discussing, reading, and thinking about spiritual matters, but who does not walk in separation from moral evil. It is like a person who can discuss new insights into divine truths, but who easily falls into sexual sin.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob

Abraham was a man of faith who pleased the All Mighty. He had many camels. Yet, it is striking to notice that he never sacrificed a camel. Likewise, when we read the life histories of the Old Testament prophets, there is not a single instance where one of them sacrificed a camel to God. It would have been easy and convenient for Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob to sacrifice a camel, because they had them in considerable numbers.

He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels. Genesis 12:16 (NIV)
He [Isaac]went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching. Gen 24:63 (NIV)
Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels, Gen 31:17 (NIV)

All the faithful prophets of the Old Testament sacrificed animals that were designated by God as clean animals. None of them sacrificed a camel or a swine.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Antiochus IV Epiphanes was a Seleucid king of the Hellenistic Syrian kingdom. He reigned from 175 to 164 BC and sought to corrupt Jewish worship by causing the sacrifice of unclean beasts in Jerusalem. This eventually led to a revolt and the Maccabian Wars.

[44]And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah;... [47] to set up altars, and groves, and chapels of idols, and sacrifice swine's flesh, and unclean beasts:..[50] "And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die." 1 Maccabees 1:44,47,50

These verses illustrate the importance the Jewish people felt towards disobeying the commandment of God regarding the sacrifice of unclean animals. Antiochus threatened them with death if they would not commit blasphemy and sacrifice a swine or an unclean animal to God. Some Jews became apostate and profaned the laws of God. However, many Jews accepted death rather than blasphemy God. 

There can be no doubt that Muhammad's profane sacrifices would have shocked observant Arabian Jews. This may partially account for Muhammad's lack of success in winning followers from the Jewish clans. Muhammad had no use for Jews who respected the Law of Moses. In one case, all the male member of the Jewish tribe, Qurayza‎, were  beheaded by Muhammad, except Rifa'a who despised the Mosaic Law by eating camel flesh. Like Antiochus IV Epiphanes Muhammad knew the law, but he chose to spare those Jews who dared to violate God's commandment!

Rifa'a b. Samaw'al al-Qurazi who was a grown man who had sought refuge with her, and ‎who used to know them. She said that he had alleged that he would pray and eat camel's ‎flesh. So he gave him to her and she saved his life.‎ 1

Castrated Sacrifice

The LORD of Creation commanded that no sacrifice could be offer to God that had been castrated. Again, there is a spiritual reason for this requirement. The reproductive organs symbolize reproductive power, the power to cause new life. A castrated animal is a mutilated animal without the power to create new life. There must be no defect in the power of new life. New life is a vital truth for sinners who are marked by decay and death. So, God requires a sacrifice that symbolizes the power of new life, a new life is what a sinner so desperately needs for salvation. For a sacrifice to meet the need of a sinner, the sacrifice must have the symbol of new life. A sterile sacrifice is a defective sacrifice that lacks reproductive life. It does not symbolize grace, mercy and new life that is found through faith in the divine sacrifice. 

You must not offer to the LORD an animal whose testicles are bruised, crushed, torn or cut. You must not do this in your own land, Levitical 22:24 (NIV)


Qurbani is an Urdu and Persian word from the Arabic word, Qurban. Literally, it means an act performed to seek God’s pleasure. Technically, it is used for the sacrifice of an animal for the sake of God. The same word, Corban or Korban, is found in the New Testament too.

But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God), Mark 7:11 (NIV)
Strong’s Dictionary #2878 korban (kor-ban'); and korbanas (kor-ban-as'); of Hebrew and Aramaic origin respectively; a votive offering and the offering; a consecrated present (to the Temple fund); by extension (the latter term) the Treasury itself, i.e. the room where the contribution boxes stood:

The term, Qurbani occurs in the Qur’an. For example, Sura Al-Ma’idah 5:27 uses the term in reference to the sacrifices of Cain and Abel.

And (O Muhammad SAW) recite to them (the Jews) the story of the two sons of Adam [Hâbil (Abel) and Qâbil (Cain)] in truth; when each offered a sacrifice (to Allâh), it was accepted from the one but not from the other. The latter said to the former: "I will surely kill you." The former said: "Verily, Allâh accepts only from those who are Al-Muttaqûn (the pious - see V.2:2)."Al-Ma'idah 5:27 Al-Hilali and Khan’s Translation

Waotlu AAalayhim nabaa ibnay adama bialhaqqi ith qarraba qurbanan fatuqubbila min ahadihima walam yutaqabbal mina al-akhari qala laaqtulannaka qala innama yataqabbalu Allahu mina almuttaqeena Al-Ma'idah 5:27 Transliteration

Eid al-Adha or Feast of Sacrifice

Eid al-Adha is celebrated on the 10th of Dhul-Hijja (last month of Muslim lunar calendar) which day is called the day of sacrifice (Nahr). The Eid al-Adha occurs during the annual Hajj when approximately 2 million Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims celebrate the Feast of Sacrifice in honor of Abraham (Ibrahim) whom they believe would have sacrificed Ishmael within the Kaaba in Mecca, except that God provided a sacrificial lamb for Ishmael. Hundreds of sheep, goats, and camels are sacrificed each year during the Eid al-Adha.

Qur'an: Camel sacrifice

The Qur’an specifically mentions camel sacrifice in Al-Hajj 20 and ayah 36. This is shocking because a camel is an unclean animal like a swine. For a divine prophet to offer an unclean animal to God, whether it be a camel or a swine, is blasphemous. It would have made no difference whether Muhammad had offered a swine or a camel, because both are equally unclean. So, in a real sense, Muhammad was like Antiochus Epiphanes who had his subjects sacrifice unclean beasts.

According to the Qur’an, the symbolism of the sacrifice is merely bountiful food. The flesh of the sacrifice is divided as follows: the offerer and relatives (1/3), friends and neighbors (1/3) and the poor and needy (1/3). The sacrifice has no meaning or significance regarding sins and forgiveness.

The sacrificial camels we have made for you as among the symbols from Allah: in them is (much) good for you: then pronounce the name of Allah over them as they line up (for sacrifice): when they are down on their sides (after slaughter), eat ye thereof, and feed such as (beg not but) live in contentment, and such as beg with due humility: thus have We made animals subject to you, that ye may be grateful. Al-Hajj 22:36 Yusufali’s translation

The idea of personal sin and God’s forgiveness through substitutionary sacrifice is immediately rejected by Muhammad in the very next ayah. "It is not their meat nor their blood." Of course, meat and blood don’t reach God in a physical sense. The Old Testament sacrifices were never meant to be taken in such a crude, literal sense, as if God were hungry for meat and thirsty for blood. For that matter, neither do creeds, prayers, pilgrimages, fastings, or alms reach God. In the literal sense, they are all worthless and empty religious rituals. Muhammad did not understand the symbolic significance of animal sacrifice. Their symbolic significance is God's divine lesson for us who are sinners.

It is not their meat nor their blood, that reaches Allah: it is your piety that reaches Him: He has thus made them subject to you, that ye may glorify Allah for His Guidance to you and proclaim the good news to all who do right. Al-Hajj 22:37 Yusufali’s translation

Even more erroneous is the saying, "it is your piety that reaches Him." How can human piety reach God when humans are impious before the Infinitely Holy One. In the divine Light of God’s Holiness, human beings are self-centered sinners. We don’t have sufficient piety to compensate for all of our sins. God is an infinitely perfect Judge who would not be infinitely perfect, if He were to by-pass judging our sins with infinitely perfect justice and holiness. We should never make light of our sins, by claiming that some good deed compensates for the evil ones we do. It would be irrational to think that a criminal judge would be obligated to forgive a robbery because the robber had done some good deeds in the past. Such moral standards would be corrupt and perverse. God is not a merchant who trades in good deeds and evil deeds. There is no Trader’s Balance where the coins of good and bad deeds are weighed against each other. The one who sins will be cast into the flames of an eternal Hell.

Did Ibrahim’s piety reach God? Absolutely, not! For Ibrahim, an animal sacrifice was more than sanctified food. He knew that he was worthy of divine punishment, so he appreciated knowing that God would accept an animal’s death for his own deserved punishment. Ibrahim was a prophet with an altar. He had faith in God, not his own spiritual achievements and good deeds. Wherever he traveled, he constructed a sacrificial altar.

Altar near Shechem, Genesis 12:6-7
Altar near Bethel, Genesis 12:8
Altar at Hebron, Genesis 13:18
Altar on Mount Moriah, Genesis 22:2

Hadith: Camel sacrifice

In addition to the Qur'an, the written traditions of Muhammad tell us that a sacrificial camel serves up to seven people while a sheep serves only one person. In other words, an unclean camel is worth seven times more than the sacrificial value of a clean animal like a sheep. If the sacrificial value of a camel were so great, why did not the Old Testament prophets and saints sacrifice camels? They obeyed God and had a true sense of evil. They would not offer a blasphemous sacrifice to God. They knew they were sinful. They knew they needed to obey God and offer a ceremonially clean animal. The prophet Isaiah said,

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isaiah 64:6 (NIV)

What sacrificial value would an unclean camel possess for an unclean person? It would have absolutely no value. It takes a clean animal to be a substitute for an unclean person. The prophet Isaiah knew this unwavering truth. Offering an unclean camel is blasphemous, and it only increases the guiltiness of the offerer before the Lord of the Universe. It shows utter disrespect for the true prophets and God’s divine truth. This disrespect and rebellion is recorded in the Sunam Abu Dawud, Sahih Bukhari, and Malik's Muwatta.

Narrated Jabir ibn Abdullah: The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: A cow serves for seven, and a camel serves for seven.

Narrated Jabir ibn Abdullah: We sacrificed along with the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) at al-Hudaybiyyah a camel for seven and a cow for seven people. Sunan Abu Dawud, Sacrifice (Kitab Al-Dahaya), Book 15, Number 2802-2803

Narrated Nafi': 'Abdullah (bin 'Umar) used to slaughter his sacrifice at the slaughtering place (i.e the slaughtering place of the Prophet ) . Ibn 'Umar said, "Allah's Apostle used to slaughter (camels and sheep, etc.,) as sacrifices at the Musalla." Sahih Bukhari, Al-Adha Festival Sacrifice (Adaahi), Volume 7, Book 68, Number 459:

Yahya related to me from Malik from Abu'z-Zubayr al-Makki that Jabir ibn Abdullah said, "We sacrificed with the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, in the year of Hudaybiya, a camel between seven people, and a cow between seven people." Malik's Muwatta, Sacrificial Animals, Book 23, Number 23.5.9.

Yahya related to me from Malik from Umara ibn Yasar that Ata ibn Yasar told him that Abu Ayyub al-Ansari had told him, "We used to sacrifice one sheep, and a man sacrificed for himself and his family. Then later on people began to compete with each other and it became boasting."

Malik said, "The best that I have heard about a single camel, cow or sheep, is that a man should sacrifice a camel for himself and his family. He sacrifices a cow or sheep which he owns for his family, and shares with them in it. It is disapproved for a group of people to buy a camel, cow or sheep, to share for the ritual and sacrifices, each man giving a share of its price, and taking a share of its meat. We have heard the tradition that people do not share in the ritual. However, it may be that the people of one household can share." Malik's Muwatta, Sacrificial Animals, Book 23, Number 23.5.10.


God instructed Hazrat Musa that Israel were to partake of just the clean animals because they were the holy sons of God. The reason Israel was delivered from the land of Egypt was because they were sons.

Then say to Pharaoh, 'This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, "Let my son go, so he may worship me." ...Exodus 4:22-23 (NIV)

Muhammad knew nothing of sonship and personal divine relationship. The highest spiritual relationship that he knew was slavery.

Castrated and sterile sacrifices

Since it is recorded in the sahih traditions that Muhammad sacrificed castrated rams, Muslims consider a castrated sacrifice to be a preferable offering for Qurbani. It is permissible to sacrifice a sterile female animal too. Again, this preference conflicts with the Holy Scriptures and the practice of all the true prophets of God. However, it makes sense from Muhammad’s perspective. He saw Qurbani as a food festival. Farmers and butchers know that castrated animals taste better than uncastrated animals that have more testosterone in their bodies. So, farmers castrate their bull calves to fetch a higher price when they plan to sell them for meat. So, Muhammad’s sacrificial perspective rose no higher than his stomach.

Narrated Jabir ibn Abdullah: The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) sacrificed two horned rams which were white with black markings and had been castrated. When he made them face the qiblah, he said: I have turned my face towards Him. Who created the heavens and the earth, following Abraham's religion, the true in faith, and I am not one of the polytheists. My prayer, and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death are all for Allah, the Lord of the Universe, Who has no partner. That is what I was commanded to do, and I am one of the Muslims. O Allah it comes from Thee and is given to Thee from Muhammad and his people. In the name of Allah, and Allah is Most Great. He then made sacrifice. Sunan Abu Dawud Book 15, Number 2789

Muhammad was blind to the spiritual truth that lies behind the Torah and its sacrificial ritual. These religious rituals were given to teach spiritual truths. An animal's genitals are necessary to generate new life in the reproductive cycle. Sinners are spiritually dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1), and they need to be born again.

In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." John 3:3 (NIV)
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 1 Peter 1:23 (NIV)

Hence, to be symbolically significant a Mosaic sacrifice could not be a castrated animal. A sinner needs a new life, so the sacrifice had to have the symbol of new life in it.  Muhammad's sacrifice may be pleasing to the palate, but it cannot bring new life to the sinner. Likewise, religious traditions and rituals may elevate and excite the spiritual feelings of a sinner, but they cannot wash his sins away and make him a new child of God.


The sacrifices of Eid al-Adha conflict with Holy Scriptures and all the divine prophets of God. They lack the spiritual significance that is found in the divinely ordained sacrifices. They would be considered blasphemous by God’s prophets, because they are unclean sacrifices. The holy prophets of old would have chosen martyrdom rather than participate in sacrifices of Qurbani. For them an animal sacrifice was more than food, it was an expression of their sinfulness and their faith in God’s grace in accepting a substitutionary sacrifice.

Last edited 03/06/2001
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1 Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, Translated by A. Guillaume, ‎Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, (Re-issued in Karachi, Pakistan, 1967, 13th impression, 1998) 1955, ‎p.466.