The Arabic meaning of the word sacrifice, in its material and spiritual sense, has an affinity in religious terminology that indicates devotion to Allah and the sacrifice of an animal carried out on the ‘Eid al-Adha with the intention of worshipping Allah.
The tradition of sacrifice in different religions and cultures in the past has played an important role in the lives of people in ancient societies; negative aspects, such as torturing the animals and the waste of the sacrificial animal, that were found in polytheism, have all been eliminated within Islamic boundaries, and the sacrifice, with both its material and social qualities, has been transformed into a form of worship.
Islam has purified the traditional sacrifice of the Arabs, which was in contradiction of the Oneness of Allah. The sunnah (practice) of Prophet Abraham was vivified and enriched with additional social functions.
There are many forms of worship that are beneficial to the individual and the community which have been clarified by revealed Islamic qualities and the worship of Allah. The sacrifice, as a financial form of worship, has greater importance to the benefit of the community and individuals. The main difference is that the animal is not sacrificed for its meat or hide, but for the sake of Allah; this can only by fulfilled when the act of sacrifice is carried out according to the Shariat (Islamic law). Any benefit from the meat or hide is secondary and is seen as the worldly dimension of the sacrifice.
By sacrificing an animal the individual not only displays their devotion and piety to Allah, they also must take into consideration the concept of benefiting those who closest to them. As stated in the Quran it is not the meat or blood of the animal that is important for Allah, rather, it is the sensitivity of a person’s religious beliefs (Al-Hajj 22/37). Sacrifice is also a form of thanksgiving to Allah for all the blessings He has given us. With every sacrifice believers are reminded of the unconditional submission of Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael to the order of Allah as written in the Quran (As-Saffat 37/102-107), and thus the sacrifice is a symbol that the believer is also willing to obey Allah.
Every form of worship is carried out for a different reason; it would be wrong to think of the sacrifice as merely a form of social solidarity or financial aid. Thus, for instance, it is not permitted to give charity to the poor or pray or fast instead of making the sacrifice.
The sacrifice helps to establish social justice and order. The rich spend of their wealth for the sake of Allah and this teaches them to share and help people who are less fortunate. It also teaches the poor to praise Allah for the blessing that is given to them, which in turn prevents them from thinking in a pessimistic fashion and makes them aware that they are a member of the community.