Sacrifice is to forgo your own rights and desires for the sake of others and this is an important topic in Islam. Sacrifice in the Quran explores some of the instance and types of sacrifice that the verses of the Quran explain and that we can apply to our lives.
The topics covered in this article are:
Sacrifice in the Quran: Animal Sacrifice
فَلَمَّا بَلَغَ مَعَهُ السَّعْيَ قَالَ يَا بُنَيَّ إِنِّي أَرَىٰ فِي الْمَنَامِ أَنِّي أَذْبَحُكَ فَانظُرْ مَاذَا تَرَىٰ ۚ قَالَ يَا أَبَتِ افْعَلْ مَا تُؤْمَرُ ۖ سَتَجِدُنِي إِن شَاءَ اللَّـهُ مِنَ الصَّابِرِينَ ﴿102﴾
When he was old enough to assist in his endeavour, he said, ‘My son! I see in dreams that I am sacrificing you. See what you think.’ He said, ‘Father! Do whatever you have been commanded. If Allah wishes, you will find me to be patient.’ 1
This verse is describing the sacrifice of Prophet Ismail by his father Prophet Ibrahim and how both were willing to sacrifice – one his own life and the other the life of his son – in order to implement the command of God.
Life is the greatest blessing that Allah has bestowed upon us and sacrificing it for God, His religion, His chosen proofs and leaders, or for others for His sake requires strong belief and strength of character. This strength was shown by this father and son and God accepted it and saved Ismail by replacing him with a ram. This is because it was the act of sacrifice on their part and their piety that was important to God.
This great act was so beloved to God that He kept it alive as part of the hajj rituals and every year, thousands of people follow this custom and sacrifice animals in Mina (مِنا) as part of those rituals on Eid al-Adha.
Sacrifice in the Quran: Purpose of Sacrifice
According to another verse of the Quran, the philosophy behind this act is not that God needs those sacrifices or that it benefits Him in any way; rather, it is our piety that is important:
لَن يَنَالَ اللَّـهَ لُحُومُهَا وَلَا دِمَاؤُهَا وَلَـٰكِن يَنَالُهُ التَّقْوَىٰ مِنكُمْ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ سَخَّرَهَا لَكُمْ لِتُكَبِّرُوا اللَّـهَ عَلَىٰ مَا هَدَاكُمْ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الْمُحْسِنِينَ ﴿37﴾
It is not their flesh or blood that reaches Allah; rather, it is your piety that reaches Him. Thus has He disposed them for your benefit so that you may magnify Allah for His guiding you. And give good news to the virtuous. 2
Sacrifice in the Quran: The Sons of Adam
The importance of one’s intention and piety is also evidenced in the following verse regarding the sons of Adam where they both sacrificed something for God, but because Abel’s intention was pure and he chose the best offering from among what he had, his was accepted while Cain, who had grudgingly sacrificed from his crops, was not: 3
Relate to them truly the account of Adam’s two sons. When the two of them offered an offering, it was accepted from one of them and not accepted from the other. [One of them] said, ‘Surely I will kill you.’ [The other one] said, ‘Allah accepts only from the Godwary. 4
Sacrifice in the Quran: Self-Sacrifice
There are many verses which discuss the topic of self-sacrifice and we will examine some of them below.
Sacrifice in the Quran: Selling One’s Soul to God
وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَشْرِي نَفْسَهُ ابْتِغَاءَ مَرْضَاتِ اللَّـهِ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ رَءُوفٌ بِالْعِبَادِ ﴿207﴾
And among the people is he who sells his soul seeking the pleasure of Allah, and Allah is most kind to [His] servants. 5
This verse speaks of a person who offers and spends his life to attain God’s pleasure and is even willing to give up his life for God’s sake as His pleasure is that valuable for him.
This verse was revealed in praise of Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be on him) when he slept in Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be on him and his household) bed in his stead on the night of migration knowing that the enemy had plotted to kill the Prophet that night. 6
The True Believers
إِنَّ اللَّـهَ اشْتَرَىٰ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَنفُسَهُمْ وَأَمْوَالَهُم بِأَنَّ لَهُمُ الْجَنَّةَ ۚ يُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ فَيَقْتُلُونَ وَيُقْتَلُونَ ۖ
Indeed Allah has bought from the faithful their souls and their possessions for paradise to be theirs: they fight in the way of Allah, kill, and are killed… 7
Another verse that talks of sacrificing one’s life and wealth is the following:
Not equal are those of the faithful who sit back—excepting those who suffer from some disability—and those who wage jihad in the way of Allah with their possession and their persons. Allah has graced those who wage jihad with their possessions and their persons by a degree over those who sit back; … and Allah has graced those who wage jihad over those who sit back with a great reward. 9
Sacrifice in the Quran: Giving Whatever One Has For God
يُوفُونَ بِالنَّذْرِ وَيَخَافُونَ يَوْمًا كَانَ شَرُّهُ مُسْتَطِيرًا ﴿7﴾
وَيُطْعِمُونَ الطَّعَامَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِ مِسْكِينًا وَيَتِيمًا وَأَسِيرًا ﴿8﴾
إِنَّمَا نُطْعِمُكُمْ لِوَجْهِ اللَّـهِ لَا نُرِيدُ مِنكُمْ جَزَاءً وَلَا شُكُورًا ﴿9﴾
They fulfill their vows and fear a day whose ill will be widespread. For the love of Him, they feed the needy, the orphan and the prisoner, [saying,] ‘We feed you only for the sake of Allah. We desire no reward from you, nor thanks. 10
Although translators have translated ʿala ḥubbihi (علی حبّه) as for the love of God, commentators state that it refers to the love for the food as the next verse already indicates that it is for the sake of God. And the love refers to their desire and appetite for it as a result of their own need for it which they put aside to feed the needy, orphan, and prisoner for God’s sake. 11
The Sacrifice of the Family of the Holy Prophet
According to narrations this refers to Ali bin Abi Talib and Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet (peace be on them), and their sons. Their two sons were ill and they made a vow that if they became better they would fast for three days. Their sons became well and the whole family and Fiḍḍah (فِضَّة) their maidservant fasted for three days. Their only food for breaking their fast was bread and for all three days at the time of breaking their fast someone came to the door asking for sustenance and the family gave their bread, being content themselves with only water and fasted again the next day.
On the fourth day when the Prophet saw them in their state of weakness for not having eaten for three days he was upset and that was when surah Insan was revealed and Gabriel informed him that God congratulates him on having such a family. Then God sent down food from heaven so that they could eat from it and regain their strength. 12
Sacrifice in the Quran: Giving of What You Love
لَن تَنَالُوا الْبِرَّ حَتَّىٰ تُنفِقُوا مِمَّا تُحِبُّونَ ۚ وَمَا تُنفِقُوا مِن شَيْءٍ فَإِنَّ اللَّـهَ بِهِ عَلِيمٌ ﴿92﴾
You will never attain piety until you spend out of what you hold dear, and whatever you may spend of anything, Allah indeed knows it. 13
Birr (برّ) refers to extensive good and blessings and a land that is ready for farming and cultivation or living. According to the Quran belief, good deeds, fighting in God’s way, keeping promises, and so forth are all instances of birr.
According to the verse, if someone wants to attain piety, they must give away something that is dear for them. This is because apart from warding off poverty – which is one of the benefits of charity and giving to others according to narrations – Islam also wants the giver to grow. Detaching ourselves from what we think we love and flourishing the spirit of generosity are the most important favorable outcomes of charity for its giver.
The verse emphasizes that we should give away what we love, not what the receiver loves. This is because they might sometimes be content with something that is insignificant due to their need.
The highest stage of birr is for the martyrs who give their life for God as this is something that a human being loves the most. 14
Sacrifice in the Quran: Preferring Others Over Oneself
وَالَّذِينَ تَبَوَّءُوا الدَّارَ وَالْإِيمَانَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ يُحِبُّونَ مَنْ هَاجَرَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَا يَجِدُونَ فِي صُدُورِهِمْ حَاجَةً مِّمَّا أُوتُوا وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ ۚ وَمَن يُوقَ شُحَّ نَفْسِهِ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ ﴿9﴾
[They are as well] for those who were settled in the land and [abided] in faith before them, who love those who migrate toward them, and do not find in their breasts any privation for that which is given to them, but prefer [the Immigrants] to themselves, though poverty be their own lot. And those who are saved from their own greed—it is they who are the felicitous. 15
The verse is speaking of the people of Medina, the Ansars, who welcomed the believers who migrated there from Mecca, the Muhajirin, into their hearts and homes.
They did not stop here though; rather, they preferred them over themselves even though they were both poor and needy, and this act was praised by God and they are referred to as the felicitous. 16
Sacrifice in the Quran discusses some of the instances and examples of sacrifice in a person’s life according to Islam. Sometimes we sacrifice an animal according to God’s command; for example, as one of the rites of hajj. Other times we sacrifice of that which we love: our life, wealth and possessions and others things that are dear to us.
However, in all of these it is our intention and our growth that is most important, that is, that it be for God’s pleasure and attaining closeness to Him.
- [37: 102]. Qarai translation
- [22: 37]. Qarai translation
- Qarashi, A. A. Tafsīr Aḥsan al-Ḥadīth. Beʿthat Publications. Vol. 3, p. 54
- [5: 27]. Qarai translation
- [2: 207]. Qarai translation
- Tafsīr Aḥsan al-Ḥadīth. Vol. 1, p. 376
- [9: 111]. Qarai translation
- Tafsīr Namūna. Vol. 8, p. 148
- [4: 95]. Qarai translation
- [76: 7-9]. Qarai translation
- See: Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 20, p. 202; F, Tabarsi, Translation of Tafsīr Majmaʿ al-Bayān. Vol. 26, p. 161; Tafsīr Aḥsan al-Ḥadīth. Vol. 11, p. 473, etc.
- Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 20, pp. 202 & 212-213
- [3: 92]. Qarai translation
- Tafsīr Nūr. Commentary of Surah Aal-i Imran. Verse 92.
- [59: 9]. Qarai translation
- Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 19, p. 357