Islamic Perspectives

Islamic rituals are not superflous

Doing some other good deed in lieu of prescribed rituals seem to be merely a substitution of convenience

By Shad Shahid

In the past few years, we have witnessed a growing demand from some of our learned elites to go easy on rituals like animal sacrifice and instead fulfill the ‘spirit’ behind the same through other means, like charity or feeding the poor. The question that remains, though, is why do we always have to sacrifice rituals for each other, or rituals for other ‘good deeds’?

In reality, this argument has no end – don’t offer prayers because the time is better spent studying, why go for Hajj since it is a waste of money and time both, and why build masjids instead of orphanages. Why is it that only our rituals need to be sacrificed for the noble cause of charity? Why not sacrifice the next movie ticket or the next Happy Meal at McDonald’s or the next fine dining at a fancy restaurant..?

The other extreme of this situation is, of course, the mindless clamour for multiple bakras or multiple Hajj and Umrahs. The Qur’an calls itself the Mizan (the Balance), and we are always reminded that on the Day of Judgment too, it will be the balance of deeds the determining factor:

It is Allah Who has sent down the Book in Truth, and the Balance (by which to weigh conduct). (42:17)

Thus, we see that the Prophet (sws) performed only one Hajj and one Umrah (in 9 AH. Makkah had been conquered, but instead Abu Bakr (rta) was sent as Ameer of Hajj) – this clearly shows that religion is easy, and we burden ourselves only when not following the Prophetic ideal in totality. Daily we see advertisements on a balanced lifestyle, work-and-home balance, and study-and-play balance, yet we fail to grasp that this is the same balance which the Almighty also requires from us.

We learn from the scriptures that Qurbani is a Sunnah (practice) from the time of Prophet Abraham – it may not be obligatory, but leaving out Qurbani one is divorced from a tradition that spans thousands of years! Instead of reading ‘Charity versus Qurbani’, it would make infinitely more sense to view the two as complementary good deeds. The purpose behind Qurbani is not feeding the poor (thus, ruling out its substitution by charity), but the ritual serves as a reminder for us to dedicate our lives to the service of the Almighty:

Say: “My prayer and my sacrifice, my life and my death, are all for God, Lord of the Universe.” (6:162)

Ultimately, this malady is due to our misunderstanding of the rationale behind the scriptures - where once again, the primary responsibility falls upon ourselves as well as the learned scholars to clearly explain the rationale behind these scriptures. In this individualistic world, making tall statements like ‘we must obey the command of Allah and His Prophet (sws)’ is not going to work anymore- we must drive home the moral behind each and every ritual of Islam.

Time and again, the Holy Qur’an emphasizes that it consists of two parts – the Hikmah (wisdom) and the Shari’ah (religious commands). Islam explains both aspects of human life – interaction with God and interaction with mankind. One wonders why those calling for leaving out rituals, never come forward to help the poor at any other time. this selective substitution is a game of convenience where victory lies in living in our comfort zones and ignoring inconveniences caused by rituals. After all, who has the time to purchase goats, arrange the local butcher and then distribute the meat? Simply replace this exercise of around Rs 10,000 by making a charity of Rs 1,000 - and then forget the poor till next Eid!

The author is a management graduate.
He may be reached at

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2010 on page no. 28

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