How I Could Just Kill a Goat!

Recently, my wife and I had our first child, a baby boy we named Mustafa, on Nov. 20th, 2012. In the Islamic faith it is custom, but not a requirement to perform an Aqiqah or sacrifice of a goat(s) to thank God for the blessing of a new child in the family. In our tradition, 1 goat is sacrificed for a girl and 2 goats are sacrificed for a boy.  These are only the suggested minimums set by our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who lived during a time when female infants were buried alive by Non-Muslim Arabs and as in most cultures of the world, including here in America, a boy is usually given more preference than a girl.  Thus, the Prophet Muhammad wanted to show that having a female child is also a blessing, while at the same time not wanting to give an additional burden on the family with having to sacrifice 2 goats, thus he stated that only 1 goat is required to be sacrificed for a female child. But if the parents can afford to do so, there is no harm in sacrificing more animals.

First a little background.  The word Aqiqah means “to cut” in Arabic and refers to the cutting of a newborn’s hair, which is then weighed and an equivalent amount in silver is given in charity on behalf of the child.  Usually the shaving of the head and the sacrificing of the animal (goat, lamb, cow, or camel) is done around the same time frame, so both together are now referred to as the Aqiqah.

Some may think the Aqiqah is barbaric or not necessary to do in today’s world.  But I would beg to differ.  It is kind of like Thanksgiving, except we slaughter a goat instead of a turkey and we also give a portion of the meat to the needy people in our community.  It is also a show of thanks to God, for blessing us with a child and in remembrance of Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail (In the Islamic tradition and Isaac in the Christian tradition) in order to follow God’s commandment.  As we all know the story, God replaced Abraham’s son with a ram (goat) right before he was going to sacrifice his son, and thus why we Muslims continue this tradition every year at the time of Eid-ul-Adha (feast of the sacrifice) and also at the birth of child.

Traditionally the Aqiqah should be done on the seventh day of the child’s life, but if it cannot, then anytime after that is acceptable.  I did the sacrificing of the goat and the shaving of my son’s head within the first month of his life.

For the sacrificing of the goat, I was a little nervous, since I have seen it done before, but never had the courage to actually do it myself.  I had decided a while back to do it at the birth of my first child in keeping our religious traditions alive in America – which is something my late father also worked hard for.

So I called up the local goat farm, where they have been allowing Muslims to sacrifice animals in the south bay for over 20 years.  A place called Dario’s Ranch in Mt. Hamilton (about 20 min drive from where I live).  I had gone there once before, so I was familiar with the place and the procedure there.

I also invited some friends and family members to attend the Aqiqah– for moral support.  We got there at approx. 12 noon on a Sunday and after about a 30 min wait a Mexican Butcher came out and showed us the goats.  They had different prices ranging from $100 all the way up to $250 each.  I ended up picking a $170 male goat (the sex of the animal doesn’t matter, but according to the butcher the male goat would be easier to cook and taste better).

About 20 minutes after choosing my goat and telling the ranch owner how I wanted the meat to be cut up after the slaughtering of the animal, they called me in for the sacrifice.  My friends also came inside the slaughter room with me to observe.  The animal was caged up in a “sacrifice table”, which is a metal contraption to hold the animal down during the deed. There were two Mexican butchers standing by.  One holding a long, sharp and slightly curved knife.  He waved me over and then asked me if I know how to do it.  I sheepily replied “No, this was my first time.”  He gave me a surprised look and then went up to the sacrifice table where the goat I had picked out was lying in with its head and neck sticking out.  He held the goat’s head back, exposing his throat and said to me, “You have to hold his head back, hard like this, and make sure it doesn’t move.”  I had a look of uneasiness on my face.  He continued, “Then you take the knife and cut here” – He made me feel with my hand where the Adam’s apple of the goat was.  Then he showed me the knife and said take it.

Before I took the knife, I lifted my hands up to make Dua (supplication).    I made the intention that I am performing this Aqiqah for my son Mustafa and I also made a few other personal pleas to God.  Then I said the required Bismallahi, Allahu-Akbar (“In the Name of Allah – God is the Greatest”) and proceeded to perform the sacrifice.

Luckily, the butcher decided to hold the goat’s head for me and after the first slicing motion, the sharp knife quickly cut the goat’s throat and the animal’s blood started pouring out into the bucket below.  I had blood on my hands – literally and was just standing there looking at them.  The butcher then said, very good job and told me to go wash my hands at the adjacent sink.  I was still in a little shock at how quick it was. Afterwards, I noticed that I had some blood drops on my jeans and my left shoe…which probably won’t come out in the wash anytime soon.

We then had to wait about 20-30 minutes while the butchers cut up the goat for us.  I forgot to bring my own plastic bags, so I had to purchase large black garbage bags (similar to what Dexter uses after he does a kill) from the Ranch for 50 cents each!  I had the goat meat split up into 3 separate bags and put them in the trunk of my car. After getting home, my mother-in-law and I started to cut up the meat into smaller pieces to put into zip lock bags for distribution to family and friends.

In our Islamic tradition, we keep 1/3 of the Aqiqah meat for ourselves, 1/3 we give to family and friends and 1/3 we give to the poor.  We created about 15 zip lock bags.  We had a small Aqiqah party at my mother’s house 3 days later where we had cooked some of the goat meat into a goat curry and also goat biryiani which we served to our family and friends.  We also distributed the frozen goat meat in the zip lock bags to them. One zip lock bag, I gave to a local needy Muslim I know.  The remaining 4 bags, I dropped off, along with some canned goods, to Rahima Foundationin San Jose, which distributes food and essential supplies to local needy people (Muslim as well as Non-Muslim).

Goat Meat Cut Up after the Sacrifice

This one goat cost me about $210 to sacrifice.  Since I am supposed to sacrifice two goats for my son, I decided to just send money with my mother-in-law who is going to Pakistan next month, to do the second goat there.  Since it is not only cheaper (approx. $50 USD for one goat) but also ALL the meat can be distributed to the poor and needy there.

I never thought I would be able to perform the actual Aqiqah sacrifice myself, but with the help of family and friends, as well as a Mexican butcher, I was able to get the job done.  Oh and by the way, fresh goat meat tastes pretty good!

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  • http://www.caffeinatedmuslim.com Bushra

    Congratulations again on the birth of your son Irfan! Thanks for giving insight on the aqiqah process!

    P.S. Not sure why you chose to wear white shoes… ;)

    • irfanrydhan

      thanks Bushra! Actually they are grey shoes, but I forgot to wear my old sneakers instead of these ones:)!

  • Ejaz Naqvi

    Thanks for sharing the story, Irfan and once again, congratulations on your son. The linking of Aqiqah and the (near) sacrifice of prophet Abraham is interesting.

    • irfanrydhan

      JazakAllah Dr. Ejaz!

  • Steve Jones

    Hello,

    It is interesting that its only one goat/lamb for a girl and two for a boy. Its unfair don’t you think?

    • irfanrydhan

      Hi Steve

      Thanks for your comment. To briefly answer your question:

      One of the reasons why there is one goat sacrificed for a girl, instead of the two for the boy, is that because in the past, the Arabs preferred boys over girls and the main reason was because they had to pay a lot of dowry in order to get their girls married (cultural thing). The Pre-Islamic Arabs sometimes even buried their female babies alive, because they did not want to “deal” with them. When our Prophet Muhammed (S) came along, he quickly stopped this evil action of some people and also gave many rights to women, which they did not have before, such as the right to own property, keep their own money, get inheritance and also a right to vote. So back to the 1 goat thing. In order to make it “easier” for families who had a baby girl, the Prophet Muhammad (S) said that they only need to sacrifice one goat, and not the two that they usually did for boys. Again the sacrifice is only a recommendation and not a requirement in Islam.

      Hopefully that answers your questions. If you have more, feel free to email me directly at irfan@halalfest.com

      Peace

      Irfan

  • Tyler

    Thanks very much for the chance to learn a bit about Muslim culture/Islam. And congratulations of course to you and your wife on the birth of your son. Mustafa is a great name, by the way, and not just because of The Lion King.

    It’s an interesting tradition with some great things in its favor: the celebration of new life and the charity. I wonder if you’d indulge a couple of relevant questions from an American Christian-turned-atheist with very little knowledge of Islam.

    I’d like to step over the question of why any sacrifice is traditional to thank God for a child’s birth and ask instead whether it’s important for it to be a goat, or other animal you mentioned? What if you had grain or vegetables, and divided them as you did among your family, friends and the poor? Does God like animal sacrifices better? I’m reminded of Genesis 4:3-5 (not sure if Muslims have the same Genesis story) where God, in at least the Jewish tradition, seemed to prefer animal sacrifice. So is meat preferred for Aqiqah, and if so, why?

    Secondly, I wonder if it’s relevant that the animal be killed and butchered specifically for the occasion? If so, does the father of the new child have to kill the animal personally? You mentioned cow as one of the animals acceptable for Aqiqah, and you can certainly get pound after pound of beef at any supermarket, and as long as you pay for it yourself, the sacrificial nature of the tradition would seem to remain intact (you’re sacrificing your money to buy the meat, just like you had to buy the goat.) This question bears on the other part of Aqiqah too, I think: do you actually weigh the baby’s hair, buy the appropriate amount of silver and then give that to charity? Or do you just look at the current market value of silver and give cash directly instead?

    Finally, a question of modern economics as it pertains to the Aqiqah tradition. It’s an interesting quirk of global economics that you could have sacrificed three or four goats in Pakistan for the price of one in America. I wonder if this price discrepancy is relevant to God or to the spirit of the tradition? The Aqiqah suggests two goats for a boy, but does it say anything about the value of the goats? Obviously doing one here was the only way to enjoy the meat for yourself and family, but it just strikes me as odd that the tradition doesn’t seem to account for the possibility that goats could be cheap for some Muslims and expensive for others. (Obviously there’s a big income gap between Americans and Pakistanis to be taken into account here, too) If goat meat was very popular in America, for example, it might well have been cheaper for you to sacrifice one. Does the cost of the goat have any bearing on the tradition?

    I could definitely ask more, but I’ve written a lot already. I’m quite grateful for this insight into a piece of Muslim culture. I’m sure we have much to disagree about with regard to religion, but mutual understanding and respect is my goal here. So I’ll end with another congratulations on your son and wish your family very well.

    • irfanrydhan

      Hi Tyler

      Thanks for your comments. To briefly address some of your questions:

      1. Aqiqah is NOT a requirement of our religion – it is only optional because it was a practice of our Prophet Muhammad (S), but he did not make it a requirement on Muslims to do.

      2. Yes, it is acceptable to pay the current monetary value for a goat(s) instead of actually doing the sacrifice yourself. I believe I mentioned in my article that for the tradition of Eid-ul-Adha, which is a commemoration of Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God (which we know was just a test from God, who replaced his son with a ram or goat – thus, why goats are usually chosen to be sacrificied on Eid-ul-Adha). I usually just pay the amount for a goat overseas and have the meat distributed over there where there is greater need. In this particular case, I wanted to perform the Aqiqah myself, since I have never done the sacrifice myself and I wanted to get that experience. I then distributed about a third of the meat to needy people here locally in the Bay Area. Since the costs of sacrificing a goat is much more expensive here in the US, I only did one here and then I gave money to a relative who was going to Pakistan and they had one done there for much cheaper price and ALL the meat was distributed to the poor.

      3. One of the reasons why there is one goat sacrificed for a girl, instead of the two for the boy, is that because in the past, the Arabs preferred boys over girls and the main reason was because they had to pay a lot of dowry in order to get their girls married (cultural thing). The Pre-Islamic Arabs sometimes even buried their female babies alive, because they did not want to “deal” with them. When our Prophet Muhammed (S) came along, he quickly stopped this evil action of some people and also gave many rights to women, which they did not have before, such as the right to own property, keep their own money, get inheritance and also a right to vote. So back to the 1 goat thing. In order to make it “easier” for families who had a baby girl, the Prophet Muhammad (S) said that they only need to sacrifice one goat, and not the two that they usually did for boys. Again the sacrifice is only a recommendation and not a requirement in Islam.

      Hopefully that answers your questions. If you have more, feel free to email me directly at irfan@halalfest.com

      Peace

      Irfan

  • Hanadi

    Most Importantly, the sacrifice – meaning giving up something valuable such as the valuable life of Animals – in order to be given in Charity, is what makes such an act justifiable in regards to Animal Right and Moral Justice.

    • irfanrydhan

      Thanks for your comments!


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