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.
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).
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!