The ritual of Aqeeqah was practiced even before the advent of Islam. The pagan Arabs used to celebrate the birth of an infant by sacrificing an animal. After the spread of Islam, this ritual was not abandoned completely but was continued after some modifications.
It is related by Hazrat Ayesha (ra), ‘During the age of perversion the custom was that when people performed Aeeqah of a newly born child they dipped a piece of cotton wool of the sacrificed in the blood of the sacrificed animal and when the head of the child was shaved, it was placed on its head. (Since it was an uncivilized custom) Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) said, ‘Do not apply blood on the child’s head. Apply Khalooq instead’.
The sacrifice of an animal in Aqeeqah is primarily meant to please Allah (swt) and as Thanksgiving to Him. The infant does not require the blood of the sacrificed animal on its shaved head in any way. Consequently, this perverse practice of the pagan Arabs was abandoned by Prophet Mohammad (pbuh).
There was another perverse practice which was associated with Aqeeqah before the advent of Islam. The birth of a female child was considered to be a curse during the pre- Islamic days. So the Jews used to celebrate Aqeeqah ceremony in such a way that they used to offer sacrifice of an animal only in case a baby boy was born. If a girl was born then they used to avoid the sacrifice. However, Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), who had championed the cause of women during his lifetime, put to an end this unfair treatment towards the girl child.
It is reported by Abdullah bin Amr bin al-asl that the Prophet (pbuh) said, ‘To whomsoever a child is born and he wants to perform a sacrifice of Aqeeqah on behalf of it, he should sacrifice two goats for a boy and one for a girl’. (Sunan Abu Dawood 2:2836).
Through another hadith we come to know about the appropriate time for conducting an Aqeeqah ceremony for an infant.
It is reported that Hazrat Ayesha (ra), ‘The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) did the Aqeeqah for Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn, on the seventh day and gave them their names’. (Narrated by Ibn Hibban 12/127).
There are some more ahadith which throw light on the rules of an Aqeeqah ceremony. Hazrat Ali (ra) reported that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) slaughtered a goat on the occasion of Hasan’s birth, the son of Fatima (ra) and Ali (ra) and said, ‘’Oh Fatima! Shave the head of Hasan and pay silver equal to the weight of the hair as charity’. (Sahih Sunan at-Tirmidhi 2:1226)
Last but not the least, there is another ahadith which can answer all the questions that can arise in our minds, related to Aqeeqah.
Yahya related to me from Malik from Hisham ibn Urwa that his father, Urwa ibn az-Zubair made an Aqeeqa for his male and female children of a sheep each. Malik asked, ‘What do we do about the Aqeeqah is that if someone makes an Aqeeqah for his children, he offers a sheep for both the male and the female. The Aqeeqah is not obligatory but it is desirable to perform it and people continue to come to us about it. If someone makes an aqeeqah for his children, the same rules apply as with all sacrificial animals- one-eyed, emaciated, injured or sick animals must not be used and neither the meat nor the skin is to be sold. The bones are broken and the family eats the meat and gives some of it away as charity. The child is not smeared with any of the blood’. (Malik’s Muwatta, Book 26.2.7)
So we find that on the seventh day of the birth of an infant, two sheep /goats/camels should be preferably slaughtered for a boy whereas a single sheep/goat /camel should be sacrificed for a girl child. The hair of the child is also supposed to be shaved on the same day and the required charity should be done. However, the Sunnah of Aqeeqah is not compulsory, if one cannot afford the expenditure.
Allah (swt) says in the Holy Quran: ‘And Hajj to the House (Ka’abah) is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, those who can afford the expenses (for one’s conveyance, provision and residence).’ (TMQ-3:97).
Hajj is the most important ceremony which a Muslim is commanded to perform. However, those who cannot afford to perform Hajj are exempted from performing it. So an Aqeeqah ceremony cannot be an exception and it is also not compulsory if the guardians of the newly born cannot afford it.
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