What is the ruling of qurbani? Is it wajib (essential) or is it merely a sunnah?
The qurbani is wajib upon those who can afford to do the sacrifice and are not travellers, and it is not merely a commendable practice.
In this regard, a tradition states that Abu Hurairah (r.a) narrated that the Prophet (s.a.s) said, ‘Whoever can afford to do the sacrifice and yet does not do it should not come to our place of performing salaah (i.e. the Eid salaah). ( Ahmad, Ibn Majah). These are strong and stern words which have been used against a person who neglects doing the sacrifice although he has the ability to do so. The Scholars have stated that such words are not normally used for anything which is less than being an essential act. ( Al Fiqhul Islaami Wa Adilitihi Vol. 4 Pg. 2704: Bidayatul Mujtahad Vol. 1 Pg.448).
It is also evident from the tradition of Thauban (r.a.) that the Prophet (s.a.s.) did not leave out the animal sacrifice (qurbani) from the time it was ordained in Islam until his passing away. (Bidayatul Mujtahad Vol.1 Pg 448).
It is also evident in traditions that the Prophet (s.a.s) ordered Abu Burdah (r.a) to repeat his sacrifice when he had done it before the Eid salaah. If it was merely a sunnah, he would not have ordered him to repeat it.
As for those who say that it is a mere sunnah, they use the tradition in which it is stated that theProphet (s.a.s) is reported to have said, ‘He who intends to perform the sacrifice should not cut his hair and trim his nails when he sees the moon of Zul Hijjah’. These scholars are of the opinion that since the act of doing a sacrifice is connected to a person’s intention to do it, it cannot be considered as being essential.
While responding to this opinion, the scholars have stated that the words, “He who intends”, is not meant to show an ease and allowance to a person, thereby giving him a choice, instead it is an idiom and a word of common usage. This word has been mentioned in the hadith about Hajj also where it states, “ He who intends to perform Hajj, should make haste’. (Mishkaat). Does the usage of this word mean that Hajj is also a mere sunnah?Obviously not. As such, it cannot be said that the hadith shows that the act of doing a sacrifice is merely a sunnah.
It is on account of the aforementioned evidences, Imam Abu Hanifah(a.r) has held the view that qurbani is wajib. The other Imams like Imam Malik and Imam Shafi (a.r) have also not considered it to be a mere sunnah, but have both stated that it is Sunnah Al Mu’akadah, that is, an emphasized and strong sunnah which should not be left out except for valid and sound reasons. In fact, they have stated that it would be Makrooh (disliked) for a person who can afford to do the sacrifice to leave it out.
And Allah knows best.
Mufti Waseem Khan
This answer was collected from DarulUloomTT.net, which is operated under the supervision of Mufti Waseem Khan from Darul Uloom Trinidad and Tobago.