Child sacrifice and Islam

Montezuma… took their children to sacrifice to his idols. —Hernán Cortés, The Second Letter to Charles V.

Child sacrifice and Islam
Human sacrifice under the softening influence of civilisation

Special essay on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, Feast of Sacrifice


Editorial note:
Today is the first of the three-day feast called Eid al-Adha. Muslims would like the world to know that on this day they sacrifice sheep and goats. They do not mention the human sacrifice of every other day.

Helpless as we were in our infancy against the terrifying and unfathomable forces of nature, we did the best we could to mitigate the precariousness of our condition. We made sacrifices to the gods that control such forces in desperate hope of propitiating them, and petitioning them to bestow their favours upon us. We imagined that the more highly we value the sacrificial offering, the more pleasing such offering would be to the receiving deity and the more likely the sought-after blessing would be forthcoming. Children won out over other possible sacrificial objects, as the most highly-prized by the gods.

The more we learned about ourselves and the world, the less precarious became our condition, the more our humanity grew, the more we came to substitute other sacrificial objects for our children, such as plundered slaves, prisoners of war, and the condemned. Guy G. Stroumsa, in his 2011 paper, “The End of Sacrifice: Religious Mutations of Late Antiquity,”[1] sets out his aim as:

In order to do justice to the dramatic nature of the transformations in our period, from, say, Jesus to Muhammad, one can also speak of “religious mutations.” ...I wish to claim that we can observe nothing less than a transformation of the very concept of religion. To encapsulate the nature of this transformation, one may perhaps speak of “the end of sacrifice,” in reference to the fact that at the time of Jesus, religion meant, for Jews and Greeks alike, the offering of sacrifice, while the situation had changed in some radical ways in the sixth century. (p134)

While Stroumsa offers a number of interesting insights, such as the transformative significance of silent reading, conspicuously absent from his study is any meaningful discussion of sacrifice in Islam, save for an off-hand mention of Eid al-Adha, the Feast of (Abraham’s) Sacrifice (of his son, Isma’il), despite: firstly, saying, “His sacrifice corresponds with the nahr or ritual sacrifice of the Hajj,”[2] one of the five ‘pillars’ of Islam; and two, none of the other religions he reviews having a feast of sacrifice.

Stroumsa’s reticence on Islamic human sacrifice is all the more puzzling since he himself says, “In the Roman Empire, pagans and Christians alike thought of human sacrifices as representing the very border between humanity and barbarism,” (p142). He goes on to say, “the transformation of Roman art from Augustus to Justinian reflects a deep evolution of subjectivity in Roman culture. The martyrs do not offer sacrifice, they are the sacrifice, and no reciprocity, no immediate quid pro quo, is expected from the divinity.” Again, in Islam, this goes even further in that the sacrifice is itself the quid pro quo against Allah’s prior promise of an eternity of sex in Paradise:

Lo! Allah hath bought from the believers their lives and their wealth because the Garden will be theirs: they shall fight in the way of Allah and shall slay and be slain. It is a promise which is binding on Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Qur'an. Who fulfilleth His covenant better than Allah? Rejoice then in your bargain that ye have made, for that is the supreme triumph. (Qur’an 9:111)

Note that further than either the Roman pagans or the Christians were able to imagine, Islamic human sacrifice requires not only the martyr’s death, but in addition, the death of at least one unbeliever. Needless to say, the unfortunate unbeliever is never a willing participant in the fulfilment of this murderous ‘covenant’. Islam exacts a barbaric sacrifice in exchange for a barbarian’s Paradise. Meanwhile, outside of Islam, human sacrifice eventually made way for animal sacrifice and finally, inanimate offerings. In his article, Sacrificium, Leonhard Schmitz alludes to this phenomenon in reference to Greece:

In the historical times of Greece we find various customs… which can only be accounted for by supposing that they were introduced as substitutes for human sacrifices. In other cases, where civilisation had shown less of its softening influences, human sacrifices remained customary throughout the historical periods of Greece, and down to the time of the emperors.

So thorough-going has been this “softening influence of civilisation,” that child sacrifice has, at first glance, all but vanished before civilisation. From time to time, news emerges of child sacrifice in contemporary animist societies, especially at their interface with modernity. These are excluded from this essay for their marginality. Child sacrifice in marginal animist societies, though, as alluded to above, is not the only such practice to have remained untouched by the “softening influence of civilisation.”

When a religion holds itself to be perfect, final, and foreclosing of all possibility of change, it leaves itself only one space into which it might grow if it is not to run foul of itself: broadening its prohibitions and intensifying its punishments, which have the unsurprising consequence of rendering its believers more remote from their own humanity and increasingly driving them towards entrenching depravity.

Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the case of child sacrifice in Islam, a religion of late antiquity (the common assertion that Muhammad put an end to the pagan practice of burying infant girls alive is not examined here, as it is not relevant, albeit still extant in the form of Islamic execution by stoning). While, as may be inferred from Schmitz, primitive and ancient religions evolve away from child sacrifice towards other sacrificial objects, only in Islam has sacrifice of fighting men evolved backwards into the sacrifice of children, the raising of children specifically for sacrifice and, finally, the deliberate conceiving and bearing of children so they may be sacrificed to Allah.

It is not only the nubile Muslimas who flocked to ISIS from Western countries, as one Umm Muthanna put it, “to have lots of sons & send them off all fi sabil Allah [in the cause of Allah] …under the Islamic State,”—intentionally giving life specifically so it can be taken away, it is also one of the defining leitmotifs of “Palestinian” society. In short, in order for a child to be sacrificed, it must first be made.[3]

Where “martyrdom” is hardwired into a religion, such as when it is immune to the softening influence of civilisation,[4] martyrdom will with time evolve into a virtue for general emulation and find its reflection in a culture of sacrifice, where an occasional necessity is elevated to a virtuous ambition. “Sacrifice” becomes the benchmark for all suffering, all deprivation; nihilism becomes the only affirmation. Sacrifice, in the minds of Palestinians, as the purest example of such ossified depravity, becomes synonymous with their very existence: they live to die.

When in 2019, the Fatah cabal (Mahmoud Abbas, Hanan Ashrawi, and others), rejected with contempt a $50 billion gift for Palestinian economic development, they demonstrated that they understood the role of sacrifice in Palestinian ideology and culture, while those who so generously offered the money did not. Palestinian leaders understand their people's sacrifice mentality well enough to take full advantage of their propensity for child sacrifice.

The Palestinian Authority holds up Latifa “Um Nasser” Abu Hmeid as exemplar for Palestinian mothers and awarded her “the Plaque of Resoluteness and Giving.” What was she so resolute in giving? According to PA eulogy, she had been, “sacrificing heroes and torches of freedom that have lit the skies of Palestine.” In English, she gave birth to six terrorists earmarked to slay and be slain. The Inca, too, had an honoured place for their mama-kuna, women who raised the children destined for sacrifice, except that these were not their own children. Among the Mexica, “children were sacrificed… The victims were purchased from their parents, who, if they refused, were themselves sacrificed for insubordination.”

No such trouble in the “perfect religion.” To slay and be slain fi sabil Allah, i.e., in jihad, is the highest virtue in Islam, and for one’s own son to be slain while slaying fi sabil Allah, is the greatest honour. Allah promises a Paradise of non-stop sex with specially-created, large-breasted women who remain forever virgin (Qur’an 78:31-33 and elsewhere) to those who slay and are slain in sacrifice to him. The perfect religion extends this generosity with a covenant that the sacrificial victim will be able to intercede for his family before Allah on the Day of Judgement. In their so-called “martyrdom videos,” Muslims about to sacrifice themselves promise their mothers that they will put a good word in for them when the time comes. One assumes they’ll be able to tear themselves away from their allocated seventy-two large-breasted, ever-virgins “with desirable vaginas” in enough time to make themselves decent for such an august duty.

The depravity does not end there. It deepens further when the Palestinian Authority tops up Allah's side of the bargain by paying gratuities ("salaries") to families whose sons have died in jihad against Israel (or been imprisoned there), especially if they’ve murdered Israeli Jews. “The greatest honour [my son] showed me was his martyrdom,” said an unnamed Palestinian mother on Arab News Network TV. Another such mother (there is no shortage), “Umm Nidal”, speaking on a Hamas website, put it this way:

By Allah, today is the best day of my life. I feel that our Lord is pleased with me, because I am offering something [my son] for him. I wish to offer more [sons] for Allah’s forgiveness… By Allah, if I had a hundred children like [my son] Muhammad, I would offer them with sincerity and willingly. It is true that there’s nothing more precious than children, but for the sake of Allah, what is precious becomes cheap.

The ISIS jihadi, Umm Muthanna, mentioned above, demonstrates that while the act of sacrifice might take place when the child is an adult, the child can be “given to Allah” at any age, before birth, and even before conception. Some idea of the real depth of this barbarism in the Palestinian ideology of despair emerges from an interview with a young Palestinian mother of a four-month-old baby whose life had just been saved by doctors in Israel, the operation paid for with Israeli donations collected by an Israeli journalist. As the young mother recounts, “In Gaza I was told there’s no treatment for it and that he’s destined to die.” During the baby’s post-operative recovery in the Israeli hospital, the mother gets into a bit of an exchange with the Jewish man who had organised, and just succeeded in, saving her child’s life. She boasts:

Death is natural for us. We are not afraid of death. From the youngest infant, even younger than Muhammad [her baby, whose life he had just saved], to the oldest one; we all sacrifice ourselves for Jerusalem.

Later in this increasingly surreal exchange, she smilingly taunts the man who just saved her child’s life, “Don’t you believe in death?” He replies, “No, we consider life valuable,” to which she triumphantly laughs, “Life is zero; life is worthless. That’s why we have all the suicide bombers. They are not afraid of death. It is a normal thing.”

She presses on, oblivious to what must at this point be going through the man who just saved her son’s life. By now her smile is broad, almost radiant, her body sways and her hands are animated, she is enjoying this chance to affirm her barbaric superiority over the weak Jews: “All of us, even our children, are not afraid of dying. It is natural for us.”

The interviewer, still managing to remain composed, eventually says something: “I asked you before, after Muhammad will get better, would you want him to be a shahid [in this context, a Muslim who dies killing Jews]?” And from the heart comes her reply, “Of course!”

Later, having recounted this on-camera interview to her husband, and no doubt having been made aware of the monumental blunder of such honesty, she went into high-gear taqiyya damage-limitation, claiming that she had changed her mind. The accompanying tragedy is that Israelis, so desperate for peace with these irredeemable monsters, took this lying woman’s sudden change-of-heart at face value, and chalked it up as a feel-good story of what is possible if only we’d ‘give peace a chance.’ An Israeli lie salvaged by a Palestinian lie. Who says there are no Israeli–Palestinian success stories?

“One also finds in early Christian literature,” says Stroumsa, “like in rabbinic texts, a metaphorical use of sacrifice”:

Clement of Rome, already, refers to “a contrite heart” as the true sacrifice, whereas the fourth-century Euchites, or Messalians, will develop, like the community of Qumran, a theory and practice of continual prayer in order to keep Satan away in terms alluding to the “perpetual sacrifice” in the Jerusalem Temple.

Here, too, Islam, goes further. For every Muslim, sacrifice is itself an idol, and forbearance, sabr, the constant worship of that idol. The worship of the idol of sacrifice is furthest developed amongst “the Palestinians”, who go to extraordinary lengths to propitiate it with the sacrifice of specially-raised children, specially-conceived children and even medically-saved children, and of course, also in Islam’s most authentic contemporary manifestation, ISIS. The occasion for heaping yet more praise on Palestine’s most “resolute and giving” mum was the birth of a new grandson, conceived from her son’s sperm smuggled out of prison. Who needs Nobel Prizes if all resourcefulness and ingenuity can be for Allah alone?

It would be a sound bet that had Hernán Cortés previously encountered the inhabitants of twenty-first century Hebron, Nablus, or Khan Yunus, and witnessed the local king showering treasure and honour upon women who eagerly conceive children for sacrifice, he would not have thought sixteenth-century Aztecs and their king all that uncivilised for merely, “[taking] their children to sacrifice to his idols.”


  1. Guy G. Stroumsa, “The End of Sacrifice: Religious Mutations of Late Antiquity,” in The Roman Empire in Context: Historical and Comparative Perspectives, Edited by J. P. Arnason and K. A. Raaflaub, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2011, pp134-147.
  2. Reuven Firestone, Journeys in Holy Lands: The Evolution of the Abraham-Ishmael Legends in Islamic Exegesis, State University of New York Press, 1990, p100.
  3. This same logic obtains in Islamic slavery: if you do not have the stomach for having your sins expiated by dying in the act of killing non-Muslims, i.e., sacrificing yourself and others in a particularly gruesome ritual, you can always have your sins expiated by manumitting your slaves, which, of course, you first have to own before you can manumit. Muslims will always tell you that Islam encourages the freeing of slaves. However, they will never tell you why they have to own the slaves in the first place. In Islam, slave ownership is a key to Paradise, provided you set them free just before you die.
  4. "Civilisation and Islam are two different things," Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

Picture credits:

Herbert M. Herget (American illustrator, 1885-1950) - (February 1938). "In the Realm of the Sons of the Sun". National Geographic LXXIII (2). NG 1938-02 073-2 Feb/page/n103, Public Domain,

Screen shot from 'Cubs Of The Caliphate': Role Of Kids In ISIS | MSNBC


On 18 June 2024 at 7:46, Ben Dor A. wrote:

Dear Anjuli Pandavar 

Thank you for publishing this essay. Have shared it on Quora.

The Quran accuses the Jews of altering or distorting the Torah.

Eid al-Adha is about the sacrifice of Ishmael to Allah, while in the Hebrew Bible it is clearly stated that Abraham brought his son Isaac to be sacrificed to God.

I went and checked the Septuagint, the famous 3rd C BCE translation of the Hebrew Bible to Greek in Alexandria, some 900 years before the Quran was composed by probably a Christian convert. Actually most of it is a plagiarism of the Hebrew Bible.

And what do you know, even the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible mentions that Abraham brought his son Isaac and definitely not Ishmael. So who exactly has distorted the holy scriptures?

BTW, this verse in the Hebrew Bible is the first example of ancient times when the Hebrews abolished the sacrifice of children and replaced it with animals.

As for the so called Palestinians sacrificing their children for the war on the Jews, if you ever want to delve further into the subject, I can send you endless materials.

Have a great day 😊 

Best Regards
Ben Dor A