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Gift of the Body in Islam: The Prophet Muhammad's Camel Sacrifice and Distribution of Hair and Nails at his Farewell Pilgrimage

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The following pages examine the relationship between the prophet Muhammad's sacrifice of the camels and the distribution of his hair at the conclusion of his farewell pilgrimage just before his death. A study of the accounts of the Prophet's camel sacrifice shows that it prefigures the annual rites of the Hajj using the biblical model of Abraham's sacrifice to align other pre-Islamic practices, including those associated with the cult at Mecca, with the origins of a specifically Islamic civilization. The prophet Muhammad's distribution of his hair, detached from his body at the time of his desacralization from the Hajj delineates the Meccan sanctuary as the place of origination from which was spread both the physical and textual corpus of the Prophet's life. Whether by design or not, the traditional Islamic descriptions of this episode from the life of the prophet Muhammad are not unlike narratives found in Buddhist, Iranian, Christian and other traditions in which the body of a primal being is dismembered to create a new social order. Through the gift of the sacrificial camels and parts of his own body, the prophet Muhammad is portrayed, in this episode, as making a figurative and literal offering of himself at the origins of Islamic civilization.

Affiliations: 1: United States Naval Academy, Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies, 107 Maryland Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21402, USA;, Email:


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