I am a new convert and want to understand the reasoning behind doing ‘aqiqah for a newborn baby? Is it a Sunnah or an obligation? What is the wisdom for slaughtering two sheep for a male newborn and one sheep for a female?
‘Aqiqah is a means of expressing gratitude to God
The birth of a child, male or female, is a cause for great celebration. In Islam, certain etiquettes and rituals from the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) are recommended as a family welcomes a newborn child to the world. These include: choosing a pleasant name for the newborn, reciting the Adhan (call to prayer) in the baby’s right ear and iqamah in the left ear, tahnik (inserting something sweet such as dates or honey into the baby's mouth), shaving the newborn's head and doing ‘aqiqah.
‘Aqiqah is an established Sunnah in Islam
It involves slaughtering a sheep and sharing its meat with friends and family on the occasion of welcoming a newborn child. It is an established Sunnah (Sunnah Mu'akkadah) that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his Companions (may God be pleased with them) used to perform.
Although the ‘aqiqah is not obligatory, it contains many benefits and Muslims are encouraged to perform it. Scholars have mentioned that the ‘aqiqah brings a child close to God soon after entering this world; it resembles the sacrifice and ransom made when God ransomed the Prophet Ismael and ordered the sacrificing of a sheep instead. Furthermore, it is a cause for gathering friends and family for the Waleemah (banquet) in celebration of the newborn child.
Performing the 'aqiqah is a means of expressing gratitude to God for the blessing of having a child. Welcoming a newborn to the family and community is more than a celebration, though; the etiquettes and rituals performed serve to remind the believers that children have rights in Islam. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "Slaughter two comparable sheep for a male newborn and one sheep for a female." If one cannot afford to slaughter two sheep for a male newborn, it is acceptable to slaughter one.
As Muslims, we have to follow and abide by the teachings and actions of our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). The Prophet's allowance of slaughtering one sheep for a newborn boy is an example of Islam removing hardship and allowing those with financial limitations to fulfill the Sunnah.
Time to do ‘aqiqah is flexible
It is important to remember that Islam is the religion of ease and tolerance. God the Almighty says, "He did not impose hardship upon you in the religion" (Qur'an, 22:78).
It is recommended to offer the ‘aqiqah sacrifice on the seventh, fourteenth or twenty-first day after birth. If this is not possible, it can be done on any day until the age of puberty.
God the Almighty knows best.