Aqiqa, Islamic Birth Ritual
The hadith, or narrated report, reflects the Islamic custom of sacrificing a sheep upon the birth of a child, sharing the meat with extended family members, and donating some of it as charity (sadaqa). This practice of the people of Madinah mentioned in Al-Muwatta is based on the precedent of Muhammad in establishing the custom as an Islamically appropriate one. Several aspects of the hadith and the interpretation are noteworthy: the sacrifice was made for both boys and girls, the animal must be a healthy and sound one, and the pagan custom of smearing blood on the child is deemed un-Islamic. This may refer to a pre-islamic custom, like denying this ceremony to a girl child. Part of the aqiqa ceremony is naming the child and cutting its hair (or shaving the baby's head) and weighing the hair so as to give an equal amount of silver as charity.
Al-Muwatta is among the earliest written compendia of legal interpretations based on the two pre-eminent sources of Islamic knowledge, the Qur'an, or scripture, and the hadith, or reports of the sayings and deeds of Muhammad. Al-Muwatta, compiled and edited by Malik ibn Anas (c. 711 – 795 CE), means "well-trodden path" for its authoritative documentation of legal opinion and practices in Madinah, the city where Islam was established. The hadith covers both religious duties and social practices such as contracts, family matters, civil and commercial matters, and customs.
"Yahya related to me from Malik from Hisham ibn Urwa that his father, Urwa ibn az-Zubayr made an aqiqa for his male and female children of a sheep each." [Al-Muwatta Hadith, 26:7]
[Legal interpretation of the hadith:] "Malik said, 'What we do about the aqiqa is that if someone makes an aqiqa for his children, he gives a sheep for both male and female. The aqiqa is not obligatory but it is desirable to do it, and people continue to come to us about it. If someone makes an aqiqa 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 or the skin is to be sold. The bones are broken and the family eat the meat and give some of it away as sadaqa. The child is not smeared with any of the blood.'"
Al-Muwatta. Hadith, WinAlim Islamic database, ISL Software, Silver Spring MD, 1997-2008.