Millions of Muslims across the world have begun celebrating the three-day Eid-al-Adha, Baqreid, or Id-ul-Zuha. One of the most important festivals in Islam, Eid-al-Adha takes place after the end of Haj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and commemorates Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to give up his beloved son on Allah’s command.
Since the time of Prophet Mohammad, Muslims have sacrificed animals (qurbaani) on the day to honour Ibrahim’s spirit of sacrifice.
Eid-al-Adha is, however, not about shedding blood to please God. It’s about giving up something you hold dear in devotion to God. It’s also mandatory to share the meat of the sacrificed animal, in three equal parts –for yourself, for family and friends, and for the poor.
The festival has a clear message of piety, charity as well as equality. The Quran states: “Their meat will not reach Allah, nor will their blood, but what reaches Him is piety from you.” (22:37).
It is recounted in Quran that Allah appeared to Prophet Ibrahim in a dream and commanded him to sacrifice his most dear possession as an act of obedience and submission. The father blindfolded his son, Ismail, who readily agreed for the sacrifice, and slit his throat. However, when Ibrahim opened his eyes, he saw Ismail was alive, and an animal had been killed instead.
A version of the story is also found in the Old Testament and the Torah.
Many Muslims buy animals, rear them with love, and then offer them to God, so as to feel the pain of Prophet Ibrahim.
Islam, however, recognises that it’s not possible for every Muslim to actually rear an animal himself. Such people can empower others to perform the sacrifice on their behalf, and pay for it.
Sharing, not pity
Sacrificing on Eid-al-Adha is mandatory in Islam only for those who can afford it. They have to give a third of the meat to the poor and the needy. The festival ensures that even those who can’t afford meat get plenty of it at least once a year. In Mecca, the meat of the animals slaughtered by the Haajis is distributed to third-world countries too.
In fact, charity is clearly codified in Islam – one-third of the meat during Eid-Al-Adha, and a portion of your earning as zakat on other days.
Because the sharing is mandated in the religion, the poor can accept it with dignity. There’s nothing demeaning about accepting the meat (or money as zakat) as the one taking it is only helping the giver fulfil his obligations to God.
The unwarranted criticism of the festival
The sacrifice of animals during EId-al-Adha has often been questioned, more so in recent times.The festival reminds us that though we kill animals for food, it’s only to fulfil the most basic of human needs, and is never a wanton act of violence.
Eating meat is in no way exclusive to Muslims and is prevalent across the world. Vegetarianism is a choice, not a marker of morality. In many countries, the soil and the climate are such that it’s impossible to survive without meat. Also, meat is a much cheaper source of nutrition, and not everyone can afford vegetarian alternatives.
Animal sacrifice is not exclusive to Islam either. In Hinduism, animal sacrifice is an essential ritual in the worship of many deities — Kali, Bhairav — and for many purposes — to please, to propitiate, to appease.
Yet, questions over the morality of meat-eating surface with renewed vigour during Eid-al-Adha. One cannot be made to feel apologetic about eating meat, and when the burden of guilt is sought to be put more over one community than others — especially in India — it is clear that the motivation is not love for animals.
This Eid-al-Adha, may we all learn to sacrifice, and to share. Happy Eid-al-Adha to all.