By SN Rasul
August 28, 2017
When Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, his faith was so strong that he actually went ahead with it. Fortunately, a messenger of God interrupted him and Abraham ended up sacrificing a ram instead and, in the subsequent centuries, God was kind enough to continue the tradition of sacrificing animals instead of children.
The second Eid brings with it perhaps the most contentious of 21st century practices, and one of the most misconstrued of religious traditions.
On paper, the Eid of sacrifice makes sense: It is one of the many socialist aspects of religion, and is a good method of redistribution by which those who cannot afford it are assured of bounty from the richer.
It tests the faith of the person who is a believer, whereby he is asked to give up something he truly values — and this sacrifice not only tests his faith, but, as mentioned above, succeeds in providing much-needed food to the needy.
But such practices were, perhaps, meant for a different time, a different era. It behoves those practising it to reform, if not the religion, then in methods utilised by which the sacrifice is practiced.
In increasingly urbanised jungles, in countries where the floods have not only spilled into our homes, drowning us in their cruelty, but also, subsequently, brought with them the multitude of diseases which come with such a happenstance, it is not only a mere matter of choice, it is a necessity.
A Mirror You Can’t Avoid
Though the stigma around blood pouring into our drains and coming back to haunt us has become more commonplace than it used to be, I remember a time when the idea of going to the Haat, buying a cow or goat, walking it back home, feeding it stray leaves for a few days or a week, and then slaughtering it in your garage or in the street in front of your house was common and a defining moment of Qurbani Eid.
For many, this is still the case.
There are, in fact, many who revel in the entire process to such a degree that they not only stay back to witness the cutting up of the meat, but also to take part in the actual slaughtering for extra brownie points.
These are some reasons amongst many as to why the government and city corporations have had such a difficult time moving the slaughter away from the streets.
Though many might not admit or remember, the actual Qurbani slaughter has always been an integral part of Eid culture.
Of course, the blood poured over the streets and the smell stunk up the entire city.
And we, donned in sandals and Punjabis, meandered through the obstacle course of overflowing gut and stray flesh.
Since then, there has been much improvement. But the Eid of Sacrifice has always, in a way, held up an essential mirror up to the forward-looking Muslims which inhabit any Islam-majority nation, a mirror that they are not wont to look at too clearly.
Capitalism Vs Religion
The initial problem exists, in a country such as Bangladesh, because of the hyper-capitalistic mentality of its economy and inhabitants which, in many ways, negate the lessons of the sacrifice. The very definition of sacrifice requires the giving up of something that is not only valuable in terms of money, which it has inevitably become, but also of intrinsic value to the one making the sacrifice.
Of course, that has not remained the case for decades, if not centuries.
The size and price of the cow rule the conversation. For a millionaire, the Tk100,000 cow is no actual sacrifice. There is nothing of value actually lost.
Not that this is without benefit. With one-third of the proceedings going to the poor, the poor are benefitted greatly. But does this create an actual difference in poverty, or does it only provide a seasonal pat on the back for good and rich Muslims?
Those who are sickened by the prospect of such slaughter but still eat meat or use animal products betray a mounting hypocrisy. In fact, when cattle is bought and fed in the comfort of your own garage, they are much better treated than if they were spending their last days in slaughterhouses.
The Eid of Sacrifice, in its very nature, is not supposed to be an easy task.
If it were easy, then whence cometh the sacrifice? Which is why, one presumes, there are those who choose to hold the blade themselves, for the dirty deed must be done by you yourself.
These hypocrisies are inevitable. It is understandable that looking at death is much more difficult than listening to stories of it, when the lives of animals become mere numbers. But it’s important that these hypocrisies are recognised.
I, like many of us, have felt empathy for animals, cared for them, and yet, when the life is taken out of them and placed on a plate in front with the appropriate seasoning, have devoured that same life with little to no thought to from where it came.
But Muslims, and nations, have to recognise, more and more, that the flaws in the system of animal carnage are important to take note of, as they tell us where our priorities lie when it comes to our values as a society.
With depleting resources, global warming, and the ever-changing nature of how we function as fluid cultures in an era of increasing globalisation, maybe these are signs we need to start taking seriously.
Maybe the greatest sacrifice we can make right now is letting go of the many traditions and rituals which have, for the longest time, wrongly, defined us.
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.