Revive The True Spirit Of Sacrifice This Eid
My uncle was a well to do man. He nevertheless lived a modest life in Jain Mander, Lahore. In my childhood, as my older cousins were coming of marriageable age, anxieties were rife about what sorts of rishtas (matrimonial matches) might be expected for them. Possibility was proposed, and promptly rejected, that they move to (what were then) more upscale neighborhoods like Samnabad or Garden Town to attract the right kind of rishtas.
Equally it was suggested that perhaps as a second-best solution some home improvements be undertaken, and an automobile be procured to do the right type of messaging for potential suitors. Afterall Vespa riding people will only attract Vespa riding matrimonial prospects. My uncle could perfectly afford a car. A huddle of all the cousins and relatives was called to discuss what type of car would be procured. I of course listened in, as kids do, to that conversation. I distinctly recall that at the end of the conversation my uncle said, ‘If I park a big honking Corolla in the mohallah, what are people going to say?’ He was worried that no one in the neighborhood could afford a car and him getting one would be the height of bad manners and poor taste to show off a car among people who couldn’t afford one. He was guided by an ethic which has gone extinct in Pakistani urban society.
Eid-ul-Azha has also descended into a consumerism of animals, where the spirit of sacrifice and community has been replaced by show of bigger, prettier and more and more expensive animals. To one up with the Maliks and the Khans next door, seems to be more of a motivation than any pious sacrifice.
I am not sure what they teach in Islamiat these days, or what the Single National Curriculum holds in store, but in my days four decades ago, I recall an Islamiat lesson. It explicitly stated that haqooq-ul-ebaad (social responsibility) always took precedence over haqooq-Allah (divine/religious responsibility). One cannot fulfil religious obligations without fulfilling obligations to fellow humans in the first instance. While sacrificing animals on Eid is an observance of Abrahamic (ES) devotion to God, it would also have been a social obligation to share the only thing that had value in an ancient society–animals with the community. In a more complex society like ours, the spirit of sacrifice, sociability, sharing and celebration can be realised through many conduits. In the Islam that I grew up in, it’s the ethos that matter, not the ritual.
Millions of animals raised for sacrifice take a terrible toll on rangelands and water resources of our fragile planet. The divine injunction to share, to help the poor, to observe obedience to God can be fulfilled through many conduits without a socially and environmentally destructive practice of everyone trying to slaughter animals. People who can drop hundreds of thousands of rupees at times for sacrificial animals could perhaps start with paying their taxes? Pakistan is beholden to the IMF and the West not because of corruption, but because of the social corruption whereby the rich who take the most from the state don’t pay their fair share of taxes for the state to operate.
One could donate money to deserving institutions like Edhi foundation and others who provide valuable social services to those who can least afford it. People could also pay fair wages to their domestic staff. The list of things which would be ethical and socially responsible, and religiously pious is practically infinite.
So, on this Eid, it might be more pious to contemplate our fellow citizens who cannot afford to do a sacrifice? Our religious obligation is not to patronize them by offering them charity, or some meat. Our religious obligation is to play our role such that every citizen’s claim to social protection, justice and livelihood is fulfilled by the society. Everything I know about Islam tells me that God did not mean the tradition of Abraham (ES) to be an occasion for conspicuous consumption or gluttony. God meant it to be a celebration, and an event of sociability with family, friends and community.
To go out and hug the street cleaner, a gardener, or fruit hawker who can’t afford to slaughter an animal might be more consonant with the spirit of celebration. To pay one’s taxes, to support a struggling student, to finance a clean drinking water fountain in a school might be closer to the ethos of sacrifice and fulfilment of haqooq-u-ebaad and thereby haqooq-e-haqqiqi. On this Eid, one may do well to reimagine one’s religious and social responsibility, and not put all the onus of our piety on a poor goat or a camel.
Daanish Mustafa is a Professor of Critical Geography, Department of Geography, King’s College, London. His research interests include water resources, hazards and development geography. Email: [email protected]