There’s an all out effort to prove Islam a barbaric, antiquated religion that cannot – will not – survive without reform. The latest set of complaints is about animal sacrifice (Qurbani) on occasion of Eid Al Adha and the particular piece I refer to was written by a self-proclaimed progressive Muslim. Comments on the piece were quickly closed and this blog remains my only alternative to share my views.
This post is a commentary on “Should Muslims Reconsider Animal Slaughter on Eid?” by Anila Muhammad, printed on the HuffingtonPost. Views expressed, naturally, are my own.
In the article, the writer retraces traditions and cites Qur’anic verses – to make the argument that Muslims have misunderstood Abraham’s story for 1400 years (if not more, considering that Islamic understanding of the story is also informed by the Judeo-Christian tradition). The writer uses references (not the main interpretation) from Muhammad Asad (formerly Leopold Weiss, an Austro-Hungarian Jewish convert and Islamic scholar) to seemingly prove that God never asked animal sacrifices of Abraham or us (see Quran 22:34 to find the command). It was only Abraham’s impression that He did (she claims without a source or reference). At this rate, all divine inspiration – Adam’s, Noah’s, Moses’, David’s, John’s, Jesuses’ and Muhammad’s – can be attributed to dreams and the entire Abrahamic tradition, effectively nullified. I have no bones to pick with people who outright deny prophetic stories. But one who presents herself as a true believer and then labels prophetic inspiration a sham – warrants little trust.
The writer also contends that average Muslims are reconsidering animal ‘slaughter’ (as if killing were the prime motive) but manages to name only four such people. A similar article printed in a Bangladeshi newspaper alludes to the Qur’anic verse that says “its not the blood that reaches God; its the piety”. So, this writer argues, animal sacrifice is not required (check out the comments section on the piece). He doesn’t mention verses like:
- “O you who believe! Violate not the sanctity of the Symbols of Allah, nor of the Sacred Month, nor of the animals brought for sacrifice, nor the garlanded people or animals, etc.” (Surah al-Maidah: 2)
- “Allah doth accept of the sacrifice Of those who are righteous.” (Surah al-Maidah : 27)
- “And for all religion We have appointed a rite [of sacrifice] that they may mention the name of Allah over what He has provided for them of [sacrificial] animals” (Surah al Hajj: 34)
- “Verily my prayer, my sacrifices, my life and my death are solely for Allah; the Rabb of the worlds.” (Surah An’aam: 162-163)
- “So pray to your Lord and sacrifice [to Him alone]” (Surah al Kauthar: 2).
Both writers failed to mention Hadith sources like “There is nothing dearer to Allah Ta’ala during the days of sacrifice than the sacrificing of animals. The sacrificed animal shall come on the day of Qiyamah with its horns, hair and hooves (to be weighed in reward). The sacrifice is accepted by Allah Ta’ala before the blood reaches the ground. Therefore sacrifice with an open and happy heart” (Tirmizhi, Ibn Majah). Here are some other points/questions raised in the article.
Are we really making the same type of emotional and mental sacrifice that Abraham made? If not, then how exactly are we enhancing our spiritual development by continuing with this tradition?
No. Abraham was a prophet of Allah and asked to make the biggest sacrifice imaginable. Abrahamic traditions remember Abraham’s tremendous willpower and fear of God through Qorban / Qurbani. During the festival, we spend hard-earned money and give to the poor (1/3rd of the meat) and extended family-friends-neighbors (another 1/3rd). Every year, we part with our money and get in touch with the destitute. We remember the difficulty of Abraham’s task and thank Allah that we’ve been spared …for we would’ve surely failed in that test of faith.
One must not forget that Abraham didn’t exactly rejoice at the idea of sacrificing his beloved son. Sacrifice isn’t pleasant. And Muslims don’t enjoy killing animals either. But we endure this sacrifice to demonstrate the submission of our will to the will of the Almighty. That – if you care to know – is the essence of Islam.
However, we must ask ourselves — are we concerned with feeding people for only a few days or maintaining the message of social justice the Quran espouses?
These are not mutually-exclusive. Every year, my family gives out meat to 50/60 people who have little access to protein. But we also continue to give alms, Zakat during Ramadan, gifts to the less-fortunate. I say this not to brag – but to point out that animal sacrifice doesn’t diminish my capacity for contributing to social justice. Anyone who is trying to imply that Muslims / religious people don’t donate enough, is either anti-religion or anti-fact. Here’s my case. More.
Thousands of people find gainful employment in selling, trading, transporting, tending to and managing sacrificial animals. Floating populations help out with the ritual and earn a healthy fee and millions of orphans find good food on their plates. It’s easy for people with great jobs and credit limits to turn a blind eye to the poor woman I met this afternoon; she took her share of meat and then pleaded for the animals’ intestines: the intestines, she would eat; the meat, she would sell. That’s how poor the really poor people are. And there is no other time when religious sacrifice brings so much bounty all round.
If we are concerned with social justice and creating meaningful, long term change then we Muslims must reconsider funneling our money from this sacrifice and make other investments in our communities to help the disadvantaged.
The key word here may be ‘other’ investments. Why ‘other’? The premise here is that the sacrifice is merely symbolic. That’s incorrect. None of the sacrifice is wasted. The meat is consumed or distributed. The hide goes into production of leather. Apart from spiritual advancement, there is redistribution of wealth, employment (for professional cattle-herders and traders) during this time. That’s more than the development sector can say, where up to 70% money is spent on administrative, staffing and fund-raising costs.
(To forgo the sacrifice) Consider that the livestock industry is the leading contributor towards land, air and water pollution and degradation of our ecosystem.
That’s not even proper logic.
What would the writer have the world do? Annihilate the planet’s livestock? Or did she mean only animals meant for sacrifice pollute the environment? The truth is, humans will continue to consume meat till the end of Time – and our markets will supply as long as the demand exists. Pollution and environmental degradation is not a result of Qurbani, but of the consumption-focused market economy.
(The) idea of humane treatment of animals in Islam is at complete odds with the reality of how animals are treated.
This I agree with. Islamic law is quite strict about being humane to sacrificial animals and this is something we all should work on. Recently, Bangladesh has seen the emergence of privately-bred, humanely-treated animals in the market. There is growing awareness about making the sacrificial ritual as humane as possible too.
To end my rant, I find it mind-boggling that an ideology (used loosely) that supports the wanton killing of unborn human fetuses, feels so much compassion for animals killed for their meat. Of course, they don’t object if its David Cameron trying to relax the ban on fox-hunting (which happens to be the most pointless, institutionalized form of animal slaughter). They cheer matadors as they repeatedly stab bulls for sport. They don’t care if its KFC or Outback Steakhouse doing the killing. Nor is it a problem if its packaged Turkeys being cooked or goats/rams being slaughtered during Thanksgiving or Dussera. But oh! Should Muslims make a sacrifice – they will pour over it like sharks and yap endlessly about how barbaric we are!
Some societies may find it easier or more convenient to let their children think that meat comes from KFC or supermarkets. They may even consider surreptitiously removing the Food-Chain from textbooks. Others may opt to retain rituals that remind them of the Lord’s kindness and our dependence on Him for our daily bread (meat); remind us that it is perfectly natural to eat of animals, fish and plants though they all have lives. I have nothing against people/ Muslims choosing to avoid ritual sacrifice. I do object to attempts to rationalize such a choice through misleading interpretations of scripture. Besides, for a race that’s constantly condemning its own to death every second – I think its a tad bit pretentious and/or hypocritical.