Killing animals gets us nowhere

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Around the world, Muslims mark the Festival of Sacrifice on the 10th day of the holy month of Dhu al-Hijjah. It honors Abraham’s willingness to slay his son Ishmael at Allah’s bidding. The killing did not happen. The angel Gabriel appeared and declared that God was so moved by Abraham’s devotion that now he could kill a goat instead.

Such a frightening story. First, it has been lifted wholesale from the Christians. The story is known as the Akedah in Judaism and originates in the Tora, the first book of Moses (Genesis, Ch. 22) and Ishmael is originally Isaac. 

Second, it has been twisted. In the original Old Testament story, Abraham kills no one – even though Jehovah is a violent God. When the Muslims adopt the story, the killing of an innocent animal gets added. The very name of the festival Eid Al Adha indicates its new emphasis. The word ‘id’ derives from the Arabic ‘iwd’ means ‘festival’ and the word Adha means sacrificial animal. The word ‘god ‘does not even appear in the name, it is the festival of killing animals. In India, in fact, the festival is better known as Bakr-Id— a reference to the unfortunate animal whose life is snatched.   

Third, there seems to be the narrow presumption that Allah is a human male who understands the agony of the human father faced with killing his son but not that of the animal and his family. I refuse to accept that.

I also fail to understand how one celebrates or honors anyone, much less the Lord, by killing an animal. And over the centuries the festival has come to revolve primarily around killing. No honor, no sacrifice, it is simply about buying an animal and killing him. Nothing of the original form or intent remains. 

Devotees are not supposed to purchase the animals they sacrifice. They do it anyway. No killing should happen before lengthy prayers. It happens anyway. To be acceptable, sacrificial animals or aḍḥiya must meet certain age and quality standards. Sick and old animals have been sacrificed anyway. Even which animal has become irrelevant – it’s no longer just goats— now it’s lambs, sheep, cows, camels. It’s the killing that is important, not the story nor the grace and compassion behind it.

Are the animals raised by Muslims as part of their family by the entire story? In most countries, they are certainly not raised or killed in a Halal manner. They are bought from countries like New Zealand and shipped over in brutally overcrowded conditions where large percentages regularly die from disease or heat exhaustion. This is not halal.

As for the killing itself, it takes place anywhere. Not in sacred places, not with sacred rites. It happens in markets and bylanes, in houses, above gutters, near garbage dumps. Some residential colony gutters run with rivers of blood. In Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Middle East, the slaughter takes place on the streets in between rushing cars. Even the governments there have called the killing ‘barbaric and unacceptable’ and levy heavy fines on private citizens or vendors who kill animals in public at pop-up livestock markets.

There are videos of ‘the faithful’ kicking the dying animals, spitting on them, standing on their stomachs – I fail to understand which part of this honours Allah. The Qu’ran says, “It is not their meat, nor their blood, that reaches god. It is their piety.” Except now there is no piety, only bloodlust.  

The purpose: to offer up something precious as a reminder to not become preoccupied by one’s possessions – has been long forgotten. If one were to substitute killing the animal with offering up one’s jewels or property and giving the money to charity, I doubt if the ‘festival’ would be so enthusiastically celebrated. No, it is always easier and happier to kill in the name of God than it is to offer up something you value. Like Christmas, originally meant to mark the birth of Christ, has now degenerated into a massive shopping frenzy, so too has Eid, sadly, become a bloodbath.

 In India you can kill wherever you like and whatever you like. While the law does not permit the slaughter of animals in public places, implementation is a far cry. It has become a matter of right to slaughter animals in houses, residential complexes, societies, and, in some localities, roads. In West Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand, despite court prohibition, cows are killed openly. I was in Bangladesh many years ago on Eid and I saw thousands of cow carcasses. All the cows had been smuggled from India. In the months preceding Eid, hundreds of camels are bought at melas by ‘farmers’ (even though the camel is used in no fields) and taken to West Bengal, Meerut, Hyderabad, Chennai, and Kerala to be slaughtered. 

If someone lives in a place and time where meat-eating is a matter of survival or it is the ultimate luxury that cannot be forgone, the issue of animal sacrifice has some context and relevance. But we live in the modern world. We have to seriously question practices that not only have lost meaning but also are contributing to needless bloodshed, health problems, and environmental destruction.

Meat-eating (and with it, animal sacrifice) is not intrinsic to who the Holy Prophet was or to what he preached. Did the Holy Prophet practice this himself? No, and neither did many of his most prominent companions. The Prophet was known for his compassion toward animals “There is not an animal that lives on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but they form communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they all shall be gathered to their Lord in the end”- Al-Qur’an, 6:38.

One of the better-known Hadiths is “ Whoever is kind to the creatures of God, is kind to himself” a statement attributed to the Holy Prophet and narrated by Abdallah bin Amru. This declaration is one of the most profound ever made on so many levels: peace on Earth is the ultimate goal we desire, reaching heaven is the second desire. Being kind gets us both. Killing, whether in the name of property, jealousy or religion gets us nowhere.

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