Do not be merciless this Eid, please!

Published: October 27, 2012
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A teenager hugs his goat at a livestock market. PHOTO: AFP

Sacrificial animals decorated with colorful ribbons are displayed for sale at a livestock market. PHOTO: AFP A teenager hugs his goat at a livestock market. PHOTO: AFP A child plays with sheep at a sacrificial livestock market ahead of the Muslim festival Eidul Azha in Lahore. PHOTO: AFP

Have Pakistanis forgotten the principle behind Eidul Azha? This supposed feast of sacrifice, popularly known as Bakra Eid in our nation, is where Muslims are meant to pay symbolic tribute to Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son on the command of Allah (SWT).

During this annual three-day Islamic holiday, Muslims who earn a good enough living, follow Prophet Abraham’s example by committing a fraction of their wealth to the sacrifice of livestock. The meat gained, of course, is divided into three portions, one of which is supposed to go to the poor and needy. This holiday is meant to impart the practitioners of this ritual with several life lessons, but having observed this celebration for several years in Pakistan, I have noted some unfortunate practices. These are listed below.

1. Physical cruelty:

Last year there was a fiery debate on The Express Tribune, where people were either for or against the Bakra Eid sacrifices. Those who were against the sacrifices argued that it was a cruel practice to the livestock, while those who were in favour of it reminded everyone that the meat they consumed all year round comes from the same slaughter of livestock.

Yes, the meat bought outside of Eidul Azha holidays is gained through sacrifice, but the difference is that this regular meat comes from the farms where livestock is apparently killed more humanely in a controlled and more professional environment.

Feeling empathy for the animals is a natural part of the Bakra Eid tradition. When we celebrate this event and bring livestock home for the sacrifice, we form a small bond with the animals before their fateful day. The lesson is that we feel some sorrow when the animal is slaughtered, and in turn learn to treat these harmless creatures with some kindness. Do remember that we are supposed to slaughter the animals in a way that minimises their physical and psychological pain.

Eidul Azha is commercial; here part-time butchers earn a sizeable amount of money. The part-time slaughterers find work on this holiday because they charge a lower fee than others and mostly because professional butchers are occupied. Sadly, the part-timers often make mistakes which result in terribly cruel deaths to the animals.

I should know, because I worked out of the Korangi Industrial area. The hides tanneries received during Bakra Eid are the most unfortunate because of the random unnecessary holes that come from the hands of untrained butchers. I don’t need to imagine how cruel these deaths must have been, having witnessed some bad slaughters myself. I don’t need to narrate any cruel Bakra Eid incidents, since horror stories where the animals are faced with undue physical torture are commonplaceSadly, in my conversations with the part-time slaughterers, I have learned that they are unconcerned with the pain caused to the animals.

To them, it is purely business.

2. Psychological cruelty:

As a child, I was taught that if Muslims are slaughtering multiple animals, they must ensure that the sight and sound of the animal being killed is away from the animal(s) in waiting. It is simply cruel to slaughter animals in front of each other, as we do in Pakistan when we insist on turning our unprepared homes into slaughterhouses. I have heard many tales of frightened goats trying to escape the scene of a bloody slaughter in a wild panic, after watching and hearing the agony of their kind; this has become unbearable.

3. Showing off: 

Without fail, every Eid, you learn of wealthy families spending a small fortune to buy a single outrageously expensive cow, which they boast has been imported from Europe or Australia. Later, entire neighbourhoods are invited to have a look at the mooing creature (the cow, not the head of the affluent family), as they brag about how the price of the foreign animal was more than that of ten Pakistani cows.

Well, if one of the reasons animals are slaughtered in Eidul Azha is so that their meat is shared, isn’t it more reasonable for these families to buy ten Pakistani cows instead, so that that ten times the meat is distributed amongst the poor?

4. The hierarchy of meat:

It is about the same in most Pakistani households: The choicest meat portions from the sacrifice are kept for family and friends, while the poorest pieces are mixed together for distribution amongst the poor.

If the traditional practice states that the three portions should be divided equally amongst family, friends and neighbours, and the impoverished, then logic dictates that the meat should be mixed up regardless of quality, should it not?

5. The war-zone effect: 

During Eidul Azha many streets of Pakistan resemble a battleground.  With the street-cleaners having also taken a holiday, the roads are bathed in blood, leftover animal carcasses can be seen outside of homes, and the sick stench of death is in the air.

We are often very quick to blame the government, but perhaps we should realise that our job on Bakra Eid doesn’t end with the sacrifice, but with taking care of the mess that follows. The ritual of cleanliness is an important part of Islam, yet our major concern with Eidul Azha seems to be with the glamour of it all.

 Read more by Noman here or follow him on Twitter @Pugnate

Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.