Dear Muslim Brothers and Sisters, we are approaching a blessed and spiritual time of the year, Qurbani Eid, which comes after millions of devout Muslims complete their pilgrimage to the holy grounds of Mecca. Families and friends will come together for prayers, exchange gifts and enjoy special food. As we prepare to take part in this year’s holiday, we would like to invite you to reexamine some aspects of how it is celebrated with an open mind and an open heart.
The story of Abraham
As we are told by the Quran, the Prophet Abraham (pbuh) had a recurring dream in which Allah commanded him to sacrifice his son Ishmael (pbuh). Abraham (pbuh) was just about to end the life of his son when Allah called on him to spare his son and instead sacrifice a ram He miraculously provided. During Qurbani Eid, we commemorate and remember Abraham’s (pbuh) willingness to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to Allah. Today, the slaughter of millions of animals during this holiday is merely symbolic of Abraham’s (pbuh) supreme sacrifice.
Sacrifice, then and now
The Quran makes clear that Allah does not take pleasure in flesh and blood. It says of the animals sacrificed that “[t]heir meat will not reach Allah, nor will their blood, but what reaches Him is piety from you.” (Qur’an 22:37) Animal sacrifice is not part of the core spiritual truth of Islam, and there are many other charitable ways to express our devotion to the will of Allah. In modern Bangladesh, meat is not as scarce or as valuable a resource as it was for the desert community in which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) lived. Today we can do so much more to help the needy by simply redirecting the money that would have gone towards the purchase of an animal for slaughter and using it for other longer-lasting and more beneficial purposes. The money can be used to improve the situation of more than half a million children living on the streets of Dhaka and other major cities, or to build hospitals in places where access to medical care is still difficult. CARE, Save the Children, Oxfam, BRAC and countless other organizations are doing great work for the most disadvantaged groups in our society and are in dire need of our financial support in order to create a better Bangladesh for tomorrow. Many of these charities and NGOs also accept valuable and useful items which are close to your heart and you might consider donating instead of, or in addition to, money – in the spirit of sacrifice. Opting for charity in lieu of animal sacrifice is in harmony with the meaning of Islam and Qurbani Eid.
Animals and Islam
While Qurbani Eid will be a time of joy for Muslims, it is not a happy time for Allah’s creatures. The lives of many goats, cows and other domestic animals will end during the festivities. It can be hard to think about the plight of animals in a country in which many human beings have to live under heartbreaking conditions. But we ask you to consider for a moment what the camels, lambs, goats, and cows chosen to be sacrificed on Qurbani Eid will endure. After all, we know that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) advocated compassion toward animals. He was sent as a “mercy to all creation” (Quran, 21:107). In fact, the Quran explicitly recognizes the fact that animals are sentient beings just like us, thereby anticipating a basic tenet of the modern animal rights movement – “[t]here is not an animal on earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings, but they are communities like you.” (Qur’an 6:38) Prior to slaughter, many animals sacrificed during Qurbani Eid in Bangladesh are walked long distances, often for days at a time from as far-away places as India, or they are packed into trucks without adequate space, food, water, and medical attention. This is neither humane nor halal, and it stands in stark contradiction to Islamic teachings on kindness and compassion. We should not ignore this reality. In Sahih al-Bukhari, it is told that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was once asked if kindness to animals was rewarded in the afterlife. He replied that “there is a meritorious reward for kindness to every living creature.” Sacrificial animals typically have their legs tied so that they can hardly move. They are surrounded by a group of people that often includes children. The terrified animals are held down by several individuals while a sharp knife is drawn across their throats. As they struggle to break free, they slowly bleed to death – often in front of other animals.
A religion of compassion
Many of us are horrified when we see on TV how animals in Europe, Australia, the United States and other countries across the globe are raised, transported and killed. It is our hope that Islam, being a religion of peace and compassion, can do better.
We, the undersigned, respectfully submit these thoughts for your consideration and hope you find them helpful in drawing your very own conclusions about the practice of animal sacrifice, in the light of the universal standards of mercy and compassion that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has set for humanity.
Please go to http://tinyurl.com/sign-eid-letter to sign this letter.
Go to http://tinyurl.com/eid-signatures to view the list of signatories to this open letter.
Rainer Ebert is a Ph.D. student in Philosophy at Rice University, and a founding member of the Bangladesh Liberal Forum.