How religious rituals like animal sacrifice on Eid have lost their true essence in our society today
MANY of us go around with the delirium that by sacrificing an animal once a year, we are licensed for disobedience and transgression against the creation and the creator for the rest of the year. In the act of sacrifice, we think of bribing God to erase our previous misdoings and also overlook our future errs. This is the natural corollary of reducing religion to ritual and depriving the religious symbols of innate meaning and inherent elan.
The case with animal sacrifice, as is the standard practice On Eid Ul Azha is no exception to this rule and it must be accepted that what survives in the Muslim community today is the symbol without meaning and ritual without a context.
Ritual Without Realisation
Ritual is vital only as long as it moves the spirit and is carried out with the spiritual/esoteric meaning in mind and in absence of these extensions, ritual is merely reduced to mechanical regurgitation, incapable of ushering any spiritual or social change. What is observed on the contrary is that in a frenzy of unconsciousness because of socially induced habits, we go on to purchase a lamb or calf, slaughter it in a jiffy and then in the wanton display of indiscipline and uncouth habits, pollute the roads and water bodies.
When it comes to the distribution of the sacrificial meat, it is done in a way that our image building and ostentation is preferred over Islamic ethics and rulings and the very spirit of sacrifice is not only ignored, but trumped and inverted.
What is the real import of sacrifice and to what extent do our practices tally with this ideal? It is hardly debatable that in essence, sacrifice raises in us an impulse to shun our dearest and cherished goods/habits/possessions that may be a hindrance in the path of the realisation of God. The message of any true religion is to awaken the humanity in man and to raise him to the call of spirit which pleads the case of universal justice, unconditional truth and submission to the ethical demands of life. But man, as he lives in flesh and blood, is fettered by hundred thousand chains of mechanical causation from realising the spiritual ideal – the ideal which is his true calling.
It is in the same vein that religions institutionalised sacrifice so that giving up on something small may induce in man the discipline to give up something big, for his own well-being and for the sake of achieving spiritual heights. But our fake religiosity, feeding on the fodder of social pomposity has drifted us away, farther away from the message and essence of sacrifice. What has survived is a ritual to show off, with no initiation or inspiration for inward reformation.
Animal Sacrifice Cannot be Replaced by Other Forms of Charity
This fetishisation of rituals and their meaninglessness in today’s world is not a call on a ban on ritualistic animal sacrifice on Eid. Even as many advocate for such a ban under one pretext or the other, advocating to funnel this amount into “constructive social causes’ ‘ like building schools, hospitals, providing for the poor and needy and engaging in such social causes; this is not an answer. Such pleas are rooted in a number of self-discovered rationales like absence of Quranic injunctions on Udhiyah, their concern for the environment, their viewpoint that in an act of sacrifice an unnecessary violence is unleashed upon animals and the alike. Let it be remembered that the practice of animal sacrifice, instead of being stopped or abhorred, was continued by the Prophet himself and has been the standard mainstream Muslim practice on Eid Ul Adha for centuries. The jurists and the scholars had no disagreement over sacrificing animals and also the books of tradition (Ahadith) are filled with events and precepts pertaining to Qurbani.
On the philosophical side of it, the re-enactment of ritual, as Udhiyah really is, can’t be tampered in its scruples for that will fulfil anything but not the ritual itself. Islam presents many other ways to give towards the cause of social upliftment and helping the downtrodden. This can be done any time of the year.
The importance that the Quran and Sunnah place on welfare activities is paramount but these activities can’t be bartered against sacrifice, for the two are separate and exclusive religious ordinances, one standing independent of the other.
Symbol Without Soul
The environmental concern raised in a genuine and legitimate issue and Islam itself vehemently advocates the protection and preservation of environment and biosphere. Our preachers need to alert people to this issue and people themselves need to realise the sacred nature of the biosphere and not defile it.
The ostentatious display of sacrifice on social media, which can hurt the sentiments of people from other faiths must strictly be avoided as well. The tenderness and care with which animals are to be treated as laid down in books of Fiqh need to be observed and any cruelty committed upon the animal must be severely abstained from . While one observes these rules, as religion lays them down, one must not miss the spirit of sacrifice and the act shall be a symbol to the sacrifice of our baser self, our egoistic and rudimentary habits of existence and all that is unpleasant in the sight of God.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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