While most Muslims in the UK may not themselves be slaughtering sacrificial animals in their backyards or porches, the majority will have arranged for their qurbani to be done by other organisations, often in faraway lands.
In the case of the Pakistani community, this will involve large numbers of people opting to have this done in Pakistan on the basis that there are more obviously needy people to be helped in the mother country. This results in a dramatic inflow of foreign exchange into Pakistan each year on this occasion — according to some estimates this increase in foreign exchange remittances is between $100 to 200 million.
This boost in remittances is interpreted as being beneficial to Pakistan’s economy, and there is much talk of the ‘economic activity’ generated by it and the ‘positive effects’ of this activity on the economy. But when a religious and cultural festival commemorating sacrifice and submission to the will of God is reduced to merely an economic activity or regarded as a mercantile transaction, does it in effect negate the very spirit of the occasion?
In other words: does Eid ul Azha now involve Muslims indulging merely in animal slaughter rather than actually thinking about the principle of sacrifice? Is there any reflection at all on what we personally can forsake for the greater good, or what we can give to help fellow human beings in need of assistance?
To reduce this Eid — the ‘big’ Eid, the Hajj Eid, the Bakra Eid — to being merely an occasion of cattle purchase and sacrifice is rather sad because it all now seems to be driven by social pressure and market factors rather than by any sense of duty or philanthropy. People are under immense pressure to acquire a sacrificial animal in a sellers’ market. Many who do have the resources, display the animals rather ostentatiously, thus proclaiming smugly to the world how very wealthy they are. The more self-righteous born-again types amongst us will bang on about how qurbani is a prescribed duty and start throwing about the phrase sunnat i Ibrahimi (the sunnat of Abraham), a phrase that I personally never heard till this century. And many will concentrate on the duty and the meat so much that they completely fail to think about the spirit of sacrifice.
This is also the time of year when many rich and powerful Muslims are off to do Hajj. Not just will they be doing a ‘VIP Hajj’ (the VIP aspect so contrary to the egalitarian spirit of Islam), for many of them this will also be the umpteenth time they will be doing the pilgrimage. Surely, in the spirit of sacrifice, these individuals could give their slot to another less powerful Muslim for whom this pilgrimage would mean so very much? But no, we continue to witness government and other delegations on repeat Hajj journeys, with the concerned individuals perhaps convinced that all of this sawab is actually helping them secure themselves a VIP place in the Hereafter.
There is so much about this Eid that brings back memories of a time when it was all simpler and less vicious. When it was about family coming together and caring for each other as much as it was about the deliciousness of the fresh meat (fried liver and tikkas at breakfast and biryani or korma at lunch…). But now in the urban jungle, it all seems to be about money and ostentation and power.
And as the skins of the sacrificial animals are so lucrative a source of income, we see charity organisations reduced to a very unseemly scramble to acquire these hides, with the competition intensified to an almost militant dimension as political parties have become involved in it as well.
This year I, at least, want to try and sacrifice my time to help those who need support. Rather than pay to distribute meat to those in far-off lands I think I should pay attention to those around me who are hungry or homeless, no matter what their caste, creed or religion.