By Saulat Pervez
The slaughtering of an animal as a sacrifice to God during Eid-al-Adha keeps an Abrahamic legacy alive.
This week, Muslims across the world are celebrating Eid-al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice.
The core aspect of Eid-al-Adha is the slaughtering of an animal as a sacrifice to God. This ritual keeps an Abrahamic legacy alive: Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son Ishmael upon God’s command represents the greatest surrender to God’s will. Just as Abraham was instead directed to sacrifice a ram, Muslims across the world slaughter a goat, sheep, cow or camel in remembrance of Abraham’s unwavering commitment to submit to God.
In many Muslim countries, families buy the animal days or weeks in advance and take care of it lovingly. When the animals are sacrificed, their meat is cooked right away as part of the feast. The meat is also shared with the needy and relatives.
Growing up in Karachi, I always avoided eating meat on Eid-al-Adha. I still remember the disconcerting sight of a skinned goat hanging from its legs on our housegate when I would return from visiting all my friends in the neighborhood.
When my family migrated to the States, I was relieved that I no longer had to eat the meat nor behold such primal displays on Eid-al-Adha. Generally speaking, the slaughter was outsourced to a humanitarian organization who would distribute the meat to the impoverished. So, we would simply go to the mosque for prayer in the morning and then have a feast of assorted meats, including chicken, much like Eid-al-Fitr.
Then, it so happened, that after I got married and had two children, my husband and I decided to return to Karachi. On our first Eid-al-Adha, I shielded my children from watching the sacrifice, taking them inside and busying them with their Eid gifts. I was afraid that watching their beloved goats being slaughtered would traumatize them.
Although I was much older and understood the spiritual context of the sacrifice, I wasn’t quite ready to embrace it. As the day progressed, however, I came to recognize the distinct beauty of Eid-al-Adha: we distributed the meat to the poor and to the extended family. We received meat from our neighbors and gave away meat to all and sundry who rang our doorbell. The fact that this was the only occasion many people were privileged to eat meat became apparent throughout the day, especially as requests came from some to store their portions in our freezer for later use as they couldn’t afford one.
In the midst of it all, I continued to reflect on leftover emotions of aversion from my childhood and the wider implications of Eid-al-Adha. By now, I was also able to discern the incongruity of willfully eating meat all year round but then being fussy when it became an act of worship. After all, each time we eat meat, a goat, lamb or cow’s slaughtering enables it. It’s just that we never see it: out of sight, out of mind. So, when the food was laid out on the table, I forced myself to eat the meat, acknowledging it as an act of submission to the will of God — my tiny surrender compared to Abraham’s amazing one.
The following year, I chose to watch the sacrifice with my children. I realized that by shielding them, I was actually depriving them of the most important lesson they will ever learn: to submit to God’s will. My daughter was momentarily surprised but then took it in her stride. My son, the younger of the two, was visibly disturbed and sad. He who loved meat refused it that day and in the coming days. Eventually, he couldn’t abstain from it any longer but confirmed first that it was from the meat shop. The absurdity of this could not be apparent to a child’s mind and reminded me of my own struggles with Eid-al-Adha while growing up.
Over the years, I have had many conversations with him and helped him understand the spirit of Eid-al-Adha, but now that we are back in the States, I know the relief that he feels. And, thus the cycle of life continues — and so do our individual struggles to surrender fully in worship.