The ugly side of “sacrifice”
When the idea of animal sacrifice was born, livestock were wealth. The world has come a long way from that point, and your wealth is now in banks, in expensive possessions like vehicles and laptops. Few Muslims own goats as any investment anymore. It is no sacrifice to kill a goat. There is no emotional attachment, and the “sacrifice” value is at best whatever the price of the goat is, not the animal itself. [Tweet “Why must an animal lose its life for little more reason than an exhibition of worship?”]
It is something Muslims must think about. Do they feel they have sacrificed anything at all of value in taking that life? What did that life mean to them? What was their right to take it, when there is hardly any scarcity of meat on this day?
Muslims object when I bring this up. They say that people distribute excess meat to the poor. To the best of my knowledge, this is at best something people believe because it makes them feel better. I have yet to see Bakri Id gain reputation as a day when poor people can count on being fed well, or at least being certain of having meat to cook for dinner for the next few days. Or perhaps those who know go to places to beg for it. Undoubtedly, a few needy do have full stomachs that day, but to believe that no meat is wasted and it goes to the needy requires a blindness that comes at the cost of countless lives. So what if they are not human? They die for waste in a religion that makes a virtue of simplicity and frugality.
What happens to the left over meat? Some Muslims diligently do distribute it to the needy. Others probably donate it to someone handy waiting to take it with little guarantee that it actually reaches the needy. Still more make a point of distributing meat to the poor to the extent that they will kill more goats just to be able to distribute.
By and large, a large part of the meat ends up as garbage. Homes cook far more than they need to eat. The poor who do avail of the donated meat get far more than they need to eat. People get gifts of meat to add to what they already have. And the fact is, no one can eat so much.
I am not against eating meat. I object to killing far more than you need to eat. If Muslims could eat all the goats they killed, I wouldn’t be writing this article at all. It is the same with animal sacrifices in temples, which happen on a smaller scale, and the temple meal itself uses up the meat, but I have objected to the slaughter of a buffalo in a temple once, because it would not be eaten. To any outraged Hindutvavadis, that would be the annual fair of the Hidimba mata mandir in Manali. They can verify. Every year, of the five animals sacrificed, the buffalo gets wasted. No idea if they still do it.
In addition, when families were large tribes and clans with large households, killing and eating a goat made sense. A family of four or five people cannot consume a goat and a thousand families of four and five people cannot even find enough people needing meat on that day without making some serious effort that would take time they don’t have, because they will be busy celebrating.
And we aren’t even talking here of health risks from lack of hygiene and improper waste disposal, which is common in poorer localities. We aren’t talking about sacrificial animals being kept tied in cruel conditions. (FYI, it is cruel for a goat to be tied next to an unfamiliar busy street or be harassed by neighbourhood children and dogs.)
Everything eats something else to live. I imagine a leaf of spinach, by not dying on being plucked gets cut alive right till the point it gets cooked. In comparison, one animal dies on being butchered and at least doesn’t get cooked alive. Grains and milk probably are the kindest in that sense, but surely we deprive a calf of its rightful nutrition too? All consumption has an impact on other life to some extent and it is the nature of life. I am not objecting to eating meat. Note. I am objecting to cruelty.
To take life without reason is unjustified cruelty. Is this what you wish to offer your God? The killing of an animal that means little more to you than the price of a phone at a time when you will easily get meat without killing it? That, to my eyes is cruelty. I am an atheist, but I do understand the limited utility of religion as a means of promoting better thought among masses not used to questioning the larger meaning of life, so to say. Every religion claims to promote respect for life and kindness. So does Islam, at least the interpretation people I know insist is the right one.
If Mohammed were alive and looking at Muslims today, would he really say that “sacrifice” – the idea of giving up something you value and need for the larger good – is goat murder?
Perhaps some Muslims still believe that the proper expression of that sacrifice is still a goat and they do not feel comfortable sacrificing anything else. There would still be ways around taking life needlessly.
Several progressive Muslims now get together and slaughter a goat for their entire community, which provides an appropriate amount of meat that can be consumed with lesser waste.
But such thinking requires a willingness to take a good hard look at your own actions and their larger meaning, as opposed to insisting on doing things in a manner that they have been done regardless of whether circumstances around the situation have changed.
For those who believe in the spiritual value of sacrifice, it would make more sense to give up laptop to a poor student, make space in your home for the homeless. That is sacrifice. Not something that does not bother you to give up. Nor is there any “giving up” in eating the “sacrifice” till you have meat coming out of your ears and at no point does anything happen that makes you suffer in the least.
I believe the Quran also insists that Muslims learn.
As Muslims have learned to enjoy photographs and music, as even the most radical Islamic clerics have learned to tolerate passport and driving licence photos at the very least, if Muslims are able to see the larger community as a family, it shouldn’t be so difficult to save lives and prevent waste.
[Tweet “After all goats are people too!”]