Eidul Azha’s forgotten purpose

Published June 29, 2023
Illustration by Sumbul
Illustration by Sumbul

Dear friends, I am sure that just like me, all of you have grown up hearing the amazing and exemplary story of the sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim (AS).

Prophet Ibrahim had repeated dreams, in which he was asked to sacrifice his most valuable possession in the name of Allah. He gave away all the worldly goods he possessed, including the cattle he owned, but the dream kept coming back.

On deep reflection, Prophet Ibrahim realised that his son Prophet Ismail, was his most cherished possession and decided to sacrifice his beloved son to fulfil Allah’s will. When he told his son about his intention, and, like the father, the young Ismail had no objection to his father’s intent and was ready to lay down his life to fulfil Allah’s command.

Prophet Ibrahim fulfilled

Allah’s command. And Allah, the Merciful, was only testing His prophet’s obedience. When Ibrahim removed the blindfold which his son had advised him to wear, in case his hands faltered while making such a heart wrenching sacrifice, he was delighted to see his dear son smiling across a slaughtered ram. Allah was so pleased by His prophet’s submission to His will that He made it compulsory for every affluent Muslim to slaughter a halal animal in His name every year on the 10th, 11th and 12th of Zil-Hajj. The sacrificial animal can be a camel, a cow/bull or a goat/lamb/sheep.

Friends, most children are super excited as Eidul Azha draws near. Repeated requests to fathers and elders for an early requisition of the sacrificial animal is the main topic of discussion nearly every day. Those who get their goats or cows earlier than their friends or neighbours, happily show off their prized animals, their chests puffed with pride.

Those of you whose parents (for some reason or other), do not buy the animals earlier, wear an apologetically look, as if they have failed in a competition.

Illustration by Aamnah Arshad
Illustration by Aamnah Arshad

My young friends, now I must come to the issue which I want to discuss with you all today. In the age of consumerism that we are living in, life has become a race, an unending competition in which most of us try our best to surpass other people around us. This mind-set has deprived us of our peace of mind, happiness and contentment. If your friend has moved into a new and bigger house, you begin seeing faults in your own home and want your parents to change it too. If one of you can buy branded clothes, the rest of you feel a sense of inferiority because your parents cannot afford them. The same goes with cars, furniture, the institution in which you study, the restaurants you go to dine out and so on. We all seem to be struggling beyond our means to outdo each other in every worldly thing we spend on.

Sadly, at Eidul Azha too, we witness the same attitude. Cattle farming has become a booming industry, where demand for expensive animals is high. Every year, special and huge open places are designated by the relevant authorities for markets (usually called mandi) where the sacrificial animals are brought in from rural areas and sold. We witness VIP enclosures, whose lights may bring to shame the most lavish wedding marquee, where hefty prized animals are exhibited proudly, and their owners demanding exorbitant prices for them. Some sellers boast that their cows or goats are fed on pistachios, almonds, home cooked bread (chappatis) and butter etc., and not on lowly things like fodder.

People from all walks of life flock to visit these stalls, some rich enough to buy these animals and others just to have a wistful look, because for them these cows or goats are worth an arm and a leg.

We witness brightly lighted tents springing up outside homes, where the proud owners spend most of their day lingering outside these personal tents, arrogance written large on their faces. They flaunt their prized possessions and boast in front of friends and visitors about the amount they have spent on them.

When I think that the price paid for a cow could be enough to feed a score of families for a month, I feel sad and angry too. People who love to show off do not realise that to be declared the one who has spent the most on qurbani, does not make one pious or honourable. It is obedience to our Creator’s orders, submission to His will and compassion for the poor which does so.

Instead of entering into a race where we wish to buy one of the most expensive animals available, we should ponder more about the Sunnah of Ibrahim, and how he tried to please Allah in every way he could.

When Ismail was an infant, on The Almighty’s command, he left his wife and son, (whom he was later ready to sacrifice), in a wilderness, with no one around, and no food or water for miles. But in his heart Ibrahim was sure that Allah would provide for his family. For this sacrifice, Allah rewarded his family with the miraculous Zamzam spring which is flowing for centuries and will do so in those to come.

Our religion teaches us simplicity, humility, good manners and empathy. An important teaching of Islam is to always choose a moderate path while spending our riches. We must neither throw away our money just to sooth our egos, nor be a miser and not spend on the destitute and poor, which Allah’s commands us to do. Another trait that is openly disliked by Allah is arrogance, pride and looking down on the poor.

This year, let us think deeply about our roles as Muslims. What are our intentions when we spend in the name of Allah, whether it is when we are buying animals for Qurbani at Eidul Azha, or giving alms in Ramazan and other months, or helping the needy who are in distress. Do we perform these deeds to be praised by people for our benevolence, or we do them just for the love of Allah and desire to please Him?

We should give honest replies to the above questions and if we feel we keep our ego above the commands of Allah, we must change our way of thinking. To follow in Prophet Ibrahim’s footsteps, before getting into a race to buy the most expensive animal possible, we must sacrifice our egos and get rid of arrogance. Only then can we retain the sanctity of this second biggest Muslim festival.

It is stated in the Quran that the size of the animal and the amount of meat one gets from it makes no difference to Allah. It is the devotion to His will which does.

Another trait that is openly disliked by Allah is arrogance, pride and looking down on the poor. The mutton and beef which is distributed is a treat for many people who can hardly afford it even once a month. Often it is witnessed that while distributing sacrificial meat, people look down with disdain on the poor who come to collect this luxury. Instead of this unpleasant attitude, we should be grateful to the Almighty that He has placed us among the givers, not the receivers.

This year, try your best to understand the essence of Islam and strive to please the Almighty in everything you do. As Muslims, we should always practice humility, respect for mankind, empathy for the poor and refrain from boasting and arrogance.

A very happy Eidul Azha to all of you.

Published in Dawn, Young World, June 29th, 2023

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