In the dry arid deserts of Arabia centuries ago, possessing cattle was as much a privilege as profession. The tribesmen would nourish the animal right from birth, trade their milk, and occasionally consume them for their meat; even barter them on need. They would grow up with their animals, co-sharing their very habitats. Thus, developing a bond with the animals all along. Not much different from the bond they held with their gods.
This special bonding was what was tested when making offerings to the various gods. The legendary story where god is said to have whispered in Ibrahim’s ears a demand for sacrificing his son Ismail was a test of Ibrahim’s love and devotion. It was to see his willingness in sacrificing his special bond with his son for the sake of yet greater bond with his god. (If god’s intention was to test the love of Ibrahim, it does put him being the ‘all-knowning’ into question in the first place.) Whether a sheep did magically appear at the altar just in time to save Ismail from his father’s cleaver is the brilliance of creativity narrator has shown in teaching a valuable lesson. The sheep’s slaughter served the story as the second-best substitute and an ever-living symbol of sacrifice.
The spirit of Eid-ul-Azha thus celebrates the willingness of the forefathers to sacrifice their most treasured possessions in the greater love of their god. It does not necessarily – and should not literally – urge you chopping an animal or two bought a night or two before with whom you hold no emotional affiliation whatsoever, except the bonding you have with your money spent in the exchange. While performing the ritual of sacrifice today, it is not the goat you reared over the years but your hard-earned sums. The goat only serves a proxy. If the prime medium of gauging bonding has become monetary today, what stops us using the same sums on other tangible noble deeds; paying for a financially-challenged student’s fee, or contributing to a meagre household’s grocery?
Let us be clear. There never was and nor will be a god sitting above in the skies thirsty for the blood seeping out of animals’ throats. Neither does he invisibly relishes on those animals’ meat (I hope). The God of Quran makes it very clear that He does not need the sacrifices of His servitudes. Instead it is their pity He weighs more. Such devised stories exist to teach social lessons and excite introspection.
Photo Courtesy: America Magazine.