Once a year, in the build up to Eid al-Adha or “Festival of the Sacrifice”, Pakistan plays host to Asia’s largest cattle market, where hundreds of thousands of animals are bought and sold nearly everyday.
But in the southern mega-city of Karachi, the tradition of purchasing animals for the annual religious sacrifice has – for some of the very wealthy – become a curiously high-end affair. Near the entrance of the large, open-air, market are a number of extravagant, marquee tents that are best described as “bovine boutiques”. Inside, bright, decorative lights are strung in artistic bows across wrought iron pillars. If it weren’t for all the dust and dung, one would be forgiven for thinking they were at a glamorous wedding reception where the guests of honour are cows and bulls.
The thoroughbred cattle are displayed on raised platforms, wearing colourful headdresses and bells, continually groomed by minders.
One of the tents is owned and operated by Pakistan cricket captain Shahid “Boom Boom” Afridi.
His is perhaps the most high-end of the boutique-like venues and attracts the largest crowds owing to his celebrity status. The animals on offer there are imported from around the world and are some of the costliest in the country. Well-heeled Pakistanis eye the beasts as if they were luxury goods and are willing to spend up to $35,000 for the very best.
It is quite a spectacle. But what’s the point of it all? Well, to put it plainly, it’s mostly for bragging rights. Those who come here want to buy the finest, most expensive, head of cattle. Once the animal is sacrificed as per religious tradition, they will distribute all of the high-end meat to the needy. It’s a flamboyant, if not odd, way of showing just how charitable one is during Eid al-Adha, which commemorates Abraham’s willingness to take his son’s life in the name of God.
‘Charity is charity’
One man I met admitted purchasing animals in this way could be interpreted as crass, but disagreed it was out of step with Islamic tradition, saying “charity is charity, no matter how it’s conducted”.
But a short walk away from the deluxe tents, at the hot and dusty open-air cattle markets where most others purchase their animals, not everyone agrees.
The people I spoke to say the so-called bovine boutiques are more about spectacle and spending, rather than spirituality and sacrifice.
Many also said this year has been particularly difficult for most to buy animals for slaughter, because prices have increased by up to 60 per cent since last Eid. As a result, many are co-buying animals with others; splitting the costs and the smaller portions of meat – an economic reality for many Pakistani’s as the country’s economy continues to falter. But that has not stopped the very wealthy from purchasing the best animal they can in stylish, if not curious, comfort.