- ‘It is your piety that reaches him’
For the locked down Muslims across the pandemic ridden world, a source of joy is near. The moon for Zilhajj has been sighted and the date for Eid-ul-Azha, the Greater Eid has been announced. However, the joy and the celebrations are accompanied with worries and issues for debate, both old and new.
The foremost debate, perhaps the oldest of all, is the sighting of the moon. While Pakistan’s Ministry of Science and Technology had announced Eid-ul-Azha’s celebration to begin from July 31, the country’s Ruet-e-Hilal committee declared that since the moon had not been sighted, Eid would fall on August 1. Most of the Arab as well as the Western world would celebrate on July 31.
The controversy of the Eid moon in Pakistan is as old as one can remember. On the occasions of the two Eids every year, the other being Eid-ul-Fitr, the committee becomes active and the entire country bows its head in obedience to its decision, whether acceptable or not. The committee has long been criticised and urged to give up out-dated techniques of moon gazing and receiving shahadats or witnesses for the sighting of the moon and adopt new scientific techniques, which predict the cycle of the moon. But the committee, out of its strong attachment to Islamic tradition as well as the fear of losing its job, sticks to the ritual and keeps the nation in suspense every Eid.
While this may be a controversy which emerges every year, the nearly 6-month old Coronavirus pandemic has raised new reasons for concern. For protection against the virus, key precautionary measures including social distancing have been urged. But what we see at every Eid we see this time too: masses of jubilant public thronging bazaars, oblivious to precautions or existence of any virus. Although mosques do limit the number of devoted worshippers for Eid prayers in compliance to government instructions, would Eid celebrations at homes also be limited? Would the invitations for planned weddings to be held amidst pleas for marriage halls to reopen, limit to only a few? Would the cattle markets which have already emerged across the country, seriously practise any measures which they are expected to? And on the three days of Eid, when animal sacrifices take place, would there be any practice of sanitisation held at individual, home-based sacrificial grounds? Just like a large number of Pakistanis labelled coronavirus a joke, by wearing a mask, many fellow citizens think that they have taken all the necessary measures. For them using sanitisers, avoiding handshakes or embraces and keeping a distance are just extra burdens. With this mentality, can we assume that Eid-ul-Azha this year will be a safe celebration?
We now have a great responsibility to fulfil, other than rejoice. If we break through the threshold of Eid-Ul-Azha wisely and safely, we may be able to continue the pace of improvement as well as maintain the dignity of those around us. This would be a greater sacrifice.
And what about the mess which we create at this occasion? Washing away the bloody stains of the sacrificed animals from our homes, we drench our streets and choke our drains with filth. We fulfil our obligation, we uphold the Abrahamic tradition, we please our God, the rest is the duty of the civil authorities, we think. With this firmly entrenched belief, we fill our surroundings with stench and pests, not thinking once of the damage we cause to our environment. Considering the monsoons this year, just in Lahore there is a prediction of heavy showers before, during and after Eid. Are we ready to experience torrential downpours tainted with blood and reeking of sewage?
Most importantly, will we continue to witness the pompous display of wealth in the name of sacrifice? Many devout Muslims proudly show off the beast purchased for sacrifice on Eid, along with its price tag. While this is a practice which should be discouraged every year, it becomes highly pertinent this time to observe modesty, as many have been struck with financial woes, owing to closures of businesses and loss of jobs. Would we be considerate enough not to hurt sentiments of someone, maybe even close to us, already struggling financially? Are we willing to contribute more than the usual share to the needy this year instead of cooking delicacies for our own selves?
As I raise these questions, which I feel require adequate answers, there are many amongst us who are considering donating funds to worthy causes instead of sacrificing animals. I believe this to be a wise decision. We, as Muslims, are wrapped up so rigidly in the dos and don’ts of religion, that we do not realise certain times call for certain measures. It is the spirit of sacrifice, to give up something which is dear to us, which is the real Abrahamic tradition. Animal sacrifice is simply a ritual. For Allah says in the Holy Quran:
“It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him.” – Surah Al-Hajj, Verse 37
As the new moon is rising, we are being told, that the peak Coronavirus reached, is waning. The fear of the pandemic is slowly fading and many activities are beginning to normalise. If we are to believe that the situation is improving, it is only because many of us took necessary measures, and as the government claims, the success is owed to ‘smart lockdowns’. We now have a great responsibility to fulfil, other than rejoice. If we break through the threshold of Eid-Ul-Azha wisely and safely, we may be able to continue the pace of improvement as well as maintain the dignity of those around us. This would be a greater sacrifice.