If you grew up spending Eid ul-Adhas in Pakistan, you remember those occasions with…smells. Smells of the livestock outside your house, smells of earthiness and dung. And then, on the day, smells of blood. Butchers especially commissioned for that day will appear in the morning in beige, crisp shalwar kameezes, which are splattered with blood by the end of the day.
(Jimmy sings in my ear: “Blood on the streets runs a river of sadness.”)
The women in the house spend the day sorting the meat, packing it, sending it to and receiving it from neighbours and relatives. There would be cooking of the various kinds of meat in various forms: brains, hearts, lungs, you name it. They make their way into curries, pilafs, barbecues. We Muslims love our meat.
That said, I state this: to me, few things have become devoid of their original spirit as the occasion of Eid ul-Adha.
Eid ul-Adha occurs on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Dhul Hijjah, when pilgrims and Muslims from all over the world sacrifice sanctioned animals and distribute the meat amongst the needy as well as friends and family. This sacrifice is mandatory upon all men and women who have more than sufficient financial means to take care of themselves.
The result: a carnivorous fest, now undertaken in a world where meat consumption is:
- at a level that is antithetical to that espoused by the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), who ate meat very sparingly and encouraged others to do the same,
- one of the leading contributors to climate change,
- the propellor of horrifically inhumane factory farming (mass-produced halal meat can only be marginally better than these circumstances),
- a diversion of bottom-of-the-food-chain resources away from feeding the hungry, and
- increasingly irrelevant to a well-planned, healthy diet.
While I grapple with those issues, I fully know, in theory, what Eid ul-Adha should be. This Eid is a time to truly ponder one of the many curious qualities God has given us. We eat animals. Animals. As much as we may love our meat, our fitrah doesn’t allow us to simply take this in stride. Our fitrah compels us to be tender towards animals–we know, without having to be told, that they are innocent, blameless, created to live exactly as God ordained them to. For, as Umar Faruq Abd Allah once put it: this dunya is not a garden for us, it is the first and final destination of those who inhabit the dunya with us, and hence we must make it a garden for them.
When we’re told the story about Abraham being ordained to sacrifice his son and looking down to see a ram in his stead, what’s traditionally emphasized to us is the contrast in what was asked of Abraham and what was taken. God is indeed merciful. God indeed reminds us, through this ritual, that he asks certain things of us just because.
But we’re not Abraham. Abraham was what a theological scholar referred to as a superhuman, ready to undertake a task in a way that only a Khaliullah can be.
We’re far lesser, so much so that we have to overcome our innate tenderness towards animals when we put them down. This is framed beautifully in this feature piece about a halal butcher with a holistic, conscientious approach to slaughtering animals:
“Well, that’s the beauty of halal,” Imran said, tears streaming down his face. “You realize you’re taking the life of the animal so that you can continue to live. And every animal that you slaughter, you never forget. . . . The day you become immune to taking the life of an animal for your benefit is the day you lose all your humanity.”
The easiest way to be immune to taking the life of an animal you eat is to take part of slaughtering and processing as it happens today: hidden away in factory farms, outsourced to places that “handle” the deeds, without giving you a glimpse of what it means to take a life.
Butchers like Imran are as superhuman as ordinary humans can be, and what is being asked of us is even less: that every now and then (I don’t know, say, on Eid ul-Adha), we pay heed to what sustains us.
I exist in between a mindlessly meat-guzzling world and a world that consumes meat in a limited, sustained, and loving way. I want to be part of the latter world, and I won’t be anytime soon. Not before I fall in love with a sustainably and humanely raised animal, witness its sacrifice, affirm that Allah has made it so, and partake of its flesh.
Until then, I will continue to eschew meat.