I’m not sure exactly when I witnessed my first sacrificial slaughter as a little kid, but I remember the horror and fascination. A group of men and boys, an animal tied up and made to lie on the floor, a butcher and his knife…ready for action.
We watched from where we stood high up in our balcony, me peeking over the ledge with eyes half averted, listening to running commentary by one of my more macabre sisters.
I also can’t recall when the desire to watch the entire spectacle started to fade and began to be replaced by something else, but for a few years now I’ve been trying to pretend there is no such thing as Eid ul Azha.
That’s kind of hard to do when the city is overrun with goats, sheep, cows and camels, every street corner populated with stalls selling cattle food, and banners strung all over the place advertising organizations who will gladly take your animal hides off your hands.
Qurbani, or the ritual of sacrifice is encumbent upon every Muslim who can afford to do so, thereby earning brownie points. We need every bit we can get after all, so engrossed are we in committing sins left and right.
Isn’t it just great of religion to give us these outlets?
So this time of the year makes me squirm for many reasons which not many people around me can understand.
I hate everyone for devoutly fulfilling their religious obligations, yet admire them in equal measure for not having any namby pamby hangups about keeping an animal their children can pet and feed and love….and then eat. People on farms do that all the time, right?
We are a meat-eating nation (and I am not exempt from that classification) and we should be aware of where that meat comes from and Eid ul Azha is a great reminder of that fact. Which is exactly the reason why I hate it, because it is as in-your-face as it gets.
Yes, it is an opportune time to give away meat to poor people who can hardly afford to buy it themselves, and I can’t argue with the inherent goodness in doing this.
But I fell in love with a beautiful cow the other day. It turned its head and watched me from where it was tied to a pole near my sisters house and as I got into my car, our gazes locked. I swear it was a true animal-human moment.
I drove away with a heavy mournful feeling in my chest to think of that cow’s days being numbered. It was so alive, and making eye contact with me, and I couldn’t picture that beautiful big head lying next to its body, being skinned and then cut up into pieces and cooked into haleem and nihari and biryani and paaye.
But that’s how it goes.
The big day finally arrived, and though Huz and I have yet to do our own qurbani (much to Zahooran’s annual disappointment) we went over to my brother in law’s place for lunch, having avoided all the blood and gore in their garden. They had done a cow this year, because doing six goats was turning out to be a little too much. Inflation, I tell you.
My mother in law spoke about the smallness of the cow and how pretty it was, and how nice and pink its meat was, just like mutton. My sister in law wondered aloud why we were cautioned against eating red meat if slaughtering a bigger animal earns more blessings. I dipped my piece of naan in the nihari she had made for lunch and tried to think of the meat I was eating as just meat, not a pretty cow. I also wondered how I could do this.
How could I possibly eat this beef biryani? But I did. I ate it. My stomach didn’t turn, even as I watched a plate of deliciously cooked cow brain disappear.
So despite all my anger, and resentment and skepticism and denial, I am forced to admit no matter how civilized we get, we will still eat animals.
And as my macabre sister rebelliously pronounced yesterday, ‘if I have the guts to eat a piece of meat, I have the courage to look the supplier in the eye.’
Well said Sax, well said. Perhaps this is why you could watch Sweeney Todd and I couldn’t stomach it.
But yes I appreciate the concept of Eid ul Azha, yes I do, though why must it be celebrated with quite so much gusto? I swear, if I have to respond to one more ‘Eid mubarak!’, I’ll just…..kill a goat or something!
In the meantime, I’ll just continue to feel weird and awkward as I acknowledge the fact that we didn’t offer any sacrifices….yet again. Clearly, we’re either too poor, or not pious enough.
And as I sit here dashing off this post, I can hear the plaintive cries of a lonely little goat that has been separated from its family, and my downstairs neighbours are setting up tables and chairs and grills for a big barbecue tonight.
(Check the link below for a photographic journey through the rituals of Haj and Eid ul Azha)