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Ritual Slaughter is not a pillar of Islam

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By Maneka Gandhi

Islam is not a primitive culture and spirituality. It is the culture of Islam that has led to many of the advancements in human knowledge that are now synonymous with civilisation itself. In India, it is the Muslims that have kept the arts and crafts alive, and the language, Urdu, is amost gentle, mellifluous, cultured means of communication.

But, at the end of the day it is Eid, and the barbarism of that day that moulds popular opinion that Islam is a culture/religion of violence, a people who define themselves by the eating of other beings, impossible to communicate with, illiterate and permanently angry.

It is the largest religion in the world, with shades of complexity as in any other religion, but is still seen as a fringe element, a minority population, whose opinions are backward and aggressive.

It is not for the rest of the world to change its opinion. It is for Muslims themselves to take the first step, and show that they respect the world and all beings in it. Only then will the world, which is eager and waiting, respond with mutual respect and cooperation.

The respect so far has been forced: the Muslim countries own the oil so everyone pays homage. But we are rapidly moving to a post oil world. Then what?

The Muslim theocracy needs to address the issue that bothers most of the world — the ritual slaughter of animals.

Sacrifice is not a pillar of Islam. Nor is it obligatory during Hajj, its accompanying ‘EId or the ‘EId al-Fitr.

Instead of me talking about Bakr Eid – a massacre that gives me such pain that I find it impossible to believe that humans exist who do not feel the same – let the Islamic scholar Shahid Ali Muttaqi, writing in islamicconcern.com, put the sacrifice into context –

1. The Qur’an did not get “sent down” as a blueprint for human society, with a list of do’s and don’ts that were to be magically implemented overnight to form a utopian world. It came over a period of 22 years, sometimes in answer to the prayers of the Prophet, other times in relation to a circumstance within the community, to questions that the faithful had regarding a particular practice, etc., and always with the goal of helping the faithful strive to further know Allah and to live in harmony with both the Heavens and the Earth. The Qur’an itself refers to those verses as having allegorical meanings behind the apparent literal ones.

2. In pre-Islamic Arabia, the pagan Arabs sacrificed to a variety of Gods. So, too, did the Jews of that day seek to appease the One True God by blood sacrifice and burnt offerings. Even the Christian community felt Jesus to be the last sacrifice, the final lamb, so to speak, in a valid tradition of animal sacrifice (where one’s sins are absolved by the blood of another).

3. Islam, however, broke away from this longstanding tradition of appeasing an “angry God” and, instead, demanded personal sacrifice and submission as the only way to die before death, and reach “Fana” or “extinction in Allah”. The notion of “vicarious atonement of sin” (absolving one’s sins through the blood of another) is nowhere to be found in the Qur’an. Neither is the idea of gaining favor by offering the life of another to God. In Islam, all that is demanded as a sacrifice is one’s personal willingness to submit one’s ego and individual will to Allah.

One only has to look at how the Qur’an treats one of the most famous stories in the Judeo-Christian world: the sacrifice of Isaac (here, in the Islamic world seen as the sacrifice of Isma’il) to see a marked difference regarding sacrifice, and whether or not Allah is appeased by blood. The Qur’anic account of the sacrifice of Isma’il ultimately speaks against blood atonement.

37:102-107
Then when (the son) Reached (the age of) (Serious) work with him He said: “Oh my son! I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is Thy view!” (The son) said: “Oh my father! Do As thou art commanded: Thou wilt find me, If Allah so wills one Practicing patience and constancy!”

So when they had both Submitted their wills (to Allah), And he had laid him Prostrate on his forehead (For sacrifice),

We called out to him, “Oh Abraham!”
“Thou hast already fulfilled The vision!” thus indeed Do We reward Those who do right.
For this was obviously A trial

And We ransomed him With a momentous sacrifice.

Notice that the Qur’an never says that God told Abraham to kill (sacrifice) his son. Though subtle, this is very important. For the moral lesson is very different from that which appears in the Bible. Here, it teaches us that Abraham had a dream in which he saw himself slaughtering his son. Abraham believed the dream and thought that the dream was from God, but the Qur’an never says that the dream was from God. However, in Abraham and Isma’il’s willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice —Abraham of his son, Isma’il of his own life — they are able to transcend notions of self and false attachment to the material realm, thus removing a veil between themselves and Allah, enabling Allah’s mercy to descend upon them as the Spirit of Truth, and illuminate them with divine wisdom (thus preventing a miscarriage of justice, and once and for all correcting the false notion of vicarious atonement of sin).

For, certainly, the Ever Merciful, Most Compassionate — would never ask a father to go against His command of “thou shall not kill” and kill his own son in order to be accepted by Him. For the Qur’an teaches us that God never advocates evil (see 7:28 and 16:90) and that only Satan advocates evil and vice (24:21). The notion, that Allah would want us to do an immoral act, runs counter to Allah’s justice.

As far as the yearly ritual of the sacrificing of an animal, that has followed this event, we must understand it in the context that people making a personal sacrifice by sharing their limited means of survival with the poorer members of their community.

That is to say, the underlying implication of Islam’s attitude toward ritual slaughter is not that of blood atonement, or seeking favour with God through another’s death, but, rather, the act of thanking God for one’s sustenance and the personal sacrifice of sharing one’s possessions and valuable food with one’s fellow humans.

So, let us examine some of the appropriate verses in the Qur’an to see what it has to say about sacrifice, and how it related to life in 500 C.E. Arabia.

*“This is the true end of sacrifice, not propitiation of higher powers, for Allah is One, and He does not delight in flesh and blood, but a symbol of thanksgiving to Allah by sharing meat with fellow humans. The solemn pronouncement of Allah’s name over the sacrifice is an essential part of the rite” (Yusuf Ali commentary)

22:37
It is not their meat Nor their blood, that reaches Allah: it is your piety That reaches Him: He has thus made them subject to you, that ye may glorify Allah for His guidance to you:* And proclaim the Good News to all who do right.

It is quite clear from the Qur’anic passages above that humans are commanded to praise Allah for the sustenance He has given them, and that they should sacrifice something of value to themselves to demonstrate their appreciation for what they have been given, and share it with the community.

Animals are mentioned in the Qur’an in relation to sacrifice only because, in that time, place, and circumstance, animals were the means of survival. But let us not assume for a minute that we are forever stuck in those circumstances, or that the act of eating meat, or killing an animal is what makes one a Muslim.

To utter “Ashhadu an la ilaha illa-Llah, wa ashhadhu anna Muhammadan rasulu-Llah” is what makes one a Muslim. The understanding that there is “No God, but Allah.” This is the heart of Islam. Animal sacrifice, or meat eating, does not make you a Muslim.

Meat-eating (and in relation to it, animal sacrifice) is not intrinsic to who the Prophet (sal) was, or to what he preached.

The time has come for all true Muslims, be they Sunni or Shi’a, Sufi or otherwise, to stand up for the universal standards of justice and compassion that the Prophet (sal) not only spoke of (both through Hadith and, more importantly, as the receiver of the Qur’anic revelation), but actually put into practice. However, for those of us who no longer need to kill in order to survive, then let us cease to do so merely for the satisfaction of ravenous cravings which are produced by nothing more than our Nafs (or lower self). That would truly be the Sunnah of the Prophet (sal).

(To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)