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From Prophet Ibrahim’s Devotion to Modern Celebrations: Understanding Eid ul Adha

Jawhar Sircar writes: Eid ul Adha celebrates Ibrahim's devotion, the spirit of sacrifice, and the joy of giving

Most of us are aware that Eid ul Zoha or Eid-ul-Adha — also known as Bakri-Id — celebrates the unflinching faith of Prophet Abraham or Ibrahim to God. The Creator had asked him to sacrifice his son, Samuel or Ismail and the prophet thus tied up the child to the sacrificial post and raised his sword. At the very last minute, Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) called Ibrahim “O’ Ibrahim, you have fulfilled the revelations.” A lamb from heaven was miraculously placed by the Angel for prophet Ibrahim to slaughter, instead of Ismail.

Incidentally, while Muslims insist that this son was Ismail or Samuel, Jews and Christians say he was Isaac or Ishaq. Muslims worldwide celebrate Eid al Adha to commemorate both the devotion of Ibrahim and the survival of Ismail the son with a ram, which was then slaughtered. Eid ul Adha means the festival of sacrifice.

This Eid also marks the final day of Hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca — which is another important event. The festival begins on the 10th of Dhū al-Ḥijjah, the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar and celebrates human bonding.

Groups and families that can afford to sacrifice a ritually acceptable animal (sheep, goat, camel, or cow) do so and then divide the flesh equally among themselves, the poor, and friends and neighbours. Eid al-Adha is also a time for visiting with friends and family and for exchanging gifts.

Depending on the country, the celebrations of Eid-ul-Adha can last anywhere between two and four days. Muslims congregate at the nearest Mosque on the morning of Eid for the Eid Salaah (Eid Prayers) which are extremely important as they convey the meaning of the ritual.

After this, the act of Qurbani (sacrifice) is carried out. The Qurbani meat can then be divided into three equal portions per share; one-third is for the family, one-third is for friends, and the final third is to be donated to those in need. This sharing and compulsory donation to the poor are unique features of Islam.

Muslims believe that only the righteous can cross over to heaven on the Pul-Sirat, the Bridge of Death, and those who had not led a clean life would fall off — into the open jaws of hell. This bridge is finer than a hair and sharper than the edge of a sword. The larger the sacrificial animal the more it feeds, which explains why cattle (that hardly thrived in Arabia) were chosen for this Eid in the East. Crossing over the Pul-sirat became easier.

Traditionally, the day is spent celebrating with family, friends and loved ones, often wearing new clothes or the best attire one has and giving gifts. Community bonding is indeed a great unifier of Islam.

Critics of mass-scale sacrifice shudder at this bloodshed on Eid days but we may also remember that several billions of living creatures, including fish, and birds are slaughtered every day so that more than 6 out of the 7 billion humans can eat. Just because we do not see the slaughter or sully our hands with blood does not mean that they do not happen.

Ten years ago, it was estimated that in Pakistan alone nearly ten million animals are sacrificed on Eid days, costing over $2 billion. The skins of the animals are also sold or auctioned and the proceeds are used for charity or common causes.

The essence of this Eid lies in Surah 22, Verse 37 of the Holy Quran which mentions that it is “Neither their flesh nor their blood (that) reach God, but it is piety that reaches Him”.

Jawhar Sircar

has been an IAS for 41 years, served as Secretary in Central Govt & CEO, Prasar Bharati. Now Rajya Sabha MP

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