Are There Other Ways to Share Fortunes with the Needy?
"Qurbani is an Islamic prescription for the affluent to
share their good fortune with the needy in the community." (1)
"The practice of Qurbani began with the time of Prophet
Ibrahim (PBU). According to Muslim belief, one day Allah appeared to the
Prophet in his dreams and commanded him that his only son, IsmaiI be
sacrificed. The Prophet being a pious and a true believer was only
willing to do so. Allah was impressed by his intentions and he was
Qurbani is a ritual in Islam. Every year millions of
Muslims celebrate it. The process begins with the
purchase of one or several cows, goat, or sheep, and engagement of a
butcher who is: (a) a
Muslim by admission; (b)
presumed to be skilled in the art of animal slaughter according to
the prescribed Islamic methodology ('halal'); and (c)
who has the strength to wrestle with the animal if it tries to free
itself due presumably to its lack of love for Allah. The
sacrificial animal's fear for life, a natural instinct, and freedom
to save it seem irrelevant given the godly forces of Muslims, anxious
to set its spirit off to its godly journey soon after its throat is
Recently I raised some questions and concerns about Taqwa
attainment, specific to the month-long fasting before the
Eid-ul-Fitr. This is a follow-up where I will raise some questions
and concerns about the Islamic ritual of animal sacrifice: Qurbani.
In the wake of 091101 tragedy, the religion of Islam has
gained global prominence but not exactly for positive reasons. Due
to political and evangelical motives, many Christians have
systematically mis-portrayed Islam throughout centuries.
Consequently, an undercurrent of prejudice against Islam has existed in
the West for years. Yet, because religion is not predominant in the
primarily secular Western countries, such prejudice has seldom posed
real danger for any Muslim who had thereto migrated. With
church attendance dwindling and the sphere of social influence of
Christian pastors greatly reduced, the influx of Muslims into Western
lands has been arguably a concern for evangelical sentiments. The
tragedy of 0911 let loose much of that prejudice, as it found succor in
equating extremists of Islamic persuasion to the entire
global diversity of Muslims.
In a primarily-religious diatribe against Islam, Franklin
Graham confessed "while I respect the
rights of all people to adopt their own beliefs, I would respectfully
disagree with any religion that teaches people to put their faith in
other gods." (3)
Even though whether Christ was a historical figure or plainly a
mythological creation is at best debatable and when it seems
at least somewhat likely that he probably didn't exist, Mr
Graham's passion for his faith one could empathize with,
but it hardly seems rational. However, Graham also said "In
most countries where Islamic law dominates there is practically no
freedom of religion (not to mention freedom of speech or the press). In
most Islamic countries, including so-called moderate Islamic states such
as Saudi Arabia, it is a crime to build a Christian church, Jewish
synagogue, Hindu temple or any other non-Muslim house of worship. In
contrast, there are about 3,000 mosques in the U.S., with new ones being
built every week." (3)
Interesting contrast in building environments; quite
possibly Graham is accurate in pointing it out. For those writing
volumes on Islam's equal view of all religions and non-Muslims,
how may I ask the grim reality of Saudi Arabia's case, or lack of
freedom of religion in most Muslim countries for non-minorities,
measure up? Recently there has been a hue and cry among
global Muslims against the ban on Hijab from French public schools. Do
the same global Muslims equally protest the lack of freedom of religion
of minorities in many Muslim countries, or the Saudi injunction against
building houses of worship for any other religion? Equal justice,
brothers and sisters in Islam?
Let's not kid ourselves about the glory of Islam's
selectively egalitarian history. Were those more accurate
interpretations of Islam of the Book? I wonder because
other more radical, separatist interpretations, such as the current
Wahhabi version, seem to vie corroboratively of the same Book. The
shards of egalitarian Islamic heritage have resoundingly
failed to alter the minds of Muslim bigots around the world who
thrive on separatism and arbitrary, religious notions of superiority. Clearly,
referring to those at every turn seems irrelevant, unless the
referrals seek to partially subdue global protests
against acts of inhumanity that these bigots either have committed or
admit of intending to commit. In failing
to curb global violence in the name of Islam, reminiscing in
Islamic glory seems more a form of cognitive dissonance
(4, 5) than
anything practical, substantive, and humane.
THEME OF FOCUS
With this global backdrop, Muslims continue to celebrate
Qurbani. How much reflection goes into the celebration, though, I
wonder. Islam is often touted as the religion of peace. Might
there be other, more peaceful and less bloody (from the butchering) ways
rich Muslims could share their good fortune with the have-nots?
What about the balance of the year? Are there provisions for
sharing fortunes throughout the year, or should Muslims
wait until Qurbani to share those, which seems limited to
distributing to the poor 1/3 of the meat of the 'sacrificial lamb'? Is
Animal sacrifice to appease God is perhaps the oldest
religious ritual in the world. (6)
Might it be unpleasant for the Muslim God Allah if a modern Muslim
evaluates this ritual from pre-Islamic times, studying the
reasons why other cultures have abandoned this morbid approach to
please God? We are often told that free, independent thinking is
encouraged in Islam. Without getting into the scope limitation of
that statement from a believer, let's wonder what might happen if a
modern Muslim raises objection against this ritual, proposing less
bloody, more peaceful alternatives to share his/her good fortune with
PHILOSOPHY BEHIND THE MYTHOLOGY OF IBRAHIM'S
The quote (2) above outlines
the general belief behind the ritual of Qurbani.
How does such "command" from God support the oft-touted
perception that He is all loving? Was that a gesture of a loving
God to command his faithful Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismail?
Let's consider the story differently, using a
hypothetical scenario. Divorce is common nowadays. Suppose a
single man without children meets a divorced woman with a child.
The woman loves him dearly. They are both pious people. Being
human, they are also not void of human sentiments that may be
deemed not-too-divine. Suppose the man hates the fact that the
woman was with another man. One day he tells the lady,
"You know, last night I had this bizarre dream. In my dream
Allah appeared and asked me to test your love and trust in me. He
asked me to suggest you sacrifice your child to show your devotion in His
blessing for us as a future couple." Now, if both are
gullible of each other's honesty, how might we feel if the
woman indeed tried to sacrifice her child?
The story remains the same even if the requester was the
woman, single with no children, and the man was the one with a
child, instead. And even if the requester threw in a mannequin at
the last moment and saved the child.
Consider a contradiction. It is claimed by the faithful
that God knows everything. We cannot hide anything from
God, we are told. If Ibrahim was sincere in his devotion and
faith, why did God have to test it? Did God suffer a
lapse in His ever-alertness about everything past, present and
future? Might it be reasonable to wonder whether God is not
really all knowing? Couldn't be a fault of Ibrahim, as
the story didn't clarify that God had reasonable doubt about
In case God suffered a lapse, it would lead to yet
another contradiction. When God returned to His senses, He should
have been able to look into the PAST, including the sliver of time His lapse
lasted, to ensure whether Ibrahim had remained devoted to Him. Could it
be that God couldn't see into the past then, or was it an
exception? Does He know whether similar exceptions will occur in
the future, due to which He might again force another Ibrahim to suffer presumable
and similar psychological pain?
No matter why God resorted to such a cruel
"commandment," the contention seems valid that
He could have found other ways to test Ibrahim's 'true-blue' belief.
God is claimed to have ALL the power. Along with such monstrous,
unlimited power ought to come various options to test a human-slave's
faithfulness--it seems reasonable to contend.
Noteworthy, the story of Ibrahim is from a
pre-Islamic time before Ali suffered that fateful drunkenness,
prompting God to impose a ban on ALL forms of libation for Muslims.
Could we consider it that, perhaps, before the commandment to
Ibrahim, God Himself might have had a bit too much and zonked out,
only to wake up with a hangover? He forgot how much power He
really had--to peek back into the past, glare into the present, and
telescope into the future. And He commanded Ibrahim to
carry out such cruelty? I wonder because, if humans were
indeed created in God's image there could be common attributes, one
of which may very well be the ability to get buzzed. Eggnog,
Does this speculation seem any less rational than
contending the mythology of Ibrahim is so critical that, every
year, Muslims must slaughter billions of cattle to commemorate what
seems essentially a lowly act of cruelty by a dictatorial God? Was
it at all God's concern that Ibrahim could suffer irreversible
psychological damage? Was there an acknowledgement of such
potential damage? Or was it that, as soon as the replacement of
sheep arrived and got butchered in place of Ismail, Ibrahim was
given drugs to numb any psychological pain, inflicted by a
self-aggrandizing God? Or maybe the hapless man forgot about
it all? Hail the Lord, all merciful.
Most likely, the story of Ibrahim is a myth.
Besides, there are many unanswered questions about this heartless
episode of an otherwise-all-loving God. In fact, this cruelty seems so unlike
Him (as per His popular perception) that it might even be
reasonable to wonder if it was Satan who appeared before Ibrahim
initially and, before the latter would actually kill his son, Allah
intervened and threw in the sheep in his place. Granted that might externalize
the issue, placing yet another attribute onto Satan that Allah would
seem unlikely to possess.
But wait a minute. Does anything in this world happen
without Allah's blessing?
The popular belief is, nothing happens without God's
endorsement. By deduction, then, could all acts of cruelty
have occurred with a go-ahead nod from Him? Have
all genocides taken place within the domain of Allah's power, with Him
approving it all, for instance? In this context it would seem apt to kick
in the cliché: "God works in mysterious ways." Yet
following the attributes most faithful dutifully assign to Him, are these
totally far-fetched speculations?
Let's ask ourselves what might happen if global Muslims
should develop a general consensus to adopt an alternative to
sharing their good fortune with the poor? (1)
Might Allah intervene and command them to revert back to
animal slaughtering? What about the right of the animal, too?
We eat cattle as a choice for protein. That choice does not
violate the natural order of food chains. Hence let's not go overboard
and propose we all become vegans, a proposal against
animal cruelty that seems more utopian than realistic, if we should test
its viability by observing nature. Regardless, why must there be only
ONE definition of "sharing our good fortune" in regards to
Qurbani, if Muslims are also "free" to think independently?
Isn't it more a ritual we follow without question, detaching
our senses of ethics and peace in the manner we seek God's blessing?
Could Allah get mad and breathe hellfire over all Muslims, in case they agree
to stop the RITUAL of animal sacrifice to commemorate His dictatorial
cruelty to Ibrahim? Could Muslims skip animal
slaughter for Qurbani for one year and see what happens?
That Muslims actually engaged in independent thinking over this
ought to receive praise from Allah, who encourages such thinking.
Or am I totally on the left field on that inductive reasoning?
Besides numbing our senses to the fact that the
mythology of Ibrahim depicts a cruel, dictatorial God, who contradicted
the claim He knows everything, we also desensitize our young to the
vision of blood gushing
out of the throat of a dying animal, by making it an integral
part of a celebration in His name. It justifies
cruelty and killing in the name of religion or appeasement of Allah. Teach
them when they're young!
Do we ever wonder how such childhood desensitizing may
affect their psyches when children become adults? Do we wonder if
maybe, just maybe, therewith we seed the justifying sentiment behind
civilian murders, committed nonchalantly by Muslim extremists presumably
convinced they were satisfying their Allah--bloodthirsty of all those
who do not OBEY His commandments without question, at least as per
the perception of those extremists?
In the face of rising global Islamic radicalism, these may
not be unreasonable questions and concerns.
[Note from author: I used the terms "God" and
"Allah" interchangeably as they mean the same in the context
of my essay.]