Leaving Islam





Qurbani: Are There Other Ways to Share Fortunes with the Needy?


By Syed M. Islam 


"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 blessed." (2) 

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 slit. "Allah-u-Akbar!" 

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


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 that enough? 

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 the poor? 


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 his devotion.


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, anyone? 

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.





(1) http://qurbani.com/about.htm

(2) http://qurbani.com/whyqurb.htm

(3) http://www.covenantnews.com/graham.htm

(4) http://tip.psychology.org/festinge.html

(5) http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/print.asp?page=story_7-12-2003_pg3_2

(6) http://www.winternet.com/~swezeyt/bible/oldestrit.htm


[Note from author: I used the terms "God" and "Allah" interchangeably as they mean the same in the context of my essay.]







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