Eid-day. A feathery-buttery winter sun. I donned a crisp white shalwar-kameez and attended the Eid-mass -- read Eid Namaz -- with my pals. We were in the last row. A sea of heads lined the countless columns in front of me. Heads with expensive fezzes and heads with subaltern skull-caps on them. The best thing about the Islamic faith is its egalitarianism, the equality in the ranks. No big and small. Rich and poor. All are one before God. Intellectuals and morons, good-looking and ugly. Liberals and fanatics. One-creed! Period.
Now, the most endearing aspect of Eid-al-Zuha -- Big Eid in Kashmir -- is the element of sacrifice. A very close friend of mine, who is not Muslim, asked me sometime back: Why kill animals? Grotesque, ain't it? Two things strike my mind. First, the sacrifice of animals on Eid-day is an Abrahamic tradition. Something that the prophet of Islam -- Muhammad -- didn't start. Now all three Abrahamic religions believe in Prophet Abraham and have actually evolved from his doctrine.
In the study of comparative religion, an Abrahamic religion is any of those religions deriving from a common ancient semitic tradition and traced by their adherents to Abraham, a patriarch whose life is narrated in the Bible, Old Testament, and in the Qur'an. This forms a large group of related, largely monotheistic religions, that includes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and comprises more than half of the world's religious adherents. Another matter, the Big-3 -- Christians, Islamists and Jews -- are at each others throats!
Second, about the actual act of sacrifice. Here the theme is again recurring in these three major religions. In the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Church, as well as among some High Church Anglicans and some Lutherans, the Eucharist or Mass is seen as a sacrifice.
The centrality of sacrifices in Judaism is clear, with much of the Bible, particularly the opening chapters of the book Leviticus, detailing the exact method of bringing sacrifices. Sacrifices have been ordianed either bloody (animals) or unbloody (grain and wine). In the Jewish faith, a sacrifice is known as a Korban from the Hebrew root karov meaning to come close to God.
In the Islamic context a sacrifice is usually referred to as Udhiyah. Udhiyah, as a ritual, is offered only in Eid ul-Adha. Quran is clear here: The event has nothing to do with blood and gore (Quran 22:37: "It is not their meat nor their blood, that reaches God. It is your piety that reaches Him..."). The sacrifice is done to help the poor, and in remembrance of Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son --Ishmael-- at God's command. The son got transformed into a sheep, according to theological texts. The meat is distributed to friends, relatives and to the needy.
Looking at the whole affair from a rationale, objective, modern point of view, one is a little nonplussed. Spilling blood! My friend's original question. The poor creatures have life after all. The Pain of it. Well, we have innumerable chicken, turkey, cattle, sheep, goats and animals of all form -- boars, duck, fish and so on -- slaughtered each passing minute. The world over. The most preferred diet in much of US, Europe, Africa, Australia, large swathes of Asia and even the poles -- south and north -- is non-vegetarian. Studies show that 70% of the world's vegetarian population is : Yeah, you guessed that right: Indian. Again in India 20 to 30% of Indians are estimated to be vegetarians.
Again, experts say that humans have omnivorous set of teeth. More apt for eating meat. We have a digestive system that can digest both veg and non-veg food. Animal diet is an excellent source of proteins, vitamins and nutrients.
Coming back to religion and rituals. Nothing but a set of attitudes, beliefs, and practices! In hindsight, all faiths, we have these allegories...monkeys flying, animals talking, rivers splitting open, ten-headed demons. Sacrifices. Faith as such can be quite an illusion. To my mind, these tales teach us the value of life. They are metaphors, that is what they are. They are more about moral lessons. About being honest, being caring, being loyal, being bold and perhaps, being a wee irrational too.