Even though sacrificing an animal during the Eid festival is not obligatory for Muslims, it is recommended for those who can afford to do so, according to both old and contemporary Islamic scholars. As for the poor, or those who cannot afford it, the sacrificing of an animal during Eid is not a religious obligation, even though it is a good tradition.
However, despite this jurisprudential stance with regards to the sacrifice, most families in the Islamic world, the Arab world especially, consider the sacrificing of an animal at Eid an obligatory religious duty for which there must be an allocated financial budget. Even crimes are being committed just to fulfil this “duty”!
A number of news items surfaced in the days leading up to Eid Al Adha regarding the connection between the Eid sacrifice and crime. The daughter of the famous Moroccan singer Layla Ghofran was murdered at the hands of an Egyptian youth who claimed that he carried out the crime to obtain money for Eid. The most important of the Eid expenses is of course the Eid sacrifice. We also received news that six women were arrested in rural Egypt for forging the regional governor’s signature to receive financial aid to help buy an animal to sacrifice for Eid. The women were pardoned for their crime by the governor himself as part of the Eid festivities.
In Morocco, the race to provide an Eid sacrifice began in earnest, and according to the government affiliated L’opinion newspaper, a family that does not sacrifice an animal on Eid feels a sense of defeat and “humiliation”. The newspaper asked “What can we do on Eid if we do not have a lamb to sacrifice…it is a kind of suffering and humiliation when you smell the aroma of your neighbour’s Eid sacrifice.” Ordinary Moroccans, in spite of their financial difficulties and the price of Eid lambs, which can cost as much as 440 Euros, manage to scrape together the necessary amount even if it means resorting to borrowing money.
The people of the Gaza Strip, which has been afflicted by hunger and the Israeli blockade and lacks the bare necessities under the “triumphant” Hamas government, live their lives in waiting. Yet they do not pay as much attention to the availability of electricity and gas, as they do to the availability of sacrificial animals for the Eid festival. Some animals have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip through the underground tunnel and cost no less than US $300, which is very expensive and unaffordable to most people there except the rich (according to Arabia.net).
In Egypt, the insistence of many to slaughter an animal to celebrate the Eid festival, despite their financial inability to do so, has led to the practice of paying for Eid sacrifices in instalments even though the term ‘instalment’ itself has come to be a source of financial fear and economic worry.
As for Saudi Arabia, and other states whose societies are described as “affluent”, the price of a sacrificial animal is generally between 1000 and 2000 Saudi Riyals, which is a difficult amount to obtain for many families who have been affected by the consecutive plummets in the stock markets. Some of these families also sacrifice more than one animal during Eid, as they sacrifice animals for others who have passed away, even though this practice is not related to the traditional Eid sacrifice.
What is the aim of this discussion?
The aim is to stop the collective behaviour of Arab societies, which encourages members and families of these societies to buy items that they simply cannot afford or which they can obtain only with difficulty. Is this merely to strengthen feelings of religiosity, spirituality, and piety? Or is it related to social flaunting of wealth? Or does it go deeper than this; is it related to the rekindling of society’s religious identity, which is the most important aspect in Arab societies?
There are private religious acts, for example praying at home, or the extolment of God by reciting his name [Dhikr] and other private religious practices which do not occur in the public eye, unlike communal prayer, Hajj, or this celebrating of Eid. The celebration of the Eid festival, which entails rushing to buy an animal to sacrifice, and distributing this sacrificial meat to the poor, as well as giving some to friends, family, neighbours, and having some yourself. All of these public performances of religious rituals are annual events that allow for the rekindling of the sense of collective belonging to a larger religious community.
According to a number of researchers in the field of socio-religious research, “performing the religious rites is more than just an individual act. These practices go further than the worship of God; they involve belonging to a system of personal and familial morality whose rules and values are consolidated by a set of assumptions,” (research paper by Farhan Al Deek, Religion in the Arab Society, Page 119, Centre for Arab Unity Studies).
It becomes an issue of strengthening collective religious affiliation, which is even stronger in times of fear or in times of conflict between the modern nation and the ancient collective identity, which relates to the legitimacy of nationality or citizenship. And so an increase in religious practices may be seen during such times of fear and anxiety, while previously these religious practices were performed by Muslims without the need for exaggeration and public passion. Muslims had previously performed such religious rituals, such as celebrating Eid, and performing prayers, spontaneously, and without planning or fabrication.
The puzzling thing here is that if many of us share this determination to scrape together the price of an Eid sacrifice, then where does this determination disappear to when it comes to fulfilling other secondary collective obligations such as the upkeep of our cities, or our collective sense of responsibility towards children, the aged, and towards eliminating violence against women. Where does this desire to create a free society disappear to, the liberty of which is emphasised by the second Caliph Omar Ibn Al Khattab when he famously said, “How dare you enslave people who have been born free?”
In the Arab world, people are complaining about theft, the lack of security, and the lack of collective responsibility, not to mention the lack of “society” which encourages man to live within its boundaries. The level of frustration has increased. But is there a difference between who is complaining and who is being complained about?
If only were as enthusiastic for the sake of our spiritual future as we are about sacrificing an animal for Eid. This is desirable and good, but it is not a “religious obligation” that will lead to a free, dignified, and just life.