EID AL AZHA DURING PANDEMIC

Bakr-Eid is approaching. During the three days of Bakr-eid, Muslims the world over observe the Abrahamic ritual called Sunnat-e-Ibrahimi and offer the sacrifice of a halal animal. The meat is distributed among the poor, friends and neighbors, plus extended family. A part thereof is consumed by the family offering the sacrifice. All meat shops are closed during the week that follows Bakr-Eid because there is so much meat possessed by households that no one feels the need to buy meat from the market.

In the run up to the Bakr-Eid, huge halal animal markets are put up in different parts of cities, where traders from rural areas bring their animals for trade. Goats, lambs, cows, oxen, buffalos, and camels are bought and sold in these markets. Buyers take the animals home and nurture them further for whatever time the animal has with the family. On the day of Eid, at dawn, the ritual of sacrifice begins. Individual animal slaughterer called Qisai are in huge demand during the three days of Bakr-Eid. These are men who are trained in slaughtering a sacrificial animal. They go from house to house to slaughter the animal in front of each household, whose senior most member recites verses from Quran before the slaughter begins. The Qisai makes pieces of the animal meat and hands them over to the household, collects his wages and moves on to the next house on his list of households with whom he has entered into prior appointment for rendering his service during Eid. The rest of the job belongs to the lady of the house, who spends hours sorting the meat out, distributing different parts as prescribed, and cooking a special celebratory meal for the family and other guests as the case may be.

It has been announced by the authorities in Pakistan that the customary animal markets will not be allowed for Bakr-Eid this year due to Covid-19 pandemic. The authorities fear that traditional animal markets can be a cause of further spread of Covid-19 in Pakistan. It follows that animal sacrifice will not be taking place either.

This is an inadequate stance. Traditional animal markets should indeed be disallowed, but it falls upon the government to arrange alternative modes of observance of the yearly religious ritual. Small scale rural farmers rely on income from sale of animals during Bakr Eid to cushion them through the year. Even if animal markets are allowed in certain places, Covid-19 could make customers shun them, leaving farmers in the lurch. Government has an obligation to make policy for traders and consumers alike that provides for safe and hygienic observance of Sunnat-e-Ibrahimi. Muslims are not going to be comfortable with scrapping the ritual altogether, more so during pandemic emergency. The ritual is based on religious history that describes how Hazrat Ibrahim Alay Salam (Abraham)’s devotion to God was tested by the almighty who ordered the former to sacrifice his own son to prove his devotion to God. Prophet Abraham discussed the matter with his son Hazrat Ismael. The latter told his father that he feels honored being the one chosen to be sacrificed in the cause of God, and urged his father to carry out God’s orders as early as possible. Hazrat Ibrahim ( Prophet Abraham) took his son to a mountain top to make the sacrifice, whereupon his son Hazrat Ismael took a rope out of his pocket and gave it to his father with the request that Hazrat Ismael’s hands and legs be tied with it. Hazrat (Prophet) Ismael explained to his father that being human, he may get afraid when the ax is coming down on his neck and may move from his place out of fear. Hazrat Isamel is also believed to have told his father that his movement made in fear may shake his father’s resolve too, hence he should tie his son down. After Hazrat Ismael was tied with rope, he laid his neck down to be axed while reciting devotional prayer to God. As Prophet Abraham was about to ax his son’s neck, the voice of God ordered him to stop. Divine voice told Abraham that he had passed the test of loyalty to God and was hereby chosen for the divine mission. Prophet Abraham (PBUH) was ordered to sacrifice a goat and distribute its meat to the poor, the neighbors and the extended family and make a feast for his family out of a portion of the sacrificial meat. Prophet Abraham did exactly that and went on to becoming the founding father of the Abrahamic religions called Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Hazrat Mussa Alay Salam (Prophet Moses) Hazrat Essa Alay Salam (Prophet Jesus) and Hazrat Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) are believed to be from the progeny of Prophet Abraham, direct descendants of Abraham.

Muslims observe the Abrahamic ritual once every year and call it Bakr-Eid or Eid-al-Azha. Those who have sons and are wealthy, scarify one halal animal for each son. Otherwise, one household offers the sacrifice of one animal, if it can afford it. Over the years, several households have developed the practice of contributing to the purchase of a big sacrificial animal such as cow or camel. The seller then distributes the meat evenly to each contributor. Muslims believe the ritual of sacrifice wards off evil and devil’s machinations against humanity. Muslims feel they have secured themselves and their progeny after observing sunnat-e-Ibrahimi each year.

Needless to mention, Pakistanis are in dire need of the psychological comfort of feeling they have secured themselves from evil during this unprecedented time of pandemic breakout. Their state has not been able to handle the pandemic well for them. There are rising numbers of sick ones and the health care system is expected to collapse any day if the rise continues. All that Muslim households have for solace in this trying time is their devotional prayers. They will not be at ease giving up on the one ritual they know as provider of security for themselves and their family.

Covid-19 is a golden opportunity for Pakistan to introduce better, more hygienic practices in observing the ritual of animal sacrifice during Bakr-Eid. The selling of animals in makeshift temporary markets for captive consumers has often led to price hikes that no one has any control over. Slaughter of animals at household levels means a very high level of compilation of animal waste such as intestines, etc. While animal hides are donated to charities who have designed their own system of collection, the rest of the waste lies piled up in garbage dumps all over urban areas, from where it is not collected for days due to Eid holidays. Low income neighborhoods suffer the most. They live in attached houses surrounded by narrow alleys. The stench of animal refuse gets to be unbearable. Wild cats and dogs abound and vultures hover over the neighborhood, each posing threat of its own to residents.

No one has been able to do something to ease these burdens on society because the powers that be have not felt the need – at least not a pressing need. People live with the temporary mess and life moves on.

This year, the government of Pakistan has an opportunity to introduce better Bakr-Eid practices. Here is what they should do.

Help traders establish online animal and sacrificial markets and design a regulatory framework for the trade. Develop a licensing system for establishing online sale of Qurbani animals. Each trading outlet must have licensed veterinary doctors who issue certificate for each animal, declaring that it is fit to be sold for sacrificial purpose. Islam has laid down certain guidelines for the purpose. Virtual tours of online markets should be arranged for consumers. Each animal should be allocated a number, to be used as reference number during transaction. The same number should appear on the certificate of fitness signed by the concerned veterinary medical expert for each animal. The price of each animal, per weight in kilograms, should be set by the government. Traders should not be allowed to charge more. If any trader charges more, laws should be made to make the trader accountable to the state and the consumer.

Virtual viewing of the process of sacrificial slaughter can be arranged for consumers by giving them an online registration number and password generated by virtual platforms such as Zoom and others. Consumers can recite the prayer while viewing their sacrificial animal being slaughtered in accordance with their religious beliefs. A screen shot of each animal bought online, preserved by the consumer on his personal device to facilitate identification, will suffice for the purpose of verification. Consumers will have the satisfaction of knowing the animal they are viewing being slaughtered is the one they bought. The reference number of the animal on the certificate of purchase issued by the trader will be attached to the animal as it is sacrificed and can be shown to the consumer before slaughter begins.

All sales, all bookings, should be finalized online and receipts issued online for each transaction. For those Pakistanis who do not use credit cards because they do not want to deal in interest or don’t have enough liquidity for the purpose, alternative means of purchasing online animals should be introduced. These can be direct payment into trader’s bank account, use of easy paisa, Jazz Cash and other such methods prevalent in the market.

An SOP should be made for traders to observe during sale of animals. A standardized form should be prepared to be filled in by traders and consumers both. It should include description of how each consumer wants the meat delivered, either through collection in a drive by process or at his/her residence. For consumers who require meat portions pre-packed for distribution, traders can prepare neat packages made for the purpose. Some may require different portions cut a certain way for consumption. Details such as these and delivery date and time should be settled in advance in all online transactions.

Dumping of animal trash must be regulated by the government. SOP must be established and dumping grounds earmarked for the purpose. These must be situated at a safe distance from residential areas yet convenient for traders. Roof tops of certain high risings that are not near residential areas can also be assigned for the purpose. Rural forests can also be assigned to feed the wild animals. Traders will use trucks for dumping animal trash and the practice will not cause health hazard for population.

Laws must be devised for consumer and trader protection alike. It can be done through a presidential ordinance during pandemic emergency and enforced all over Pakistan.

The best part of this plan is that it will streamline the practice of sunat-e-Ibrahimi for all times to come and improve it at all levels, i.e, it will ensure safe practices in animal rearing because of mandatory health checks and certificates that carry the guarantee of individual veterinary doctors, certifying no hormones are used to fatten the animal, pricing that is regulated per Kilogram weight of each animal bought and sold, viewing of animals by consumers online on Zoom and other platforms, ensuring safer and transparent marketing practices, distribution that is hygienic and employment of work force with guaranteed fixed wages. Hides will go to charities that are security cleared in a transparent manner.

Online markets can also deliver animals to consumers at latter’s homes, after the same have been purchased online, should the consumer prefer to conduct Qurbani at home. Delivery service will generate much needed employment in Pakistan. Pakistanis are in dire need of income due to pandemic lock-downs and related issues.

Telling citizens they cannot observe the ritual this year is likely to backfire. Government will cut a sorry figure when the masses go on to establishing animal markets in the manner they are accustomed to, paying no heed to government’s orders. Authorities will invite rebellion when they clamp down on citizens and prevent them from doing what their religion has ordained for them. There will be bigger mess than ordinarily happens during Baqr Eid, making for higher prices as traders raise the cost of animals because of having to cope with security issues, etc, and as cleaners do not show up in timely manner to clear animal waste because it is created while disobeying government’s orders.

A calamity can be an opportunity for doing better.

Author: Zeenia Satti

Zeenia Satti lives in Islamabad, Pakistan, where she works as Executive Director at Pakistan's People Led Disaster Management. She is also a political analyst and columnist. She has studied Middle Eastern Affairs at Harvard University, USA. Follow her on twitter@zssatti.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s