Id ul-zuha (feast of sacrifice), which marks the end of the Haj, Muslims’ annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, is not just a ritual festival. Rather, this three-day-long occasion has a moving spiritual story of sacrifice, submission and supplication to God, evoking deep, humane emotions. It reminds us of our prime task of helping the needy and feeding the hungry. The observance of Id-ul-zuha has been enjoined to inculcate in us the spirit of love, compassion and caring for others.
Going by the Islamic history, this Id is celebrated in remembrance of Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ismail, when God asked him to sacrifice the most precious thing to him. It was none other than his only beloved son whom Allah gifted to him after he spent sleepless nights in constant prayers, asking for a child. However, when Ibrahim had fully prepared to sacrifice his son, God put a sheep in his place. Prophet Ibrahim’s infinite devotion and complete submission to the will of God are the core values that Muslims celebrate during Id-ul-zuha.
Thus, they remind themselves of Prophet’s willingness to sacrifice anything for the sake of God. Muslims sacrifice the halal animals in remembrance of Ibrahim’s devotional sacrifice to God and distribute them to the poor and the less fortunate. However, animal sacrifice is not the core essence of this festival. The holy Quran relays that God does not actually take pleasure in flesh and blood: “Their meat will not reach Allah, nor will their blood, but what reaches Him is piety from you.”
If someone prefers to eat vegetables, then s/he is fully allowed and encouraged. Yes, one thing that Prophet Mohammad discouraged to eat is the cow’s meat. According to hadith, he encouraged his followers to use its milk and asked them to abstain from its meat. While Islam has given permission to eat meat of halal animals, it has not made it obligatory upon Muslims. Clearly, this solemn occasion cannot be confined to only animal sacrifice. We must engage in all virtuous and harmonious acts based on kindness and sharing to achieve the noble objectives of Id-ul-Zuha.
The spirit of charity runs high in this feast. Muslims demonstrate more generosity and eagerness to share joys with the poor brethren of their societies. However, this generosity of spirit must remain alive throughout the year. That is the real purpose of Id.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is an alim (classical Islamic scholar) and English/ Arabic/Urdu writer. He can be contacted at email@example.com