“Understanding the Lessons of The Feast,” By Amjad Mohamed-Saleem

Posted on November 5th, 2011 | Filed under InterViews

In a few days, it will be The Great Feast of Islam and Muslims (Eid al Adha) symbolizing the culmination of the pilgrimage to Mecca; a few days of light, fraternity, and love are intended to  symbolize meditation, a return back to the Creator, blessings and prayers for peace.

Yet, even as we are observing that this noblest of occasion, we find that it has seen custom transform into duty and practice descend into commercialization and waste: waste of money, waste of meat, waste of food.

In preparation for the feast, over the last three weeks, you would have been bombarded with emails, text messages, and adverts on who offers the better deal on doing one’s Qurbani at a competitive price.  The hadith of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) to “compete to outdo one another for the good things” has become symbolized by market forces as "charities" outbid each other to offer the best price to slaughter a cow, sheep, or goat around the world.

And so, the most noblest and holiest of acts of worship has been denigrated to shopping around like buying a car: "Where is the best price for a cow, goat, or sheep, so that I can get a happier recipient and thus a better reward in the Hereafter?"

And so like in any market system, there are problems such as the manipulation of prices, corruption, and abuse as suppliers try to meet the demands for slaughter.

In the essence of rushing to seek that instant satisfaction of redemption, we trivialize the essence of the need on the ground.  No--the poor, vulnerable and needy do not have meat, but no one stops to ask whether giving them meat for a day would help improve their lives or if doing something else is needed.

Therein lies the problem--the closure of  space for reasoning, debate, and rational thinking about faith, spirituality and practice. A symbolic and recommended (not obligatory) act of worship in remembrance of the Prophet Ibrahim’s (Peace be upon him) sacrifice becomes a literal obligation of animal sacrifice, so that the blood flows deep and the distribution of meat becomes the anchor for the duty.

We have forgotten what the sacrifice is supposed to symbolize.  The story and lesson of Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail (Peace be upon them) deserve to be shared, remembered, and celebrated.  The conversation between father and son in this most hardest of scenarios bears serious contemplation.  In the height of challenging circumstance, the consultation of a parent with his child and the firm but soft acceptance of a parent’s wish by a child highlights a dying relationship in the world today.

Very often, as older people, we neglect to pay those younger than us the respect of equal treatment, often speaking down to them or dismissing their views.  As younger people, we are often quick to rebel against the wishes of the older (and often wiser) generation.  Though such relationships can be open to abuse, this story reminds us of the delicate balance that is necessary in human relationships to ensure respect, understanding and acceptance.

Through showing the ultimate sacrifice of a parent’s closest and beloved possession for the sake of the One to whom you will eventually return, we are taught that whatever we own and are close to pales in comparison to the ultimate possession that we have: Our relationship with The One Most High.  This sacrifice coming at the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca is the very essence of the celebration. In our journey back to the beginning, how much will we be able to sacrifice?

This sacrifice not only reminds us to be thankful for all the blessings that we have, but to be content with them.  We are asked to keep in check our greed as whatever excess we have we are encouraged to share with those who deserve special attention - the poor and needy people, as well as the orphans.  This is the true meaning of the sacrifice that we make so that those in need will benefit.  So the question becomes, is it the principle or the actual act of sacrifice that we need to be thinking about during this time?

The significance of the hajj includes the principle of the sacrifice and the message: "To serve humanity, those in need; those without... To awaken your conscience in the proximity of the wounds and the injustices people face...To move away from your heart, your bad thoughts…To distance yourself from the darkest dimensions of your being, your violence, your jealousies, your superficialities."

By not allowing space for discussion to examine these ideas and principles, we negate the very concept of our heritage and teachings.

For the benefit of the voiceless, it is imperative that we not lose our way by being driven blindly by traditional practices or by commercialization, and to return to the very essence of the message that is part of all Abrahamic Faiths: respect and love of human beings (especially those who are vulnerable and have been unjustly treated). This is a manifestation of the love for the Almighty.

So this festive season, let us return to the essential.  Let us remember that this is, more than anything, a feast of fraternal atmosphere that is shared by all.  Thus, in reaching out to address the true objective of spirituality through prayers and good deeds, let us remember the responsibility we have to the poor.  Let us avoid the waste and, more importantly, the wasted sacrifices.

May the Almighty, who loves you, guide and protect you.  May there be peace and respite for all those who are suffering. May you spend time with your loved ones in an atmosphere of happiness; Happy Feast!

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