Eid al Adha is called Baqreed in the sub-continent. The word Baqreed evokes sights, sounds and aroma of carefree celebrations of my childhood, full of good will and mirth. There were certain well-established rules about the sacrifice, by the grownups. I did not understand them well, but the part I did understand was that we ate delicious food and played in new outfits, received cash gifts from parents, aunts and uncles and splurged on all sorts of toys.
And yes, my father encouraged us to give a healthy chunk of our "loot" to the poor on our way back from the congregational prayers. The charity was for all in need, irrespective of religion. Throngs of friends and well wishers from all religions visited my grand parents with good will and enjoyed our hospitality.
Eid-al Adha falls in the beginning of January this year celebrated at the culmination of Haj. Muslims, who can afford, sacrifice an animal in the name of God to commemorate the well-known story of Abraham’s intended sacrifice of Ishmael. In Christian and Jewish traditions it is Isaac instead of Ishmael. The story is well known, but the idea goes beyond the sacrifice of an animal.
Commemoration is only a part of the sacrifice. The other part is sharing the food and bounty with friends, but the most important part is sharing with those who can not afford, feeding and clothing the poor. Come to think of it, the core of all our festivals is thanking the almighty and sharing with the poor.
In arid Arabian Peninsula, a major part of the wealth was measured in the number of sheep, camels and the grazing rights. Meat was the staple of existence. The sacrifice of a sheep or a Camel and distributing it to the poor was an act of piety.
Haj in pre-modern times was a once in a life time major undertaking in money, compounded by enormous hazard and months required to travel. Now the travelling part is very easy, the main problem is how to accommodate all the pilgrims for Haj and thus restrictions on numbers.
Many scholars think, the principle is to sacrifice material and intellectual things that are most dear to us, for the sake of God. The most difficult thing to sacrifice is our ego. Most of us are guilty of excessive ego. Unfortunately, I am more guilty than most. Let us resolve to oppose those who through words, funds and violence injure others, but be patient, keep our egos in check and try to understand those who differ from us and are living a life of struggle in peace, as most humans do.
As in all human understandings, there are differences of opinions about the sacrifice as well. Some consider it absolutely essential that every male personally should sacrifice an animal, others buy the animal, but professionals do the sacrifice. There are others who send the requisite amount to charities, in the last two years to the Tsunami victims or the Earthquake victims in Kashmir. There are Muslims who are vegetarians; they send the money to be used for the welfare of the disaster victims or the poor in the community.
I have heard very cogent arguments from people of all persuasions. The important thing to remember is that in the realm of all knowing all mighty, it is the purity of intention that counts, and no one can judge the intentions except God. Let us celebrate Eid-al-Adha in the spirit of humility and acceptance of others innermost urges and beliefs. Our best wishes to all of humanity irrespective of beliefs, in the tradition of my forefathers.