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Of sacrificing animals and being humans

  • Published at 03:51 pm September 8th, 2016
Of sacrificing animals and being humans
It should not miss any committed Muslim that when he takes the life of his sacrificial animal, it is a symbolic practice of where he spiritually should stand with his creator. In doing so, he relives the spirit of the great event that his exemplary monotheistic father Ibraheem (a.) underwent, when he was asked by Allah to take the life of his dearest son Isma’il (a.) in an unprecedented show of sacrifice. Seeing his sincere intention, Allah accepted his sacrifice and relieved him from the heart wrenching aftermath. He was sent a sheep to be sacrificed instead. Unfortunately the spiritual aspect seems long gone and what remains is an insipid, cold hearted, and seemingly brutal symbolic imitation today. This loss of spirituality can be traced in different facets of the occasion, but this small piece will center towards only one – our lack of empathy towards the sacrificial animals. Mercy towards the animals is a must in Islam – even to the ones that are soon to be sacrificed or slaughtered for food. Islam entails mercy in everything and made it a condition to get mercy from Allah in reciprocation. The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said succinctly: “The merciful ones, they are the ones on whom the Most Merciful (meaning Allah) has mercy. Show mercy to the dwellers of the earth, the Dweller of the Heaven will show mercy to you” [narrated by Abu Dawud, at-Tirmidhi, and others]. This principle is not lost in the curious case of the animal being sacrificed. A man came to the prophet (pbuh) asking: “O Messenger of Allah! Am I to show mercy to a sheep that I am sacrificing?” The Prophet (pbuh) replied: “If you show it mercy, Allah will show mercy to you.” [Narrated by Hakim] What constitutes mercy to a sacrificial animal? The prophetic traditions are full of examples and axioms in answering that question. It is not in the scope of this article to do an in-depth analysis. What it will do is simply touch on three aspects. Firstly, the way these animals are carried, brought, and kept before and after they are sold is important. Often they are jam-packed in trucks and carriers where they can barely breathe freely. For a number of days, they are ill-treated, ill-fed, and ill-kept in claustrophobic circumstances. It is well understood that managing the enormity of the number of animals in one of the most populous countries is a mighty challenge. Nonetheless, even the most forgiving observer would agree that the situation can be improved. Principally, we need to understand from a religious viewpoint that we should not only look at the convenience of the buyers and sellers, but equally important, at the convenience and ease of the animals as well. We ought to realise that until the animals are sacrificed, we assume the role of their caretakers and we might even have to be accountable for how well we play that role. In a chilling narration, the second caliph ‘Umar (ra.) said with grave concern: “If a camel dies in the bank of Euphrates in estrangement, I fear that Allah will hold me accountable for it.” In another account ‘Umar was seen flogging a camel owner saying: “Why do you burden your camel to the extent it is not able to carry?” [Narrated in Tabaqat of Ibn Sa’d] Secondly, before the slaughtering of a particular animal, it should not be kept in circumstances that are fearful and distressful to it. A sad practice, absolutely contrary to the teaching of Islam yet quite common in our country, is the mass slaughtering of animals simultaneously in full view of the animals waiting to accept the same fate. The prophet (pbuh) once saw a person who kept the sheep lying to be slaughtered while sharpening his knife in its view. He scolded him saying: “Do you want it to die twice? Couldn’t you sharpen it before positioning it in the ground?” [Narrated by Tabarani and Hakim]. It is implied that by positioning it for slaughtering and sharpening his tool before it, the man is causing the poor creature a death before the actual death, due to the psychological harassment it is going through. What stops us from creating simple slaughter cells made of curtains, for example, so that the actual scene of slaughtering can be blocked from the views of other animals in the waiting? All the slaughtering, cutting and hacking tools can be kept in these cells as well, so that the animals who are waiting have the smallest idea and meet their fate in the least anxious way possible. Lastly, the death of the animal, from the moment of slaughtering, should be ensured as easily and comfortably possible. The knives to slaughter with should be fully sharpened to facilitate a quick and fast slaughter and not cause unnecessary pain to the animal. The prophet (pbuh) said: “When any of you slaughter he should perfect the slaughtering. He should sharpen his blade and spare his animal (from pain)” [Narrated by Muslim]. Effort should be made to position the animal in way, causing it as little discomfort as possible. Umar (ra.) once saw a man dragging a sheep by its leg to slaughter it. He said: “Woe to you! Lead it to its death with a comfortable lead.” [Narrated by Abdur Razzaq] We should remind ourselves that this animal stands as a symbol of what could have been the sacrifice of our most prized possession, just like it was Isma’il (a.), the apple of the eyes of father Ibraheem (a.). We are absolved from giving such a tremendous test. The least we can do in return is to be spiritually awake in staying humans – commemorating the greatest sacrifice of all. Let our animals be witness to that.
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