Food For Thought During Eid-Al-Adha

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With the dawn of Eid-Al-Adha rising upon many countries around the world, Muslims everywhere are jubilant for the feasting that is about to take place. However, millions of Muslims and onlookers of the Feast of the Sacrifice are less enthusiastic about this Islamic tradition that has been celebrated for many generations.

Although sacrifice is not a pillar of Islam, one could argue that animal sacrifice has become embedded in certain aspects of Muslim society. Ritual sacrifice occurs not only during Eid-Al-Adha, but during weddings, festivals, and other types of Muslim celebrations annually. Animal slaughter is often considered a sensitive topic for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Some Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), as well as in communities throughout North America and Europe, feel pressured and belittled by Western society for practicing an ancient tradition which celebrates both Biblical and Quranic scripture concerning Abraham's sacrifice of a black ram instead of his son, Ismail, to God.

The rights of sacrifice in the Qur'an are quite specific and state that animal sacrifice is meant to thank Allah. The "beauty" which surrounds this particular sacrifice is the sharing element, in which the community shares the sacrificed cow, sheep or goat meat in three parts; one for the family, one share for friends and neighbors, and another part for the poorer community members.

Animals rights activists and lobbyists around the globe are questioning animal welfare and the methods of butchering, which are used to sacrifice the animals for the upcoming holy festival. Some state that there are no regulations concerning the killing of the thousands of animals during this time each year. However, last week, the Egyptian government stated that it will impose fines for those who slaughter animals in the street, as the handling of the animals should be conducted inside specific slaughterhouses.

Halal specialists have argued that there should be more specific rules issued by religious leaders which will guarantee a higher spiritual connection for the practitioners of the sacrifice, and also protect the animals in conditioners which are 100% Halal. On the other hand, numerous Muslims and non-Muslims claim that Christian countries in the west still practice intensive factory farming, which also promotes horrific acts of animal bloodshed and environmental destruction worldwide.

Clearly this issue is not black and white, as there are many grey areas of dispute regarding methods of the sacrificial rituals. However, what should not be disputed is the inhumane way that some animals are treated before and during the Eid celebration. While walking through the streets of Cairo I've seen countless sheep in the back of transportation trucks beaten senseless for no reason, as well as animals standing outside in 100 degree weather in their own feces and urine, without any shade or a drop of water to drink. Is this meat still considered Halal? Won't this meat still be purchased, even though the animals have suffered before their sacrificial death?

Muslims and non-Muslims should not ignore this grim reality. Of course, one could argue that the current economic and political situations in many of the MENA countries make it difficult to buy Halal meat, which is truly considered Halal. However, isn't it worth the extra time to investigate what were the conditions the animals lived in, how they were handled during transportation, and how were they treated during their final moments?

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There are strong beliefs and traditions in Islam which promotes the humane treatment of animals, particularly the ones who will be slaughtered and offered to Allah. "God has ordained kindness (and excellence) in everything. If the killing (of animals) is to be done, do it in the best manner, and when you slaughter, do it in the best manner by first sharpening the knife, and putting the animal at ease" (Saheeh Muslim).

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was known as a kind and peaceful man who advocated for the proper treatment of animals. The Prophet told his beloved followers to "fear God in regards to these animals who cannot speak their will." Let us all remember that during this Eid-Al-Adha.