THE TRUE SPIRIT! (My article in Young World on 25th September)

Eidul Azha is just round the corner. As I step into my terrace with my evening cup of tea, I hear happy shouts of children. I peep out of my front door and see a few children of the neighbourhood having the time of their lives, as they race their goats in the lane. A group of those who haven`t yet attained this honour are participating in the celebration by running along, clapping, shouting and urging the goats to run faster.

Some have even managed to sneak twigs from their gardens and are offering it to the goats in the hope that the proud owner will allow him to race the goat for a while.

The most frequently asked questions among the children these days are, `Have you been to the mandi yet?` `When will your dad get the sacrificial animals` and the most troublesome of all `Howmuch did you (or your father) pay for this goat (or cow)? Eidul Azha is steadily becoming a competition, a rat race to acquire the largest or most expensive animal in the neighbourhood, whether it is a goat, a sheep or a cow. Those of us who have paid a hefty sum for their animals display them around proudly, grabbing every opportunity to mention the price. The people who are regular in performing the yearly sacrifice but cannot afford very expensive animals, feel a bit let down. Although they are sure to join the daily ritual of walking and racing of their goats, the feeling of embarrassment is written loud and clear on their innocent faces.

Is this display and competition the real spirit of this festival? Let us remind ourselves about the true spirit of Eidul Azha. This great Muslim Festival, which is second only to Eidul Fitr, teaches us great lessons every year. It is not about boasting how much we can spend or showing off how rich we are. On the contrary, it teaches the lessons of obedience, sacrifice, compassions and how we should share our blessings with those who are not as privileged as we are!

Apart from the religious aspects of the lessons we learn and relearn every year (total submission to the Will of the Almighty), Eidul Azha revives in us social and moral values. The lesson we learn from this festival of sacrifice is universal and applicable to all mankind. It reminds us of our blessings and kindles feelings of compassion in our heart for the poor around us.

Last year, just to check if the meat seller in my locality was charging me the correct rates of beef and mutton, I asked my maid at what rate she was buying these commodities. She looked at me with a rueful smile, “How do I know baji? It is difficult to manage daal roti (lentil and bread) for my big family, I can’t afford to buy meat. We have beef and mutton only at Baqr eid when people like you give us some, or sometimes when a baji like you gives away her leftovers.”

My maid’s reply taught me a disturbing lesson. We have more than one dish at our table each day and one of them is sure to be of meat, whether it is mutton, chicken or beef. But if I look around with a compassionate heart, I feel that I have more of everything than what I really need. And I always took this blessing for granted.

Dear friends, this year when your parents are distributing the meat from the sacrificed animals, urge them to give away bigger packets to the needy. Instead of stuffing our fridges and freezers with the meat, let us think about those who have not been able to afford sacrificing an animal and will so happily and thankfully like to receive some meat from others. These people cannot afford to buy meat otherwise the rest of the year too. Let them have a hearty feast with their families and enjoy the meat for a few days. If possible, make some extra place in your freezers so that you can store small packets for your household helpers, which they can take away after a few days.

Festivals are happy occasions meant to bring people together. They revive in us the spirit of sharing and on Eidul Azha we are taught to do this by sharing the meat from the sacrificial animals so that there is a feast in every home, regardless of status. And you can share your extra clothes, books, toys and other items of daily use which are more than your requirements. Spread happiness among the less fortunate by sharing your blessings with them because, in the end, the spirit of sacrifice, compassion and love for humanity counts, not the size, health or price of the goat, sheep or cow we sacrifice on Eidul Azha!

Two of the main lessons we learn from this occasion are obedience and sacrifice.

Obedience: Most of my young friends know that the sacrifice of animals Muslims make from the 10th to 12th of ZilHaj every year is to commemorate the great sacrifice of the Prophet Ibrahim A.S. He dreamt that he was sacrificing his only son Ismail as Allah had ordained him to do so.

Both father and son had no second thoughts in complying with this Divine Order, but Allah in His infinite Mercy, replaced the little boy with a ram. The lesson we learn from this great sacrifice is universal and applicable to all mankind. We should obey the Almighty without arguing or complaining. Our parents and our teachers are our greatest well-wishers in this world. Often young minds cannot contemplate what they ask or expect from us, but obeying without complaining always brings good results for us.

Sacrifice: Children are the most valuable assets of every parent, who leave no stone unturned to keep them away from all harm. Prophet Ibrahim’s A.S readiness to sacrifice his son on Allah’s command teaches us an important lesson. When we observe Eidul Azha and sacrifice animals, we part with a good amount of our money, but we make this sacrifice to help the people who are not as privileged as we are.

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AND THEN THERE WERE NONE!

3-10-2015…….I posted this blog two years back, hence readres may note a difference in the days mentioned. I still feel the lessons of Eid ul Azha should be re learnt, not only by children but also by grown ups like me!

My house is strangely quiet for the last two or three days! In fact, the street I live on has also lost its extra ordinary hustle and bustle. The happy kids, enjoying the glorious days before Eid ul Azha, are no more to be seen as they are back to their school and home work regimes.

The city was bustling with activity till last Tuesday! Cows and goats were the most sought out living beings treading the earth in our part of the world. Discussions revolved around them, prices and sizes being the most important issues! Mothers had thrown caution to the wind as children came and went out of their homes without any restrictions. Gates which are usually kept tightly closed due to the uncertain conditions in the city were left open, as the kids had to dash in and out at their whims. Sometimes they needed to feed the animals, and at others they just hopped in for a quick snack which most mothers kept handy, as they knew how hard pressed for time their little ones were!

Temporary sheds or tents had been put up in front of various houses to keep the sacrificial animals comfortable and safe from the scorching sun. Goats could be seen strolling around with the kids who also enacted an occasional race, while the cows were usually taken for a walk after the men came back from their workplaces. The bleating of the goats, the mooing of the cows, together with the tinkling of the bells round their necks and the happy laughter and shouts of the kids sounded like music to the ear.

Wednesday being the first day of the three sacrificial days, a major part of the animals were slaughterd as the kids could be seen looking a bit sad, but trying to hide their depression in the Eid merriments and feasting. The second day saw majority of the animals gone, with only one or two goats left in a few houses to be slaughtered on the third day. And finally on Friday all signs of these animals that remained were the adornments and pieces of ropes lying outside houses.

In the three hectic days, meat was distributed amongst the needy, stored in freezers by the home makers and barbecues held or planned by the kabab lovers. Majority of the people were busy in Eid get togethers, lunches, dinners and social visits which are all part of this big Muslim festival.

But now that Eid and all the activities and the excitement related to it is finally over, the street seems quieter than usual! Though the kids still seem to be gripped with the memories of their beloved animals, they have to be pulled back to their normal routines. Mothers are busy arranging and re arranging freezers and always in search for new recipes for the sacrificial meat they have saved! The makeshift comfort zones for the cows and goats have disappeared and on the whole life seems to move back to normal again.

But in all these hectic activities, how many of us remembered to tell our children the true reason behind the sacrifice of these animals? The lessons of obedience, sacrifice and total submission to the will of Allah have to be learned and re learned every year, and as parents it is our duty to teach our young generation about the true spirit of  Eid ul Azha!

The story of Hazrat Ibrahim A.S and Hazrat Ismail, the son who was granted to him in quite an old age, should prove to be an inspiration in obedience for our youngsters. Allah liked the act of total submission to His will by His prophet so much that He made it obligatory for all affluent Muslims to sacrifice animals in His name on that day every year.

Then, when the son reached the age of serious work with him, he said: “O my son! I see in vision that I offer you in sacrifice: now say what is your view!” The son said “O my father! Do as you are commanded: you will find me , if Allah so wills, one practicing patience and consistency!”

So when they had both submitted their wills to Allah, and he laid him prostrate on his forehead for sacrifice, We called out to him “O Ibrahim! You have already fulfilled the vision!” thus indeed do We reward those who do right. For this was obviously a trial, and We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice: And We left this blessing for him among generations to come in later times.

Sura As-Saffat 102-108