Hajj in Sri Lanka is a time when pilgrims go to Mecca or celebrate it at home, sometimes sacrificing an animal as per Islamic rites, but there are underlying political ramifications
It’s Hajj season again. From all over Sri Lanka, a few thousand fortunate Muslims have already left to perform the pilgrimage, a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for those who can afford it, joining hundreds of thousands more in Mecca. The Hajj is considered the pilgrimage of Abraham and has been practised ever since the time of that prophet, peace be upon him.
But the time of Hajj is also significant to those who remain in their homes. According to Muslim belief, good deeds carried out in the first ten days of the month of Hajj bear great merit in the eyes of Allah. Aside from fasting, charity and reflecting on the Qur’an, a special good deed carried out by Muslims is the Uduhiyyah or the Hajj sacrifice.
In Sri Lanka where Muslims are a minority, the sudden rise of animal slaughter during Hajj has sometimes drawn the ire of Buddhists and attracted negative publicity over the years. This is especially significant now in a climate where certain political opportunists are spurring ethnic rivalry between Muslims and the Sinhalese.
Here in Sri Lanka animals are killed on a daily basis for meat, and this goes largely uncontested. The majority of Buddhists also eat meat, though many abhor beef. The beef industry is largely monopolised by Muslims and has always been a target for those seeking political gain.
Furores also arose in recent times in Sri Lanka over ritual sacrifice of animals in the Hindu Kovil of Munneswar, led by a senior minister, but backed by a faction of the Buddhist clergy. The sacrifice was allowed to go ahead despite protests as the penal code in no way prevents the slaughter of animals in the country.
The issue is not the slaughter of animals per se, but the graphic display of slaughter that can sometimes take place during Hajj, or other religious festivals that can be used by opportunistic forces to stir up trouble in the name of religion. And when Muslims themselves neglect to follow proper Islamic protocol in carrying out the sacrifice, the issue is only exacerbated.
Openly displaying the animal to be slaughtered, letting its dying cries be heard by neighbours and unhygienic disposal of waste matter is guaranteed to rub people up the wrong way. These practices are frowned upon in Islam in accordance with the Prophet Muhammad’s (may peace and blessings be upon him) example of respect for the faith and sentiments of non-Muslims. And of course hygiene is a central tenet of Islam (the Prophet is reported to have said ‘cleanliness is half of faith’). The above was highlighted in Friday sermons throughout the country on the Friday preceding Hajj.
Muslims must understand that religious obligations can still be fulfilled without hurting the feelings of non-Muslims (it’s probably better fulfilled that way), and non-Muslims must understand the significance of the act and the importance Islam places on animal rights. They should also not be led astray by misconceptions and political opportunists.
The Qur’an explicitly states that animals can be used for human benefit (Qur’an 40:79-80) and it stresses equally that animals have their own lives and existences that must be respected and honoured by man (Qur’an 6:38, 24:41). This may appear contradictory, but Islam teaches that all objects, from plants to stars, exist in submission to the will of Allah. And on Earth, man is the ‘vice-regent’ of Allah and can use the planet’s resources in accordance with Islamic law. This law is strict on preventing abuse however, and when it comes to animals, prohibits overworking, overburdening and the infliction of cruelty on them and allows hunting only for the sake of food.
Some claim the Islamic method of slaughtering animals is cruel. But in fact it is a humane and hygienic way of killing a beast. The cutting of the throat, windpipe and the blood vessels in the neck (the spinal cord is kept intact) prevents the flow of blood to the nerves that cause the sensation of pain in the brain (the animal struggles and writhes due to muscular contraction). All the blood is drained, blood being a medium for germs and bacteria, which ensures that the meat is clean and stays fresh far longer.
Before being slaughtered, the animal must be treated with kindness and given food and water; it is prohibited for instance, to sharpen a knife or to slaughter another animal in front of it.
The significance of the Hajj sacrifice is the commemoration and remembrance of the devotion of Abraham (peace be upon him). In a divinely inspired dream, Abraham saw himself sacrificing his oldest son Ismail to Allah. When he told this to Ismail, Ismail asked him to obey the command and said that he would be patient with the will of God. But when the blade descended upon Ismail’s neck, it failed to cut; Allah did not take the life of Ismail, providing a ram to be sacrificed in his stead.
This act of complete submission on the part of Abraham is remembered by Muslims worldwide by sacrificing a lamb, cow or another suitable animal. They keep one third of the meat for themselves, give one third to neighbours and friends and the final third to the poor, ensuring that no one goes hungry during the feast of Eid-Ul-Adha, the Hajj festival.
The day starts with a congregational prayer in the mosque. Muslims celebrate by visiting family and friends, exchanging gifts and remembering and thanking Allah for His blessings. The sacrifice of an animal is purely a measure of faith, as the Qur’an says “it is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah: it is your piety that reaches Him.”(22:37).
Image from: The British Museum
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