Vice or Sacrifice? Eid al Adha Revisited

As Muslims, Eid al Adha is one of the best times of the year. A commemoration of the life of our patriarch Ibrahim (as), and the finale to an intense period of worship for both Hajjis and non-Hajjis alike, Eid has always been a time for us to feast, reconnect, and rejoice. And rejoice, we do.

But as the years go on, the slaughterman’s blade has wandered elsewhere. Slowly, the blindfold is being drawn over a different set of eyes. Ours. The invocations are no longer the “Bismillah, Allahuakbar” they have been for generations – rather, they have become unexpressed mantras of persistent self doubt and hesitation, forcing us into a truce whose terms are unclear.

Mapping the terrain

For a generation raised on Reddit and Twitter, the consequences of this truce are all too real.

Our sympathies are inflamed. Firebrand animal rights activists flood the internet, outraged by the cruelty, calling the masses to action over videos of horrified cattle or of roads flowing red with the blood of sacrificial animals back home. The believer, naturally sensitive to this and trying to make sense of it all, is stuck with questions that seem to have no good answer. Why sacrifice now, living in the 21st century and knowing all we know about how bad eating animals is for the environment? How can we celebrate inflicting this suffering on such a large scale? Is this what God really wants from us?

For years, our attempts to answer have been very diplomatic. Eid isn’t some parade for us – it’s a way to honour one of the greatest of men, Ibrahim (as). The meat is distributed to the poor, most of whom don’t have the luxury of being able to afford it. The money sent back home for sacrifice is a major lifeline for millions of farmers across the third world, who depend on the profits of this day to sustain themselves for the rest of the year.1 Plus, in Islam, the wellbeing of animals is so, so heavily emphasized. Feed animals well, don’t overburden them, sharpen the knife, don’t distress the animal by showing others around it being killed, let it die comfortably, and so on.2

Incensed by the anti status-quo sentiment of our times, Muslim responses have become more beligerent. We aggressively call out how animal welfare only seems to become a valid mainstream concern on Eid, and not the rest of the year, where animals continue to live in cramped warehouses, knee deep in their own excrement, unable to stand on their own because they’re chock full of hormones, eventually to be gassed, shot or electrocuted and slaughtered en masse with the press of a button – all for a $5 Big Mac special on myMaccas. We point out how all of this moralising is cultural imperialism at play – how dare we, Australians, who ate 89kg of meat per person in 2019, wag our fingers in disapproval at the Bengalis, Ethiopians and Indians, who ate around 3kg?.3 Even stranger is the development of the akh-right, who not only dismiss the sensibilities of dissenters as fruity qurbani, pansexual, “woko-haramis”4, but seem to have taken eating meat as an identity, as a fard ayn, conveniently forgetting the warning of Umar (ra) that it is an addiction like wine.5


The apologetics don’t seem to end. And that’s precisely the issue – we are constantly approaching this as if we’re on the back foot. 

All of this defensiveness about ritual slaughter doesn’t address the main issue – people, including Muslims, are uncomfortable with displays of blood and the thought of animals suffering. And UNLESS we address this issue, none of these whataboutisms will convince anybody that sacrificing animals on Eid al Adha is a good thing, much less ourselves.

At the core of this discomfort is the issue of disconnection. Much like Marx’s prototypical factory worker was disconnected from the meaning inherent within his labour, not only are we disconnected from the violence inherent to producing our food, we are disconnected from animals themselves.

When I go to Woolies to buy a bottle of milk, I see a label showing cows grazing on lush green pastures, under the gentle gaze of a hardworking farmer. All very wholesome. I don’t see what antibiotics the cow is being fed. I don’t see it on a conveyor line, its udders hooked up to massive milker machines for multiple hours a day. I don’t see it constantly impregnated, its offspring aborted or forcibly removed from it hours after birth, so it can continue producing milk indefinitely. I don’t see its ultimate end, where it’s unceremoniously slaughtered once it’s passed its 4-year use by date and has lost its value as a commodity.6

All of this leads to an interesting paradox. Most of us know the abhorrent conditions our meat is raised in. Despite this, we are eating more meat than ever. Why is that?

Out of sight, out of mind, does explain this partially. But, more fundamentally, we live postdomestic lives. In 1900, 40% of Americans lived on a farm. Today, this figure is at 1%, and continues to fall across the industrialised world.7 Even back then, people lived in close proximity to animals, and saw them being slaughtered for food from childhood. Now, we live in cities, where we buy meat from butchers or in plastic trays from the supermarket, all designed to sanitise the experience as much as possible. The limit of our interaction with animals is to keep them as pets, which we are emotionally attached to.8 The rare times we do see how our meat is made, it’s from behind a screen that can be turned off any time – can you call that reality? 

We can’t simply wash our hands clean of this massive structural change by ditching meat. Even if the whole planet became vegetarian overnight – soils would still need to be intensely farmed to keep up an equivalent food supply.9 How do you replenish these soils without cattle? Millions more insects and birds, essential to the ecosystem, would die, poisoned by pesticide, crushed by colossal harvesters and tillers, their remains smeared across the bread destined to make it to my toaster halfway across the world. Farmers, already income stressed, would lose a serious portion of their holdings, and the disarray would threaten civilizational collapse. All of this is notwithstanding the fate of the animals – deliberately bred as optimal food sources.10 How do you plan to deal with this? Let thousands of birds and bovines free, to destroy what little remains of our native flora and fauna? Euthanize them, Zeke Yeagar style? Bury them in hordes or leave them as rotting carcasses? 

Point being, going vegetarian sounds great on paper, but it is not a choice divorced from violence. Animals live and die in every system of producing food – it’s naive to think that we can get around this by changing our diets a little. Even the holy grail of the futurists – cultured meat, isn’t a magic fix: besides requiring fetal bovine serum (i.e unborn calf blood) as a growth medium, long term, it actually emits more CO2 (thus causing more warming) than conventional farming. 11

To sum up, meat eating is a structural issue that goes far beyond personal ethics. Rational arguments for or against meat won’t get through to people, because the core problem of disconnection is still there. The vast majority of people in Australia have never slaughtered their own meat, or seen where it comes from. Having an intellectual upper hand means nothing, unless you can get people to come to terms with the aesthetic of slaughter.

But this is a monumental task. How do you change the mentality of a generation who has never seen real blood, and who, deep down, are touched by the pleas of the “woko-haram”?

Equivalent exchange

Ever since watching the anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood many years ago, I’ve been enamoured by one of its central ideas – the Law of Equivalent Exchange.

“Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is Alchemy's first law of Equivalent Exchange.”

Alphonse Elric

For my non-weeb friends, this is a show about two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, prodigal alchemists, manipulators of matter into various forms using energy. Distraught after their mother passes away, the brothers gather all the ingredients comprising a human being, and attempt to use alchemy to bring her back to life. Their attempt ends in tragedy – punished by “Truth” for trying to transmute the priceless human soul – Alphonse loses his body and is bound to a suit of armor, while Edward loses two of his limbs. The remainder of the story follows Edward’s long repentance from his hubris, and his attempt to restore his brother’s body. 

Contrary to the unspoken consensus of today – human life has immeasurable worth. It is not some meaningless, arbitrary thing to be spent entirely on merrymaking. As God’s caretakers on this earth, we are the most privileged of his creatures.

"We have honoured the sons of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favours, above a great part of our creation."

Quran 17:70

Part of our privileges as humans on this earth is that we have a lot of leeway in terms of what we can do.

“He it is who created for you all that is on the earth”

Quran 1:29

The classical exegetes generally agree that this ayat means everything on the Earth has been made for us to benefit from – whether this benefit is worldly (via our use of it), or otherworldly (by our reflection upon it).12 Animals fall into both of these – not only does God specify them as riding beasts and pure nourishment made specifically for us, but they are also part of the natural world we are instructed to reflect on – they have their own languages, they praise God in their own ways, and have an intrinsic worth by virtue of being created beings.

Yes, killing the animal involves blood. The smell, the spray all over your clothes, the sight of the animal spasming on the ground – all of this is off putting, overwhelming, and at times, emotional. But in all of this there is a great respect for the animal, and a great realisation of the divine honour conferred upon humanity. Allah has brought this animal into existence, formed and fashioned it through the stages of birth, kept the land lush so it could graze, put it into our stewardship – all specifically for us to gain nourishment from. There is no running from seeing the animal die. But its blood has meaning far beyond satisfying some fleeting carnal desire – no bit of it is ever wasted, it is serving a purpose it was divinely created for. The total sum of all the care and effort in rearing it – this is the value of the moments of human existence it sustains. A metaphysical equivalent exchange, if you will – a reminder of the favour upon us, the ones whose blood has more weight in God’s eyes than the Sacred House, the Ka’aba.13 

So, there you have it. That’s how I justify eating animals.

A way forward?

Look, this isn’t some treatise advocating for eating meat guilt free. I’m not proud of how mindlessly I eat large quantities of animals, or how apathetic I am to the fruits of my gluttony. Most likely, neither are you. But this guilt must be directed properly. 

We need to figure out how we see ourselves in the food chain before we are swept away by the zeitgeist; before being authentic to tradition becomes an object of ridicule and insecurity – an archaic inheritance that our progeny is eager to rid themselves of; before they willingly face the Qibla of the Golden Arches or PETA. The knife isn’t yet at our necks, and the blindfold can be removed – but not if we keep pretending it’s not there. 

I never found armchair philosophy about the problems of capitalist production or moral meat-eater dilemmas compelling. They’re useful as theories, but they won’t change the underlying anxiety Westerners have when they think about killing animals, or their ironic readiness to eat meat despite knowing its origin. I commend the visionaries for their dedication – the boycotters, the vegetarians, the permaculture enthusiasts – but I am not committed enough as a person to follow through with these ideals. I am sure many feel the same. 

But this paralysis by analysis is no way to live. At the very least, we can coalesce on the fact that we need to rebuild our reverence for this planet, and the intricate systems Allah uses to sustain us. And what better time for this than Eid? 

Revive the sunnah. Slaughter your own animal. Make it a day out. Take the family. If you’re too queasy to do it yourself, just watch. Whatever you do, own it, at least on this one day every year. Maybe it’ll radically change the way you see food. Maybe it’ll do nothing. But at the very least, it’s a gesture of respect toward this animal that feeds you. And maybe that’s enough.

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and conclusions presented in these pieces are strictly those of the authors. MYA does not necessarily endorse the personal views of the authors.

David Wong

David Wong

'David Wong' is a recent Engineering graduate. According to him, he's a 'casual reader' and a 'full time poser'.

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Jack Nguyen
Jack Nguyen
2 years ago

Love it man hope you’re doing well, its been ages!!