The spirit of giving

August 2, 2020

Eid should be about sacrifice, not slaughter

Dear All,

Eid is, presumably, a time for gratitude, compassion and community; a time for togetherness and generosity. However, every time Eid comes around, I am astonished by how so many people miss this point and focus instead on the very literal and ritualistic aspects of the festival. The recent occasion of Eid ul Azha is a case in point.

This is a festival that is about sacrifice. But what’s happened in Pakistani communities is that this Eid has become not about sacrifice but about slaughter, not about helping but about meat.

I was speaking about this to friend a few days before this Eid and she mentioned how they were planning to manage the animal sacrifice for Eid this year. I suggested that instead of giving an online site money in order to slaughter an animal and distribute the meat remotely, consider giving the money where it is most needed in the local community? My take on this is that while many people are providing food, what many underprivileged people really need now is a way to overcome the digital divide. My view was that it’s more helpful and far more thoughtful to spend the qurbani money on giving laptops or telephones to students or businesses these devices can really make a difference to their lives.

In the post-Covid-19 world digital access should be considered a basic right. In the last UK election, this was spelt out in the Labour Party manifesto where free broadband was promised to every citizen. People scoffed at the idea at that time but just a few months later the epidemic and lockdown illustrated how valid the Labour Party’s point was: during lockdown when online learning and working from home became the norm, those without the digital access were being left behind and excluded.

Take education for example: with lockdown in place educational institutions moved all their teaching online. Which was fine for those with broadband and computers but not so fine for households without. Obviously the students without laptops and wi-fi were at a major disadvantage no matter how bright or high achieving they may have been. One mother interviewed for a TV news report talked about how she had five children and they each had to take turns using her phone to access their schoolwork as that was the only available device in their household.

Life under lockdown has exposed the seriousness of the digital divide and the inequalities of a world where free broadband is not a right. In the UK there are a number of schools and organisations working to get laptops to underprivileged children, but the need is still great. The need is probably even greater in Pakistan, yet this Eid people still seem obsessed with animal slaughter. Why not instead try to give a student or a family the gift of technology? A laptop - even a recycled one - can make a huge difference to a student who does not have one. It can also make a difference to somebody running a small business as they might then be able to move most of their work online. Okay, meat can provide some protein but it’ll last all of one meal, surely it’s better to ‘sacrifice’ the animal buying and instead use the money to help people get a fair chance.

Many people might be outraged by my suggestion because for them Eid ul Azha means animal slaughter, it’s what they’ve always done and what they are convinced they must always do. I really think the time has come for us to be a little more imaginative and compassionate in our approach to the concept of sacrifice. This, year when entertaining and social interaction is curtailed, was the perfect time to do something like this as the physical aspect of socialising was absent.

I’m sure my friend is still using the online qurbani service but at least I got her thinking. She realised they had a few old laptops in the house and she’s going to update these and then donate them through local schools. Eid is not just about keeping up appearances, it’s about helping others even if that requires that you yourself have to forgo something. Instead of thinking of one’s own image or one’s own balance of sawab (good deeds that earn you a place in heaven), one should think about being useful to those who are in need, one should help to bridge inequalities and to give others the chance for a better, more hopeful future.

After all, meat can only go so far….

Best wishes

Umber Khairi

The spirit of giving