Eid-e-Qurban in a Time of COVID-19

Raza Naeem reflects on the meaning of the festival in today’s Muslim world

Eid-e-Qurban in a Time of COVID-19
The week of Eid-e-Qurban (the Festival of Sacrifice), besides its boundless joys, occupies a high position in the spiritual, moral and collective life of the Islamic fraternity. In this week, every year, millions of moths of the flame of the Divine mission unite in the land of Hijaz from every corner of the Islamic world to go round that ancient place of worship and renew the Abrahamic tradition. And there are hundreds of millions of those Muslims who, though bereft of the good fortune of making Hajj, however, still strengthen the bonds of this universal brotherhood by sacrificing their wealth in the righteous path, according to their ability.

If we think deeply, the Festival of Sacrifice is a sign which beckons the devotees of Allah to greater sacrifices than sheep, goats, lambs and camels. But if we account for our self today and review our national character, we would neither find that desire for sacrifice whose memory we celebrate with great preparation, nor that spirit of Abrahamic tradition anywhere which had told Muslims the secret of living for the truth and dying for the truth. There was a time when we would readily sacrifice our self, our gain, our leisure and comfort, our wishes and desires and the satisfaction and respect of our friends and relatives in the righteous path. Actually our whole life denoted the sacrifice of gratification and undoubtedly the biggest sacrifice is indeed the sacrifice of gratification, because the relation of most of the defects of personal and social life joins up with selfishness and sensuality indeed. A person or society that sacrificed their gratification for the sake of truth were successful in this world and the Hereafter and they understood the correct meaning of the Abrahamic tradition.

Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen

Sacrifice is not a verbal confession of faith, but practice. It can only be evaluated on the standard of practice, not the touchstone of words. Then this practice is no single act or accidental event which is committed under some compulsive passion so that it illuminates the pages of history. Sacrifice is an unending series of virtuous actions, a special manner of living, a special way of thinking and feeling which influences the whole personality, whether this personality be of an individual or of a nation.

Today if any father lays a knife on his son’s neck, the world will call him a madman, because his sacrifice – performed with whatever sincerity – is not in harmony with his whole life. On the other hand, the entire life of Abraham presents a long series of sacrifices in the path of truth; the ‘great sacrifice’ was merely the last and most important link of this series. The context of your practice matters much!

Some spirit of sacrifice is not inherent within us; I do not accept this. And yet, that our nation is incapable of collective and individual sacrifice is also untrue. After all, it was the same elite and the impoverished who did not hesitate from the biggest sacrifices in the 1857 War of Independence and the Khilafat and Pakistan Movements. The ordinary citizens of Pakistan frequently present sacrifices according to their capacity even now. The reality is that without these sacrifices, the preservation and security of the state cannot even be imagined. But within the last few years such traditions of selfishness and self-love have been established that the atmosphere of the whole country has been poisoned and the passion of sacrifice and collective welfare all but buried. These traditions will be broken and God-willing, soon.

Children with the meat they collected on Eid

The week of the Festival of Sacrifice is also the week of Islamic brotherhood and unity and peace and security. During these blessed days, the Islamic world is full of the passion of the faith and the centre of its heart and sight is that holy place which has the honour of being the birthplace of the Prophet (PBUH).

Alas that the political conflicts of Muslim states have gradually become so extreme that one can see no possibility of their unity in the near future. But we hope that circumstances will change and the desire for unity of the Muslim people will force the heads of Muslim states to come near one another; the foreign powers which fan conflicts and sow the seed of discord among Muslims will prove unsuccessful in the final anlaysis; and such a unity will be created among the Muslims of the world whose foundation will be built on the freedom, democracy, peace and prosperity of Islamic countries.

In closing, with reference to the story of Abraham, I am reminded of the poem The Parable of the Old Man and the Young by Wilfred Owen on World War 1, published posthumously in 1920 after Owen’s untimely death, thus a hundred years old this year; not only because it is relevant to the Festival of Sacrifice, but also because it is still relevant to the plight of the Muslim world – ensconced as it is in a wanton cycle of war, conflict and bloodletting - at the moment of writing. Owen was only in his 20s when he was killed in battle, just before the war ended.


So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,

And took the fire with him, and a knife.

And as they sojourned both of them together,

Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,

Behold the preparations, fire and iron,

But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?

Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,

and builded parapets and trenches there,

And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.

When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,

Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,

Neither do anything to him. Behold,

A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;

Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,

And half the seed of Europe, one by one. 

Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader currently based in Lahore, where he is also the President of the Progressive Writers Association. He can be reached at: razanaeem@hotmail.com

Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He can be reached via email: razanaeem@hotmail.com and on Twitter: @raza_naeem1979