A thousand years ago, the assets of a man were made up of his goats, camels and cattle. The ultimate sacrifice one would make was to give away his precious assets in gifts. Today, the most loved possession is money, and people are willing to give up a lot of things but the money. Money is indeed our precious asset, as it has the ability to buy just about everything we need.
Sacrifice is willingness to give up what is essential for our survival. It is about parents going to sleep without food but feeding their kids; it is clothing their kids while waiting to get their own. In case of extremities, we would rather get the bullet and save our loved ones, we are willing to rescue the child from a freezing lake risking our own life, and even strangers do that. That is sacrifice: the willingness to value life of the loved ones over our own.
One of the examples set up for guidance was the test of Abraham's faith, love and devotion. God asks of him what everyone in love does: "If you love me, you would this for me." In human terms, those conditions are merely a test of one's devotion, and in return a simple assurance and re-commitment to the relationship would suffice, be it your fiancé, spouse or mother.
It was Abraham's turn to face the command of God to sacrifice his. Upon hearing this command, he prepared to submit to God's will. When he was all prepared to do it, God revealed to him that his "sacrifice" had already been fulfilled. He had shown that his love for his Lord superseded all others, and that he would lay down his own life or the lives of those dear to him in order to submit to God.
What is submission to God?
It's nothing more than subscribing to an orderly system where everything remains in place and runs smoothly. It includes telling the truth, not cheating, robbing or not messing a smooth running life where everyone can trust each other -- essentially, the Ten Commandments. Any violations will bring distress to the society.
Everything in the universe is created with a built-in balance, and the created will perform precisely what they were created for. For instance, in verse 55:6 God talks about trees and stars prostrate themselves to God, it simply means they are working as programmed -- grow from seeds into trees, and every time and in every place. The systems are in place. However, humans were given the free will and were asked to create their own balance.
55:4 (Asad) He has imparted unto him articulate thought and speech.
55:5 (Asad) [At His behest] the sun and the moon run their appointed courses;
55:6 (Asad) [before Him] prostrate themselves the stars and the trees.
55:7 (Asad) And the skies has He raised high, and has devised [for all things] a measure,
55:8 (Asad) so that you [too, O men,] might never transgress the measure [of what is right]:
Does God want animals to be sacrificed on a large scale?
Not at all. Qur'an, Al-Hajj 22:37 (The Pilgrimage) is clear:
"Never does their flesh reach God, and neither their blood. It is only your God-consciousness that reaches Him. It is to this end that we have made them subservient to your needs, so that you might glorify God for all the guidance with which He has graced you. And give thou this glad tiding unto the doers of good."
The act symbolizes our willingness to give up some of our own bounties in order to strengthen and preserve the web and help those who are in need. We recognize that all blessings come from God, and we should open our hearts and share with others. That is indeed the guidance he has graced us with.
What would you sacrifice instead?
It is customary for Muslims to sacrifice an animal or two on the day of the Hajj; in fact, millions of animals will be slaughtered today. What are our alternatives? Have we not lived without one for centuries? Should we not think of the alternatives? Here are a few thoughts from Muslims:
Dr. Nauman Anwar:
"Sacrificing animals without making a public spectacle is still a good idea, as long as no wastage of the meat and hides occur. Many Muslim countries have lot of poverty and if meat reaches the deserving population, it will help improve nutritional status of the poor (small amount of meat is good for health)."
"It is something that the Muslims should consider seriously. The amount of money and meat wasted during Qurbani may be in billions. The poor do not need a little bit of meat once in a year. They have many more and urgent needs. I suggest we should start a world wide appeal to Muslims to contribute to a common fund which should be solely to help them meet their daily needs."
"Point is, if one wants to do something good he can without sacrificing the obligatory deeds as commanded by Allah. The meat of the sacrificial animal goes to relatives, poor neighborhood and is consumed at home. The skin goes to schools, philanthropic organizations, etc., where we pinstriped suited guys don't contribute. It is a delicacy for which millions wait for a whole year because they cannot afford. I know people who make sure that each part of the edible is evenly distributed."
You are not accountable to any human if you did the Qurbani (animal sacrifice) or not. You can put that money to a different use that will do greater good like lending to a street hawker who can sell things from a cart and take care of his family or a single mom who can make baskets or make sweaters to take care of her family. The beauty of those systems is you can make the same money work repeatedly for common good. Indeed there is a successful model of Micro Lending by Dr. Yunus of Bangladesh. You have to decide what the best way to help others.
No Muslim is going to demand that you do certain things. You have the free will what you do with your sacrifice, who it goes and what purpose it serves.
Sacrifice can be translated as willingness to give up what is most dear to us. Hence, donating money to meet the needs of people would be the right thing to do, as they can pay for their own prioritized needs instead of meat from everyone that they cannot store.
Lastly, God wants us to be just, so please do not discriminate in giving -- God doesn't do that (remember Solomon's story about lording over food?). Anyone in need is good to receive your help, be it a Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jew or any one in your neighborhood. They have the first right to your goodness.
Honoring police, firemen and soldiers
Every day our police officers risk their own lives to protect ours, the firemen and women risk their lives to save a child, a pet or an aged person from a fire; and every day our soldiers put their lives at risk to save fellow soldiers and to save our freedom.
I urge fellow Muslims and all others to stop and salute every one of these men and women, honoring them for their sacrifices and their love for humanity. Better yet, call the firemen, policemen and let them know that as a Muslim you appreciate their sacrifice, and this festival is also about appreciation for such sacrifice.
Will you do that? Are you willing to see the positive changes in perceptions about Muslims? I did that last year in Louisville, within minutes the police office had emailed the article to his fellow officers appreciating the Muslims.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had said the least you can do as charity is to smile and appreciate the otherness of others.
Mike Ghouse is a Muslim speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, Islam, interfaith and a few other topics. He is committed to nurturing pluralistic values embedded in Islam and building cohesive Societies and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. www.WorldMuslimCongress.com