The festival of Eid-Ul-Azha was celebrated throughout the Muslim world this week. After ritual prayers, millions of animals were slaughtered around the world and the meat distributed to relatives and the poor. This festival of sacrifice is the symbolic embodiment of parting with worldly goods to help other people and communities. Considering the bleak outlook of Muslim countries struck by calamity, human and natural, this sentiment should be welcomed. And yet, owing to traditional mindsets encouraging slaughter without much organization, many of these sentiments remain sentiments only.

At Hajj alone, more than a million animals are expected to be slaughtered every year.  Such abundance led to storage problems in the past, where tons of rotting meat had to be buried or burned. Without enough people to consume the meat, the authorities had to bulldoze meat by the truckload off the roads near the slaughterhouses of Mina. Seeing this, the Saudi government had the pragmatism to launch the Adahi project; which takes the business of slaughtering animals out of the hands of the pilgrims and puts it under an organization which deputies for them. The excess meat is flash frozen, stored and shipped to needy countries (Syria this year) or sold on the international market.

In Pakistan, the religious fervour is no less hot and blood is spilled aplenty; yet the pragmatism is wanting. People compete for the greatest, largest, healthiest animals. Sellers put their very best beasts on display (teaching them small tricks to please buyers, adorning them in garlands, and showing off their pedigrees). Camels, goats, cows, bulls are bought for lakhs of rupees, fed well for a few nights and then slaughtered. The best cuts of their meat are then circulated amongst family and friends, many of them well-off and sacrificing animals of their own. The rest rots away in refrigerators and the animals’ hides are picked up by nefarious organizations. All this in a country overrun by poverty, at a time when we harbour a large refugee population displaced by floods and a war. Why do our so-called religious scholars not encourage people to donate as widely, and as generously as they spend on the designer sacrificial animal of their choosing? It makes little sense, and even less of a difference to the poor. Neither the government, nor religious organisations are able to channelize Eid-ul-Azha, and the genuine good service it can do. The result is a depressing wastage of meat and money that defies the spirit of the sacrifice, and one that Pakistan can ill afford.