Dear Reader, belatedly I would like to wish you Eid Mubarak, indeed if you belong to the Islamic faith and live in Pakistan, but also if you belong to another faith, especially one of the Abrahamic faiths. Eid-ul-Azha, is also called the ‘Greater Eid’ in both local and foreign languages, and the ‘Festival of the Lamb’. It is an event with a universal religious message, namely that of obedience to God and service to the needy. Sometimes, though, God’s demand may seem almost too heavy to carry for a poor human being. Indeed, the story in the Holy Book about Abraham (Ibrahim) being tested to ascertain if he would be willing to sacrifice his son, whom he loved above all, equal to his love for God. But God gave Abraham a lamb to sacrifice instead, as a loving God would never demand what Abraham first thought.
The symbolic sacrifice of a lamb is meant to remind us of man’s obedience to God and willingness to follow his commandments. Furthermore, Eid-ul-Azha has become an event when we are asked to share what we have, thus it is common that a lamb or another animal is slaughtered for the Eid feast. It is split into three parts: one third to be given to the poor and needy; one third to relatives, neighbours and friends; and the remaining one third is retained by the family. Today, only some countries and communities allow the actual slaughter to take place in traditional and old fashioned ways; Pakistan is one.
Eid-ul-Azha is indeed a social time, even more so than other religious holidays, as we have experienced in Pakistan the last days. It is common to offer gifts to children and other family members, wear new clothes, and be involved in the activities of the community and mosque. In Islamabad, I have many years witnessed how eager wealthier people are to personally take part in the distribution of meat, drive around in their car and personally meet people, coming home in the evening tired and exhausted and feeling that one has done what one should do on the occasion. Eid is a reminder to all who have more than they need that they should share with the needy throughout the year, give zakat, the obligatory alms, and otherwise follow the rules of the Koran in sharing one’s wealth with others. It should be noted, too, that poor members of society have a right to ask for relief from the rich.
We live in a time when everyone is first concerned about himself and herself, and then, if convenient, we share with others. It is a selfish time and it is everyone for oneself, especially in the West, and where the capitalist thinking rules, which is pretty much everywhere. Therefore, the traditions and ideals of Islam, as manifested during Eid-ul-Azha, are particularly important. They form a counterweight to the secular trends of our time.
Eid is about sacrifice, reflection and community; how we can become better human beings as individuals and groups, and how important it is that we share with others what we have, and help those who need our help and comfort. We know that, “It is in giving that we receive”, as said by St. Francis of Assisi, a Christian, who lived from 1181 or 1182 to 1226. He was named a saint just a few years after his death because of the ways he had shown God’s mercy and his extraordinary goodness to people. Also, Francis included all God’s creation in his thinking, not only human beings but also animals and nature. Francis was a born a rich man who gave up the luxury life he had enjoyed in his youth to live a life in poverty and service. His several visits to Egypt and North Africa drew him closer to Islam and this has been recognised later in history. Today’s environmentalists have taken his views to heart. Not only in that way, Francis should be seen as a ‘modern man’, but also in his concern for the poor long before the welfare state was thought of. Besides, he has as given his name and inspiration to the current pope, Cardinal Bergolio, who was archbishop of Argentina when he in 2013 was elected pope and head of the Catholic Church. He took the name of Pope Francis.
There is indeed universality over the celebration of Eid-ul-Azha and other aspects of Islam – as there are universal aspects in other religions, as I showed when referring to St. Francis of Assisi. When we celebrate the events of Islam, we find that similar events are also in other religions. Eid-ul-Azha it is about sacrifice and doing good; it is not about the quantity of how much we can afford to give to the needy. Yet, if we have much, we must also give much. But if we have little of worldly wealth, we share from what we have. The most valuable we can share then is concern for others; we can give comfort, show forgiveness and understanding, give courage and hope, and help others in other ways on their life’s journey, indeed help fellow human beings to be open to seeing God in ourselves and others in everyday life.
There is a beautiful song written by Josh Groban and Brendan Graham, which I would like to draw attention to. It was first produced by the Irish Group ‘Secret Garden’ in 2002, with music by the Norwegian composer Rolf Løvland. The first verse of ‘You Raise Me Up’ goes like this:
“When I am down and, oh my soul so weary; When troubles come and my heart burdened be; Then I am still and wait here in the silence; Until you cone a sit awhile with me.”
The second verse shows the power of little gestures, of a few words that are shared, or just the presence of you, filled with God’s mercy and gifts, maybe not even spelt out, but indeed being there – and they are present in all religions, in the depth of the hearts of every human being. The second verse goes like this:
“You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains; You raise me up to walk in stormy seas; I am strong when I am on your shoulders; You raise me up to more than I can be.”
One of the most beautiful versions of the song, which you can find on You Tube, is by ‘Chinese Boy and Girl’. For what I know, the children may have been born into homes that are neither Jewish, Christian nor Muslim; they may belong to Buddhism, Confucianism, or another large or small religion, or none. After all, there are many ways to God, and many rooms in God’s heaven.
Yet, it is a Muslim religious feast we have just celebrated, and the spirit of Eid-ul-Azha is still with us, in Pakistan, yes, in ‘Naya Pakistan’, the new Pakistan, as we say now, with a new prime minister and a new government. We need to sit still and ask for God’s advice and wisdom. Well, we already know it; it is for us to listen, be willing to see and to implement what is needed to make a fairer and more equal society, show mercy and inclusion of all human beings – in Pakistan and throughout the world. We must find ways of sharing from what God gave us in abundance, whether it was worldly wealth and riches, or it was the less tangible, but maybe even more important gifts.
Let us pray that we do what is right and fair; let us find systems and ways of implementing it, with rules and regulations in the world we live in. We must use the intangible to build the tangible. We must work in practical political ways to make welfare and decency available for all people in our midst.
Through practical everyday actions, through good stewardship and management of God’s gifts, life will become more bearable for those who suffer and have little – and it also becomes better for those who have more than they need. Remember, it is in giving that we receive. This was God’s Eid message. It must be implemented throughout the year, every day, not only in sacred and holy situations – but in secular and practical situations. Through that, God’s message becomes visible and real to us all, every day throughout the year.
Thank you for this year’s Eid-ul-Azha.
The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.