I bumped into an old acquaintance the other day. He’s a guy from the tribal areas of Pakistan who drives a taxi for a living. Like most Pakistani taxis, his is old, clunky, slow, and seemingly held together by little more than duct tape and force of habit. Like most Pakistani taxi drivers, he overcomes these shortcomings with a solid sense of humour, a total disregard for safety, and a lot of prayer. Every time he starts the engine, turns a corner or changes a gear he says the simple prayer “Bismillah” (“in the name of God”). I’m not quite sure if this habit is charming or worrying.
Anyway, I asked him how he was, how his family was, and how he spent Eid. For once his customarily cheerful face fell. He shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m a poor man. I couldn’t afford to sacrifice an animal. What kind of Eid is there for someone like me?”.
Eid ul-Azha is one of the major Islamic festivals, roughly equivalent to Christmas in its significance. It commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael and the provision, by God, of a ram in his place. This is strikingly similar to the Christian version in Genesis 22, the only difference being that Christians celebrate Isaac instead of Ishmael.
Islam has more in common with Christianity than you might think…
Anyway, Muslims mark this festival by purchasing an animal – usually a sheep or goat, but sometimes a cow or even a camel – and sacrificing it. The meat is divided up, with one third given to the poor, one third shared among family and friends, and the remaining third kept by the family. This being Pakistan, animals are not taken into some anonymous slaughterhouse to be killed, but are instead killed and butchered in public.
This results in immense amounts of blood spilling into the street, as you can see in the photo above!
I have to say that I rather like the Eid tradition. Large amounts of money are spent and a significant chunk of it goes towards the poor, who enjoy a few days of plenty, while everyone buys new clothes, visits friends, and enjoys a holiday.
Less pleasant is the fact that my 3 year old daughter was becoming very attached to the cow residing in our front drive for the last few days. The cow is now in pieces, some of which are sitting in our freezer thanks to the generosity of our landlord, and my little girl keeps asking where the cow went…