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A response to Rainer Ebert

  • Published at 04:54 pm October 20th, 2013

Muslims all over the world, including Bangladesh, celebrate Eid-al-Adha by sacrificing to Allah an animal they can afford. This year, Muslims in Bangladesh have been urged by Rainer Ebert, and certain signatories, to reconsider their qurbani using a two-point argument.

The first point he makes is the disparity in socio-economic reality between modern day Bangladesh and 7th century Arabia during Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) lifetime. The second and more crucial point is that of “cruelty to animals” and apparent “moral depravity” in taking an animal’s life to appease Allah (or feed oneself).

This open letter immediately caused uproar on social media with several attempts made to refute his argument. However, most of these rebuttals are based merely on economic or religious significance of qurbani. Consequently, this piece attempts to address all the inherent flaws in Ebert’s logic and allow us to discover the underlying agenda.

Firstly, the economic significance of the “Qurbani Eid” is paramount. According to an article by Alauddin Mohammad, some eight million heads of livestock are slaughtered in Bangladesh during Eid-al-Adha. Mohammad makes a compelling economic case for this Eid. Qurbani Eid generates hundreds of thousands of temporary jobs pertaining to livestock transportation, trade, meat butchery, and the leather industry.

Ebert suggests that money spent on animals is better spent as donation to NGOs which essentially argues that charity is better than trade. However, he fails to acknowledge the idea of Islamic charity (zakah) and that qurbani does not substitute for zakah. Ebert also ignores the fact that the majority of sacrificial animals are raised by peasant farmers and qurbani trade acts as a process of income redistribution.

Furthermore, Ebert’s suggestion that modern day Bangladesh is better-off than 7th century Arabia and there is no need for qurbani anymore is untenable. While no economic data of Prophet’s (SAW) Arabia are available, it is simply incorrect to suggest that modern day Bangladesh is “well-off” and meat is readily available. The data actually paints a picture to the contrary as Bangladesh has one of the world’s lowest per capita income and meat consumption. In fact, almost a third of the population lives in absolute poverty, and donated meat would provide sustenance, albeit temporary, to many of these impoverished people.

Ebert’s second argument against qurbani is his opposition to meat consumption. His belief that animals’ interests are totally forgone through domestication and animal husbandry is flawed. It is hinged on the anthropocentric view that humans (alone and often cruelly) domesticated helpless wild animals for their own good. This is increasingly challenged in scientific literature by the theory of “self-domestication” which argues that wild relatives of domestic species sought human contact for protection and/or company. One recent study concludes that the self-domestication process in mammal species may have been more ubiquitous than previously thought. Thanks to domestication, livestock animals are among the most numerous of vertebrate species while their wild cousins are either extinct or endangered.

Ebert’s polemic against qurbani killings contains also a serious logical fallacy. Only a fraction of the stock of cattle, goat, sheep, camel, usually the males of these species, is killed as sacrificial animals. In addition, qurbani sales allow Bangladeshi peasant farmers to continue to care for and replenish their livestock. Consequently, there is no scientific or philosophical basis against rearing of domestic livestock as it is mutually beneficial for humans and the animal species.

Ebert rightly points out that the process of transporting these animals over vast distances and keeping them in crowded and noisy “haats” (livestock markets) can be greatly traumatic. In addition, improper handling during slaughter can also add to the misery of the animal. However, cruelty to qurbani animals that exists is largely due to poor legislation and enforcement of animal welfare laws. Using this logic, asking for an end to qurbani for a few instances of animal cruelty is similar to asking for a ban on driving in Bangladesh due to poor law enforcement and high levels of human casualties and deaths.

A part of Ebert’s argument is based on his premise that animal sacrifice is not a part of the core spiritual truth of Islam. He employs a number of animal kindness and animal-community related verses and hadith to somehow reach this conclusion. Interestingly, in describing the history of qurbani, Ebert gives an incorrect account of Ibrahim’s (SAW) attempt to slaughter his son Ismail (SAW).

Ibrahim (SAW) went to sacrifice his son not because Allah ordered him but because he dreamt that he slaughtered his son for the sake of Allah (Qur’an, 37:102-107). He also forgets to mention the verses where qurbani (along with salah) is made a requirement (Qur’an, 108: 2) and that qurbani is intended to express gratitude towards Allah and personal sacrifice of sustenance (meat) and possessions with fellow human beings (Qur’an, 22:34).

In conclusion, animal sacrifice is a religious practice of many other religions including Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity. Yet, Ebert singles out qurbani during Eid-al-Adha to put an end to. In fact, animal rights activism has become a new frontier for Islamophobic diatribe. The opposition to this Islamic practice is indeed part of a well-concerted, persistent Islamophobic propaganda aimed at portraying Islam as a monolithic, chauvinistic, savage cult that is cruel to women, children, and even animals.