Act of love and gratitude

Originally written for: http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/act-of-love-and-gratitude-1.924684

I refused to eat a morsel of Mum’s delectable mutton biryani. I didn’t understand why we kept the goats in our backyard for weeks, fed them, cared for them, and then promptly slaughtered them on Eid day. In a surly tone I told my parents they were cruel, and the last few weeks spent with Timber (as I had named one of the goats) would always have a special place in my memory. Mum shrugged her shoulders as the family dug in to the biryani and I grumpily left the room.

Timber had been a nice, gentle soul who loved his food, and I had all but made the job of feeding him my own. Despite being scared of animals in general, I could stand close to him and could even pet his lustrous brown back. Just when we were developing a special bond, the butcher got hold of him.

Later in the day, when most of the meat had been distributed amongst the poor and some relatives, Dad sat me down, and our conversation went something like this.

“You loved Timber, didn’t you?” I nodded.

“You still don’t understand why we had to let him go?” I shook my head.

“When you love someone, when you really, really love someone, don’t you give them your best thing, hoping to show your love?”

“Of course Papa. I don’t see your point,” I said irritably.

“Look at this way. We sacrificed Timber for Allah, because we want to show Him our love and gratitude. Because we want to present to Him something that’s precious to us. We want to show we care.”

My eyes showed how confounded I felt. Did Dad really have a point? He immediately read the confusion in my eyes and said, “We sacrificed Timber for Allah, because we love Him way, way more than we loved Timber. And why must we sacrifice an animal? Surely you remember the story of Prophet Ebrahim, who was ready to sacrifice his own son Esmail for the sake of Allah? Allah replaced his son with an animal at the last minute and we are commemorating their inner struggle. What’s more, all the meat you so love, even the one that’s sandwiched between your burgers, is produced in the same manner, by slaughtering an animal!”

Feasting on meat

What Dad was talking about was something far deeper than I had originally thought — that sacrificing an animal was not just a bloody, gory thing — it was a show of love and gratitude. Dad felt his message was getting across and so he proceeded, “And what are we doing with all that meat anyway? You know, sweetheart, in our country, there are only a few people who get to eat meat regularly. For a large percentage, the only time they and their little ones enjoy meat is on Eid Al Adha. Do you really find it so cruel?”

Well of course Dad was right. Did I not notice that the bell had been ringing non-stop since the morning, and disenfranchised people were constantly asking if we had any meat to give them? The look of delight and appreciation in their eyes as we handed them their share was indeed special. To think that Eid Al Adha was the only time that they got to eat meat! What if there had been no day such as this, and they were left wondering what it tasted like? I felt a flush creeping up my neck as I understood that Eid Al Adha was far more significant an occasion than I knew.

Fifteen years later, as I prepare to go to Pakistan for another Eid Al Adha, I know I will not mind when someone presents me with a plate of freshly cooked meat. Indeed, I might even be the one preparing the biryani, for Mum has left us. The memories linger, and delightful as it is, Eid, or any such occasion, will never be the same.