© Michel Gunther / WWF

Sarah Khan is the CEO of FM91 and Director of Business Development at Digital HeadQuarters, Interflow Group of Companies.

While I prescribe to the act of sacrifice, in countries like Pakistan, the welfare of animals is often overlooked and egregiously neglected.

As a child, I used to watch qurbani, the sacred ritual of sacrifice, with fascination through innocent eyes, ignorant of the pain and trauma felt by the animal on the verge of being slaughtered. I have vivid memories of the creature hanging upside down by its hooves, a deathly blade sliding across the suspended animal’s throat; its eyes bulging as it realizes it’s fate.

Today, I cannot bear witness to the act of qurbani and do not wish to subject my children to it either. My heart ached when my five-year-old daughter cried at the loss of our neighbour’s goat; a sight she may never forget as she happened to catch a glimpse through our window overlooking the Eid sacrifice.

The purpose of qurbani and the ideology behind it is about learning to make a great sacrifice for one’s belief while feeding the poorest members of society. While I prescribe to the act of sacrifice, in countries like Pakistan, the welfare of animals is often overlooked and egregiously neglected. The way they are bred, herded and slaughtered is often cruel and inhumane. Ultimately, the Eid qurbani has become a show of status and wealth and the animal in question, collateral damage.

Our forefathers lived very closely with animals and sacrificing livestock that they raised from birth held real meaning for them. Today, most Muslims live in urban towns and their contact with qurbani animals is limited to days before the sacrifice. A vast majority of our Muslim brethren are unaware that there is a halal way to perform qurbani, which starts from knowing how the animal is raised to ensuring that once purchased the animal is treated humanely and according to hadith one must create a loving bond with the animal. Finally, there is a religiously prescribed method for the actual slaughter, which mentions that the blade used must be sharpened to the point that the animal feels no pain. More importantly if one cannot afford (or chooses not to partake due to unavoidable reason) one can distribute meat or can educate an underprivileged child.

© Michel Gunther / WWF

In today’s Pakistan, animal markets are crowded and unhygienic; there is no regulation on how the animals are transported, kept or handled before or after purchase and no legal way to ensure that the butchers hired are correctly trained to slaughter in a halal way. As per the teaching of some religious leaders, unless an animal has been kept and treated well, the sacrifice of such animals is not acceptable:

“If animals have been subjected to cruelties in their breeding, transport, slaughter and general welfare, meat from them is considered impure and unlawful to eat.” — The late Imam B.A. Hafiz al-Masri (Woking, UK)

Unfortunately, there is no real discourse on qurbani and animal welfare in Pakistan. Cultural relativity is important as one must not judge the customs and beliefs of others - but it can be noted that the government should intervene to an extent and try and implement systems to make the process better. They need to look into the conditions where breeding takes place as well as regulate the transport of livestock; regularly check the sanitation and state of the markets and disseminate information to the masses about the treatment of animals as well as correct and halal methods for slaughter and post-purchase activities.

Animal rights and welfare has very strong and specific advice from the Quran and Hadith. According to both, even the smallest change in one’s attitude towards
an animal can be a fine line between a good deed and a sin. To recognize this would be a huge step in the right direction for a country that wishes to maintain its cultural and religious practices, while also caring for the animals who make it all possible.

© Karine Aigner/WWF-US