First Person: There is more to Eid than biryani and kebabs

Few people know about the spirit behind various festivals celebrated in India, rues Rana Siddiqui Zaman

First Person: There is more to Eid than biryani and kebabs

Rana Siddiqui Zaman

Oho, Eid again? Is this sewai wali Eid? No? oh! That bakra wali Eid? Humm. So, biryani and kebab time, we are coming!” I have been hearing it since my childhood. This time too, it was the same. I have always wondered why my most non-Muslims friends barely know the difference between the two Eids and the reasons for celebrating them.

Both Eids– Eid-ul-Fitr (Meethi Eid) and Eid-uz-Zuha (Baqra Eid) in most Muslim homes is a three-day affair. The third day of Eid-uz-Zuha, all qurbani of goat, buff, camels, depending upon the region, was over yesterday (July 12). The meat has been distributed to the underprivileged, then neighbours, friends and family – and strictly in that order.

However, the feasting or daawat is still continuing with mutton being cooked and friends, who love to eat biryani, qorma and kebabs from us, the Muslims, are lovably invited. Some adorable friends self-invite themselves which makes it a family affair for almost a week.

But barely any of these friends have ever attempted to know why this festival is celebrated, why ‘qurbani’ (sacrifice) is done and how it benefits the poor.

Briefly, besides the main story behind an aged Prophet Ibrahim who got ready to sacrifice Ismail, his only son, for the love of God, the festival of Eid-ul-Azha has just two clear intentions -- surrender to the wish of God and charity. Therefore, a major portion of the meat of the sacrificial animal is distributed among the underprivileged and the tiniest share is kept for self.

And this fact is known to the people who come from financially weaker backgrounds such as our domestic helps, guards, gardeners, washermen, car cleaners etc. I remember well that on Eid, my home used to have a beeline of mostly non-Muslims domestic helps and others from the society we lived in. They would demand their share. They knew it’s a Muslim festival of giving.

But I have always wondered why our friends knew nothing about Eid-uz-Zuha, many of these have an idea about Eid-ulFitr though – that it’s a feasting after fasting. Not many, however, can tell the reason for fasting either.

The vegetarian lot, meanwhile, would circulate creative, sarcastic memes on social media, deploring how “cruel” Muslims will be slaughtering “innocent” animals on Baqra Eid. Pretending to be on a higher moral ground, many would also move petitions to stop animal sacrifice.

So, why is this gap of unawareness of Muslim festivals, all of which are based on charity at their core? Have Muslims not tried to reach out to them to make them aware of the main reasons behind it or have they not shown interest in these two fests beyond biryani and kebab feast as their own interpretation? I have known more about why Diwali and Holi are celebrated than my own fests.

As much as I blame it on our school textbooks which always eulogised major Hindu festivals and gave little space to other festivals. I recall author Rakshanda Jalil in her book ‘But, You Don’t Look Like A Muslim’ writes in one of the chapters that Muslims didn’t do enough to educate their non-Muslim brethren about themselves and the reasons behind these festivals.

I also feel that they didn’t show interest to know either. Agreeing to this, Ms Jalil echoes that for Eid-ul-Fitr, there is some level of awareness. General people know that it’s feasting after fasting in a simplistic sense. But yes, for Eid-uz-Zuha, it has been reduced to a simplistic drape of sewai and kebabs, at least in this part of continent. Nobody cares to know that sewai and kebas, being local delicacies, are only in this part of the country. A Muslim in Malabar or Assam will make something else on Eid which would be a regional delicacy.

People don’t even know the festival by its proper name, as they know it as Barka Eid or Bakri Eid, assuming that it’s a day when Muslims slaughter ‘bakri’ (goats). Funny, but not so funny.

I have always had this complaint in my school days that I would get more holidays in school on Diwali and Holi as compared to both Eids which was just one day affair and sometimes it was just a restricted holiday.

I spoke to Anurag Mishra, a scholar on religions and a true sanatani as he prefers to be addressed, gives me the surah and ayat number from the Quran which clearly says why the festival was created and the spirit behind the same without googling it, as also recalls long forgotten political wish to educate Indians of major religions, their cultures and festivals in schools for a better result on shared coexistence.

As much for a political wish it is also people’s unwillingness to read books of other religions. Instead, they try to know facts from friends who themselves are not much aware. “This is exactly like understanding the shivling as a private part of the god Shiva, while it is a jyotir-ling,” says Mishra.

While explaining he agrees the people of his own religion do not largely know about it and Muslim festivals, he rues neither NCERT books which were more “personality driven” emphasised on them.

Whatever it is, I just wish and hope next Eid-uz-Zuha or Parsi New Year or Onam, we would be more aware about the reason for the festivals than associate them with just food and clothes. Availability of authentic literature in easy language for people to read would help too, apart from tolerance for not reacting on points of views spread by people who know less or none.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

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