What Dr Qadir wrote is still etched in my memory. He wrote in Urdu which I am translating into English, “No religion can be greater than fellow-feeling and empathy. You were our esteemed guest and we knew that you never touched meat in your life.”
By Sumit Paul
In these highly polarised times when the binary of ‘they’ and ‘us’ is becoming increasingly blatant and boorish, a heart-warming memory of religious munificence still gladdens my heart and mind. This happened more than a decade ago when I just got my doctorate degree and to acknowledge my gratitude towards an erudite Indian Muslim professor who helped me a lot, I phoned him that I would come to India during Eid-al-Adha (Bakr Eid) en route to Karachi. I met the late Dr Rehan Qadir and his spouse in Calcutta. Both insisted that I must stay with them.
But I had this extremely uncomfortable feeling that they would sacrifice a goat. But no qurbani happened at the professor’s place. Instead, we went to an orphanage and spent time with the inmates distributing clothes and food among them. We fed the poor at Kalighat. I wondered why they did not sacrifice a goat on the occasion of Eid. ‘Aapne qurbani nahin di?’ I enquired, to which they just smiled, and said nothing. I went to Karachi from there and sent a handwritten letter to them, wondering why they refrained from offering a sacrifice on a sacred day.
What Dr Qadir wrote is still etched in my memory. He wrote in Urdu which I am translating into English, “No religion can be greater than fellow-feeling and empathy. You were our esteemed guest and we knew that you never touched meat in your life. It would have been terribly uncomfortable for you, had we sacrificed a goat during your stay at our place. Allah understands the intentions and makes concessions. Moreover, we sacrificed our ardent wish to sacrifice on Eid-al-Adah because Allah says in the Quran, ‘Sacrifice what is closest to your heart and dearest to you.'”
This is the spirit of fellow-feeling and the essence of all religions. My Muslim host sacrificed his (religious) wish to sacrifice for my sake. Ostensibly, he went against the diktats of his faith. But that did not deter him. In fact, he served his religion in a manner Allah would have approved of.
The core of any religion or religious practice is humanity. To sacrifice an animal is literal. The sacrifice of ego, which is dearest to us, is of paramount importance. The Sufis and mystics urged the followers to sacrifice all vices and get rid of ana (egoism). Until the ego disappears, self-realisation will continue to elude us.
Hafiz Shirazi says in a Persian couplet: ‘Ya rakhtam bizaat-e-me izq/ shaist un ana nizq’ (Until your ‘I’ is completely dissolved, no sacrifice will be adequate).
Let us go beyond sacrificial totemism and understand the crux of a religion and its practices. Creating goodwill is the universal message of all religions.