Eid-ul-Adha: Debunking Myths and Exploring Socio-economic Significance

Muslims in India are often questioned about meat consumption in general and on animal sacrifice on the day of Eid-ul-Adha, in particular. As the festival of Eid-ul-Adha approaches, campaigns such as Save Animal, Eco-friendly Eid, Bloodless Eid etc., gain momentum. While some people, mainly right-wing individuals and social activists, advocate for animal welfare, there is a noticeable silence regarding the numerous incidents of lynching that occur due to suspicions of meat consumption or involvement in the meat business. Furthermore, the data on the consumption and production process of meat suggest that the attacks are not precisely centred on the subject of meat but are more likely to be the result of a politically motivated campaign of hatred against Muslims.

In India, people of all major religions sacrifice animals or eat them. Animals slaughtered by people of other religions are never questioned, but Muslims are.

Given these observations, one might raise the question:

  1. Why are Muslims “lectured” or “targeted” for meat consumption or its trade?
  2. Is it only the Muslims that consume meat for food or sacrifice animals for rituals in India?
  3. Who controls its billion $ trade?
  4. What are the economic and health implications of a ban on meat consumption or selling of it?
  5. And, is it Ok or not Ok to kill animals for food?

Let's try to find some of the answers

Fact 1: Meat is not consumed only by Muslims

According to National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) 2019-21, a whopping 77% of Indians out of its 1.3 billion population between the age of 15-49 are non-vegetarian. Furthermore, the report claims that there has been a 19.6% increase in meat consumption among Jains and a 4.71% increase among Hindus during NFHS-4 (2015-16) to NFHS-5 (2019-21) period. Christians ranked highest, with approximately 80% of men and 78% of women consuming meat, followed by Muslims, with 79.5% of men and 70% of women consuming meat. In comparison, 52.5% of Hindu men and 40.7% of Hindu women consume meat. But ironically, many people do not hesitate to tag only Muslims as “meat eaters”, whilst the fact suggests a different scenario.

Fact 2: Animal sacrifice is not exclusive to Islam

Even in the case of animal sacrifices, the Muslims are not alone. Almost all major religions in India have been sacrificing animals as part of their religious and cultural rituals. In Hinduism, animals are sacrificed to please the deities. In an event in Nepal in 2019, which happens in every five years, 2,50,000 animals were sacrificed in honour of Gadhimai, a Hindu goddess of power.

Fact 3: Who controls its billion $ trade?

The global halal food and beverage market is experiencing significant growth and presents a lucrative opportunity for businesses. In 2021, the market size was valued at USD 774.93 billion, and it is expected to continue expanding at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.6% from 2022 to 2030. And here is an interesting fact: Eight of the 10 largest suppliers of global halal meat are “non-Muslim” countries, with Brazil, Australia, India, the United States of America, and France as the top producers. And Some of the key players operating in the halal food and beverage market are Nestlé S.A; Cargill, Incorporated; Unilever; American Halal Company, Inc. etc.  Furthermore, global restaurant chains like KFC, McDonald's, Domino’s, Burger King etc. kill animals throughout the year. These facts challenge the misconception that Muslims are the sole consumers and traders of meat.

In India, the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) reports that the country's exports of animal products in the fiscal year 2021-22 amounted to Rs. 30,953.29 Crores/4,152.25 USD Millions. Buffalo meat exports constituted a significant portion of these exports, with a value of Rs. 24,613.24 Crores/3,303.34 USD Millions. Additionally, sheep/goat meat exports accounted for Rs. 447.58 Crores/60.03 USD Millions. India is the fourth largest buffalo meat exporter in the world and contributes approximately 43% of global buffalo meat production. Some of the key export destinations for Indian buffalo meat in 2020-21 include Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, Egypt, and Indonesia.

Is it Ok or not Ok to kill animals for food?

Now, let's talk about the elephant in the room, the moral question of killing animals for food. And sacrificing animals during Eid-ul-Adha. Eventually, the decision to eat or not eat an animal shouldn’t be seen as a marker of morality.

i) Health Implications

Often meat is associated with negative health images. However, several studies emphasize that these negative associations overlook the fact that meat is either the only source or has a much higher bioavailability for some micronutrients such as iron, selenium, vitamins A, B12 and Folic acid. These studies have also highlighted that if we do not include any meat products in our meals, we may experience several negative health implications, including high stroke risk, hormone disruption, Leaky gut, hair loss, iron deficiency, Orthorexia, depression etc. These studies suggest that for good health and well-being, the food composition should include both meat products and plants.

ii) Ecological Balance

If humans stop eating meat, animal populations will explode, posing a significant threat to our ecosystem. Overpopulation will result in a rise in disease, a shortage of food, and habitat issues, among other things. And if we do not kill animals for food in these unbalanced ecosystems, they will starve to death.

iii) Snatching Source of Livelihood

Livestock is a significant source of income for poor people living in rural regions; prohibiting animal sacrifice will take away their source of income, resulting in a high unemployment rate. In India, 20.5 million people rely upon the livestock business for their livelihood.

iv) Right to Food

According to the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5), 77% of the country's population consumes some form of meat; not allowing them to eat meat would be a violation of their right to food.

v) Plants have a life too:

In 1901, Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose-picture, an Indian scientist, demonstrated that plants have a defined life cycle, a reproductive system and are conscious of their surroundings. So, one might argue that whether we sacrifice animals or cut down plants for food, in both ways, we are killing a living being.

Now let’s look into the economic and social significance of animal sacrifice on the day of Eid-ul-Adha -

i)Economic Implications

According to estimates, the cattle slaughter business in India plays a crucial role in supplying hides and skins worth USD 5.5 billion to the country's leather units. This industry has far-reaching implications, as it serves as a raw material source for various manufacturing units involved in the production of items such as soap, toothpaste, buttons, paintbrushes, surgical stitches, and musical instruments. Notably, both direct and indirect employment opportunities are created for approximately 22 lakh individuals through the cattle slaughter business. The leather industry, which heavily relies on cattle slaughter, provides employment to an estimated 35 lakh people.

The livestock sector in India plays a vital role in supporting rural communities, as it provides livelihoods for two-thirds of the rural population. Additionally, it employs about 8.8% of the country's total population. Certain communities, such as the Bakarwals, depend entirely on livestock for their survival. Therefore, it is undeniable that Eid-ul-Adha, a religious festival involving animal sacrifice, acts as a significant driver of employment opportunities for the underprivileged.

Eid-ul-Adha serves as a major source of income for rural areas, benefiting the approximately 20.5 million inhabitants residing there. The trading of animals during this festival reaches its peak, stimulating economic opportunities within the rural economy. This surge in economic activity has positive ripple effects, benefitting allied businesses such as leather, transportation, farming, tanning, footwear, clothing, and others. Importantly, the practice of animal sacrifice during Eid-ul-Adha leads to wealth redistribution from the rich to the poor, as the affluent spend money on purchasing animals and their fodder from those who are relatively much poor.

ii) Social Significance

On Eid-ul-Adha, the meat generated is divided into three parts.  One is for relatives, friends, and neighbours, the second part is distributed among the poor and the needy, and the last part is kept by the household for its own consumption. In Mecca, the meat of the animals slaughtered by the Haajis is distributed to 30 million poor people in 27 countries in Asia, Africa and other parts of the Islamic world. In this way, sacrificing animals on Eid-ul-Adha not only ensures that Muslims realize their religious obligations but also promotes social interaction, cooperation, and brotherhood through the distribution of meat among the poor, friends and relatives.

Can cash transfers be a substitute for animal sacrifice on Eid-al-Adha?

While some people emphasize cash transfers as a substitute for animal sacrifice on Eid-ul-Adha, can such transfers fairly compensate all the beneficiaries of this holistic system?

Let’s have a look:

Firstly, Islam has an entire system of charity in terms of wealth known as Zakat, which is one of the five fundamental tenets of Islam. Each year, every person who has money or assets has to give 2.5% of their value in charity. This form of compulsory charity is both denominated in monetary terms and distributed as such. And Zakat is just one form of charity in Islam. There are many more such as Sadaqa, which are not bound by any percentage and depend on the inclination of the giver.

Secondly, the impact of cash distribution on the poor is relatively low compared to animal sacrifice, as the latter causes a wider circulation of wealth and multiplies. Moreover, cash transfers as a means of sustaining the poor have its drawback, as the cash is often used for the leisure of the patriarch and the benefits are hardly realized by women and children. Thus, even if we overlook the religious concern, cash transfer will create no business for the traders, limited means of employment for the cattle rearers and a flourishing sub-economy will stagnate.

Thirdly and most importantly, animal sacrifice on Eid-ul-Adha is a sunnah of Prophet Ibrahim and about unquestioningly following the command of Allah. Coming up with alternatives of what else can be sacrificed or given instead of an animal is to miss the entire essence of Ibrahim’s sunnah, which gives the message of piety, charity, and equality.

Before we end, let’s briefly look at why Muslims celebrate Eid-ul-Adha: Eid-al-Adha or Bakrid, also known as the festival of sacrifice, is the second of two Islamic festivals celebrated by the Muslim ummah each year in the last Islamic month, Dhu-al-Hijjah. It is the same month when Muslim ummah from worldwide performs Hajj in Makka. On the day of Eid-al-Adha, Muslims all over the world who have the means to do so sacrifice animals to honour and cherish the legacy of Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH). The history of Eid-al-Adha or Bakrid is 4,000 years old when Allah commanded Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) in a dream to sacrifice what he loved the most - his beloved son and only support of old age, Ismail (PBUH), who was born after much wait and Dua. After much deliberation, he decided to offer his son, Ismail (PBUH), for the sake of pleasing his master. However, at the last moment, Allah replaced Ismail with a lamb, and the prophet Ibrahim slaughtered a lamb instead. The story is a reminder that as believing men and women, one must be willing to let go of things they hold dear for the sake of the creator and his creation. To commemorate the sacrifice of Ibrahim and as an act of devotion to Allah, Muslims across the world since then have celebrated Eid-al-Adha and sacrificed animals. The purpose of this day is not about shedding blood to please Allah as Quran states: “Their flesh and blood do not reach God: it is your piety that reaches Him.” (22: 37). It’s about giving up something you hold dear in devotion to Allah, and a symbolic rehearsal of high values of faith.  It gives the message – of piety, charity, and as well as equality.

Watch: A Visual History of Hajj–Retracing the Pilgrimage