All major world religions espouse kindness to animals. In Sri Lanka, where live devotees of four world religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity,  do we celebrate religious festivals in their true spirit? Compassion, the tenet of Buddha’s teachings, where it is wrong to kill or harm any living being is reflected in the first [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Celebrating religious festivals in their true spirit


All major world religions espouse kindness to animals. In Sri Lanka, where live devotees of four world religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity,  do we celebrate religious festivals in their true spirit?

Compassion, the tenet of Buddha’s teachings, where it is wrong to kill or harm any living being is reflected in the first of the Five Precepts, the foundation of Buddhist ethical conduct.Of the highest religious significance to Buddhists are Poya days, when Buddhists celebrate or mark the day, engaging in meritorious deeds, including saving cattle from slaughter. Many Buddhists on this day, refrain from consuming animal flesh though some offer meat and fish as alms to monks and serve dry fish at dansalas during Vesak and Poson. The biggest hypocrites however, are those governing the country, who decree closure of slaughterhouses and ban the sale of meat (but not fish) on Poya.  These ‘bans’ do not contribute to saving animals – they are slaughtered illegally or the next day. When slaughterhouses are shut, the animals suffer without food or water in horrendous abattoirs. It would be more meaningful if the government, instead of resorting to such sanctimony, acts to relieve the suffering of animals, at least to some extent, at all times.

Most Hindus are vegetarians. All principal texts of Hinduism advocate “ahimsa” -non-violence.  “Deer, camel, donkey, monkey, rats, creeping animals, birds and flies – one should consider them like one’s own children”,lays down the “Bhagawatha Purana.”  To quote the “Mahabharatha”, “He who desires to augment his own flesh by eating the flesh of other creatures lives in misery in whatever species he may take his birth”.

Hinduism has no commands for animal sacrifice.Yet, at some religious festivals, countless animals are sacrificed to appease certain deities– such as the Dussehera festival for Goddess Manikesweri and in Nepal, at the Festival of Goddess Gadhimai (said to be a tribal goddess not mentioned in Hindu scriptures), where in 2014, over 500,000 animals were sacrificed.Some viewed Nepal’s devastating earthquake the following year as “Nature’s retribution to animal slaughter”. Indian and Nepalese animal welfare networks have now succeeded in getting the Gadhimai Trust to cancel the ritual. In Sri Lanka not only Hindus, but also those of other faiths, sacrifice animals, for Goddess  Kali.Though judicially held unlawful in 2013, these sacrifices still occur.

In the Holy Prophet Mohammed’s words “A good deed done to an animal is as meritorious as a good deed done to a human, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as an act of cruelty to a human being.” However, during Hajj, associated with the Prophet’s life, animal sacrifice occurs at the Eid-al-Adha festival. These animals suffer not only during slaughter, but also when transported under cruel circumstances. Reportedly over 100 sheep died of suffocation in a flight from Ireland for slaughter in Singapore. Photos of  Bangladeshi streets becoming rivers of blood during slaughter in heavy rain received global publicity.

Recollecting the Prophet’s words “Do not allow your stomachs to become graveyards!”, it is apt to quote Brother Zamir Elahi,  who writing about  “Islam  and Vegetarianism” says :  “Many Hadith scriptures from the life of Prophet Mohammed convey a depth of compassion and kindness towards animals…………..Recent research shows that animal sacrifice for Islamic festivals is no longer recommended, out of consideration for the animals’ suffering and human health. The Holy Koran is very clear that sacrifice is a symbolic gesture of human generosity and giving alms, killing animals and offering their flesh in no way offers any salvation for humanity.”

Animal Rights advocates Bina Ahmad and Fatima Ashraf state that as Muslims they are called upon to reason and debate alternatives to animal sacrifice until the best philosophy and practice are discovered.“Eid-al-Adha is an important holiday for 1.3 billion Muslims around the globe, marking the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage and commemorating Prophet  Ibrahim’s  sacrifice.  A traditional animal sacrifice, has been an integral part of this holiday, with meat being shared between friends, family and the needy. But can there be an alternative to the traditional animal sacrifice? And can those alternatives still celebrate the spirit of Hajj, commemorate the story of Ibrahim and fulfil our purpose — faith in and obedience to God — in a manner of pure love towards all of creation?” They conclude that their view will be marginalized though it is a view fast becoming relevant as times change and practices around meat are increasingly becoming Islamically questionable. Syed Hasan Kauser from Uttar Pradesh celebrated Eid-al-Adha, cutting a cake decorated with a goat’s picture;a group of Muslims from Madhya Pradesh fed animals instead of slaying them. Will they inspire others to consider humane alternatives to inhumane sacrifice?

In “Jesus and the Animals”, Niki Behrikis Shanahan, author of numerous publications on Christian perspectives of animals says, “It’s very interesting that Jesus seemed to be around animals often, and He frequently used animals in His parables.  It would appear that Jesus had animals on His mind……”  Shanahan refers to Christian scriptures : that Jesus was born in a manger, surrounded by animals; the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus as a dove during baptism, the Holy Spirit led Him into the desert where He fasted surrounded only by wild animals and angels; in the Bible, Jesus is called the Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd and the Lion of Judah; He rode a donkey to Jerusalem to go to the cross and made the once-and-for-all sacrifice for mankind by dying on the cross, eliminating the necessity for animals to ever be sacrificed again.

Yet, in celebrating Christmas, the birth of Jesus, animal deaths increase and their spiced and garnished carcasses end up on festive tables.

In “Jesus and First Christians were Vegetarians”, theologist Moris Hoblaj, querying whether God’s commandment “Do not kill” applies also to animals, cites historical documents, including apocrypha which record Jesus’ vegetarian life and Great Gabriella’s Letters where Church Father Hiernimus is quoted thus: “Until the Flood, consumption of animal meat was unknown. From the Flood on our mouths are full of fibres and smelly juices of animal meat……… Jesus Christ, who came when the time was right, made ends meet again and now consumption of animal meat is not allowed anymore.”

Thus, in the true spirit of these noble religions, where kindness, is espoused also to animals, can we not : Recollecting Jesus’ life associated with animals, celebrate Christmas, by contributing to reduce animal slaughter?

Recollecting Prophet Mohammed’s words, celebrateHajj, by feeding the poor with something other than animal flesh?

Recollecting Hinduism’s “ahimsa”, appease deities, by offering not blood, but the herbal drink ‘soma’ said to be used in 99% of sacrifices ?

And, recollecting the compassion in Buddhism, urge the government to give priority to the long outstanding Animal Welfare Bill (stalled periodically by those with vested interests) and other welfare laws recommended through a court case by eighteen animal rights activists, which are gathering dust on political and bureaucratic tables, for reasons best known to them?

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