I couldn’t celebrate the last two Eids with my family: Eid al-Fitr (festival of breaking the fast) and Eid al-Adha (festival of sacrifice). I missed Eid al-Adha last year because I was doing Summer Bridge before the first semester of my freshman year, and I missed Eid al-Fitr after last Ramadan, about three months ago, because my flight was canceled due to COVID-19. Thankfully, this year I was able to celebrate Eid al-Adha with my family. Although this celebration lost some of its communal elements in order to limit the spread of COVID-19, its major ritual of sacrifice was still held across the globe.
Eid al-Adha recognizes and honors Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismael to Allah as an act of obedience. We believe that before he could be slaughtered, Ismael was replaced with a lamb from heaven to be slaughtered instead. So every Eid al-Adha, those who are able must sacrifice particular kinds of livestock, such as sheep, camels and cows. We sacrifice them because we as Muslims only observe two religious holidays. And isn’t it just amazing that one of them is exclusively about celebrating shedding blood?
Before we wake up hungry for blood on the day of Eid, we do a number of rituals: pray, hug each other and exchange gifts, and then very cruelly slaughter any and every animal we can lay our hands on. Since most of these rituals are performed individually (or following social distancing guidelines because we were considerate enough not to politicize a pandemic and selfishly risk spreading the disease), we couldn’t let go of the one ritual we’d been anticipating all year: killing these animals. And so we did.
All kidding aside, I honestly don’t know what to say if you even slightly believed that previous paragraph (except for the part about politicizing a pandemic; wear a f—ing mask). I jokingly tweeted after Eid prayer, “thinking about the liberal vegans writing think pieces now about Muzlims slaughtering animals today.” (Stop pronouncing it with a “z”; it is literally an “s.”)
Although it was still very early in the day, around 7 a.m., and my brother still wasn’t back with our sheep, I had to tweet this as early as possible. The devil works hard, but Islamophobes work harder. And I was right. Two days later (I’m not sure if the author was necessarily vegan, though), the Daily Mail published an article with this headline: “Muslims slaughter cattle, camels and sheep in bloody sacrifice to celebrate Eid al-Adha during scaled back festivities because of the coronavirus crisis.” “Bloody”? Really? And what happens to animals when they’re slaughtered by non-Muslims?
These supposed critiques of the ritual of sacrifice that thousands of Muslims perform every year are not fueled by concern for the environment nor for the animals. Similar headlines come every year, simply rephrased with different synonyms for the word “savage.” I genuinely wonder when Islamophobes will reach the end of the thesaurus.
But it’s all a continuation of the trope that portrays Muslims as backward terrorists with no empathy. I’m not going to justify this ritual, nor any other Muslim ritual for that matter. I’m not going to try to convince you not to see me as a cruel savage for slaughtering and consuming meat. I’m not even going to attempt to say that the sacrificed animal will be distributed to the poor to appeal to your logic. Your bigotry is yours to acknowledge, confront and unlearn — it’s not Muslims’ (or, for that matter, any other group’s) responsibility to justify their humanity to you.
“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being,” said author Toni Morrison in one of her many remarkable speeches. “Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. … There will always be one more thing.”
I love bonding with my Muslim friends over different things: childhood memories of Eid celebrations, favorite songs, “random” security checks at airports or the constant pressure we feel to explain and justify our commitment to our faith over and over again to avoid being called followers of Al-Qaeda or the perpetrators of 9/11. Imagine how tired we are.
It’s like being born with a set of prepared justifications, kept ready for whenever you sense an Islamophobe around. Perhaps the universal one is “Islam comes from the Arabic word ‘salam,’ which means ‘peace.’ ” I remember this fact helping me feel safer and more faithful, as if the five pillars of Islam required that I debate my faith with entitled bigots. But looking at it now, I understand that Muslims, like many groups, are burdened with this urge to have ready explanations to combat their ongoing dehumanization. These explanations seem to “humanize” us in a way, which in itself is an indicator of the people we see as human and the people we still think need to be “humanized.”
This requires an understanding of what “human” means to us. To many, this word entails whiteness, Christianity, cis-heterosexuality and manhood. If you fall short in any of these categories or lack the dominant traits wherever you live, I’m sorry to inform you that you’ll be expected to justify your existence every day of your life. You’re always seen as lesser, as subhuman, so you’re destined either to conform and assimilate or to reject and resist.
UC Berkeley lecturer and author Hatem Bazian wrote an article titled “Humanizing the human is dehumanizing! Preforming Muslimness.” He notes that non-Muslims feel entitled to justifications that “show an audience that Muslims are ‘like you’ — they are not fanatics, they eat fast food, laugh, dance, shop, play sports, worry about make-up, have family troubles, negotiate gender issues and seek to break away from tradition itself.”
Although this obligation to show non-Muslims that we’re “normal” may seem innocent, it raises the question of why our humanity is not presumed. Bazian asks, “Does a human need to be humanized? What type/s of human needs to be humanized? Only a non-human or a dehumanized objectified entity requires to be humanized in order to be allowed entry into the space occupied by the already and totally vested human.”
The refusal to offer explanations of faith or other facets of my identity shouldn’t be confused with pushing others away. We cultivate solidarity and empathy among our assorted communities by educating each other. But what I refuse to accept is anyone coming to “be educated” with a presumption of their superiority and my subhumanity, or any type of entitlement; you should go debate with a wall in this case.
It is your responsibility — and mine, and everyone’s — to commit to seeing other communities through a lens that is free of the bigotry in which we’ve all been raised. And I owe you no justification, no explanation, no indication of my so-called “humanity.” In fact, I owe you nothing at all.
Khaled Alqahtani writes the Wednesday column on decolonization. Contact them at [email protected]