Eid e Qurban: The idea of self sacrifice

On this Eid-e-Qurban our first thoughts must turn to the doctors and medical staff all over the world who are selflessly devoting themselves to the cause of humanity in these times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have gone on and on, overlooking their own safety, serving the victims of the deadly virus. Some have sacrificed their lives going beyond the call of duty. These men and women have demonstrated in ample measure the spirit of sacrifice and caring, which is the essence of the ordained spiritual quest and commitment and which Eid-e-Qurban represents.

A young Kashmiri doctor showed exemplary devotion that needs to be acknowledged and applauded. Even though the incident, as reported in the media, took place some ten weeks ago it should be mentioned on Eid-e-Qurban because it is so relevant to it. Zahid Abdul Majid, a senior resident with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi removed his protective gear to carry out a procedure on a critically ill patient in an ambulance. In doing so he disregarded his own safety. His father too deserves to be praised for he appreciated what his son had done to serve the patient when in the normal course a parent’s instinct is to ask a child to give priority to his own safety. The father and son showed an understanding that the service of humanity is the essence of all religions and the essential spirit of Eid-e-Qurban.

Interactions with friends in India who are Muslims and my postings in Muslim majority countries during my diplomatic career taught me the emphasis that the Islamic faith places on its adherents to constantly struggle to master their instincts and to raise themselves spiritually to a higher plane of virtue and to gain self-control. This requires the cultivation of moderation, accommodation and charity. If this is needed by individuals in the private sphere it is equally needed by individuals and groups in the public sphere. Amidst the current clash of ideologies across the world, including in our region and country the necessity of reconciliation of interests by the abandonment of extreme positions is vital. So is the need to give up the primal obsession with expansionism being demonstrated by some countries. Eid-e-Qurban reminds humankind of balance and empathy with the poor and of cooperation. Indeed, on some critical global issues this is necessary perhaps for the survival of humanity. For example, climate change is one such issue.

Reversing the decision of his predecessor Barack Obama, President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement. Climate change is a fact and requires full international cooperation to control it. The advanced industrialised countries have historically contributed to the emission of greenhouse gases which has contributed to the rise in temperatures. They had agreed in 1992 that they had the primary responsibility for reversing trends and also help developing countries to mitigate its impact. Systematically, they reneged on their commitments and asked the poorer and emerging countries, at the cost of their progress, to undertake measures to control climate change. The Paris agreement was part of this bargain. It represented the middle path. But Trump gave it up for he was unwilling for Americans to make any sacrifice to curtail their extravagant life styles.

The adoption of the path of reconciliation is never easy. I witnessed this during my professional career in Fiji which was a British colony and became independent in 1970. The original inhabitants of the island country were in a slim majority with the second populous being the descendants of Indian indentured labour. The original population was feudal. It was dominated socially and politically by a ‘chiefly’ class. At independence the country adopted a democratic constitution but power became vested in the hands of the chiefs.

By the mid-1980s there was a transition among the original inhabitants and a small group of leaders with socialistic leanings emerged that was not happy with the chiefs. They joined hands with political parties dominated by ‘Indian’ leaders and won the 1987 elections. The chiefs got together and worked on the army in which Indians had no representation to stage a coup. The country became destabilised and suffered for decades. A large number of professionals and businesspeople migrated denuding the country of talent and finances. All this because the chiefs resisted change and could not sacrifice their own interests. Fortunately, the situation in Fiji has become more settled now. The Fijian opposition parties adhered to democratic paths during the period of manipulation by the chiefs. They remained calm and patient and kept their spirits up in the most trying of circumstances.

Eid-e-Qurban should have a special meaning for Afghanistan where there is a critical need for all sides in the conflict to abandon violence and actively seek to reconcile differences in a spirit of tolerance, charity and looking beyond their own interests to those of the general population. Hardly, any country has suffered as much as Afghanistan has for more than four decades. There has been foreign interference but the responsibility of Afghan leaders to the continuance of the Afghan tragedy cannot be overlooked.

Seldom has an Eid-e-Qurban been observed in as trying global circumstances as at present when the world is truly in turmoil on account of COVID-19. It can only be hoped that its principles of compassion and sacrifice will be absorbed by leaders and people alike. Or is it, as history demonstrates, a futile hope in view of human nature itself?