The Government of Guyana values the contributions of every ethnic, religious, and racial group. The subcultures, values, and customs of these groups all add to the diverse and rich tapestry that is Guyana and Guyanese culture. Together, the people of this nation have sacrificed ignorance for education, segregation for inclusivity, and discrimination in the name of unity.
In keeping with the theme of sacrifice, this edition of Government in Action explores the Festival of Sacrifice, Eid Ul Adha. In unity with Guyana’s Muslim citizens, we learn how each one of us can make small sacrifices for the greater good of Guyana.
Sacrifice and obedience
The first ten days of the last month on the Muslim calendar, the month of Zulhijjah, are set aside as a time most sacred and beloved by God. Muslims are encouraged to fast, seek Allah’s forgiveness, and practice righteous deeds.
This sets the stage for the Festival of Sacrifice, a story which may be more familiar to most Guyanese than expected. Shaykh Moeenul Hack of the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana (CIOG) explains the story, as told in the Quran.
“Prophet Abraham saw in a dream that he had to sacrifice that which he loved best… He made sacrifices of animals [for] two nights [but] he continued to [have] this dream [with] a command from the Lord, sacrifice that which you love most’. Therefore, he then approached his son, who was his only child at that time… which he got at the age of 86 years. That is Ishmael and it is this attempted sacrifice, this tradition, which we continue to observe today,” he said.
The Shaykh explained that sacrifice is one of the main principles of the Muslim faith.
“We know about sacrificing for something that has worth and something that has value. So, in the religion of Islam, we find this principle in every aspect of our faith… So, sacrifice is not meant only for one day per year and one particular ritual. It encompasses our entire living and fulfilling our obligations to the Creator as well as the creation. In this regard, we must state also that as believers in God Almighty, it is required of us that we do not sacrifice our morals, our good habits, our good attitude, and our principles. And this is one of the important lessons we learned from Prophet Abraham and Ishmael,” he said.
The Prophet Abraham was brought up in a lawless time. Despite the immorality of the society, he refused to conform, choosing instead to build his own household elsewhere. This, Shaykh Moeen said, is an important lesson in Islam.
“He taught us that we abstain from wrong even if everyone is doing it and we do that which is right even if no one is observing it. This sometimes is a lonely road for us to travel, but when we know better, we must do better. This is one of the lessons we learn from this particular prophet of God Almighty and [his] sacrifice,” he said.
Quoting a verse from the Holy Quran, Shaykh Moeen urged Guyanese to understand that the sacrifice is meaningless if the intention is not acceptable to God.
“The real meaning behind the sacrifice can be cited in a verse of the Holy Quran which states, “It is not the meat nor the blood, which reaches God Almighty, but it is your piety, your sincerity, that is what reaches the Almighty…” Before the animal sacrifice is accepted by God Almighty, we have to sacrifice and slaughter those evil desires, those egos, remove the hatred from our hearts, remove the animosity, the greed and the malice, etc. otherwise, this animal sacrifice will become an exercise in futility,” he said.
Abraham and Ishmael are prominent characters of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Shaykh Moeen said that this is proof of a similarity between human beings that far outweighs the differences.
“In one of the chapters of the Holy Quran, God Almighty says, “Definitely those who purify themselves, that is internally and externally, will succeed, but many of you prefer this material life, which is transient. It is temporary. The hereafter is better and lasting. This information you will find in the previous scriptures, the scripture of Abraham, the scripture of Moses.” These are verses I translated into English from the Holy Quran… So, we have a strong relationship. We believe in all the prophets of God Almighty, including Prophet Abraham, including, Prophet Jesus and, therefore, we have more in common and… we must emphasise what we have in common instead of our few differences,” he said.
Eid Ul Adha in Guyana
On Monday, August 12th, Muslims across Guyana will go their Masjids and participate in an animal sacrifice that is a reflection of the obedience and sacrifice of the Prophet Abraham. Head of the Political Division at the Ministry of the Presidency, Mr. Frederick McWilfred, a devout Muslim shared with us his favourite traditions during Eid Ul Adha.
“On a typical day in Guyana, we start the day with the Eid Prayer… It is preferred to be done in the open… but most Muslims across the country do it in the Masjid… So, we go for the Eid Prayer and immediately after the Eid Prayer, we have the performance of the sacrifice. Next Monday, if you go to the various Eid grounds and masjids around the country… you can see all the Muslims there, who can afford to do the sacrifice, dividing up their meat. The part I love the most about this is the distribution of the meat to the poor,” he said.
Mr. McWilfred particularly enjoys the chance to encourage those who are underprivileged and in need of the food.
“I have a favourite place in Georgetown where I do my Qurbani - Mandela Avenue in La Penitence. I go there because I feel a great sense of affinity with the people in the neighbourhood. If you were to come there on Monday, you’d see hundreds probably [of] non-Muslims who would just come there for a piece of meat and I’m so happy to be a part of that process to give that piece of meat to them and to encourage them… by our example, demonstrate goodness and to urge [them] toward goodness and away from evil and wrongdoing,” he said.
Mr. McWilfred said Guyana’s plural society should be protected and celebrated as persons in other countries are persecuted for their religious beliefs.
“We have a unique situation in Guyana where we appreciate each other. You see more non-Hindus, for example, at Phagwah time throwing abeer and water… I think, mutual respect across religions and that’s a very good thing and I hope and pray that God Almighty will… continue to bless us in this way to have this great, great blessing... When you look at other countries where people are slaughtered for their beliefs; where people have to hide just to practice their religion, where people are being persecuted… In Guyana, we don’t have that and I’ve not known of a single instance under any Government [here] where there has been any attempt of religious persecution,” he said.
The beauty of Guyana’s diversity is exemplified and celebrated in his own life.
“My doctor is a pastor who had a long Hindu name and now he’s known as Pastor Peter - so, it’s quite interesting to me and I see this all from an Islamic position - and what is good is that he is a Hindu turned Christian pastor, but I trust him with my life as my doctor. That for me is one of the beauties of our culture and our life in Guyana,” he said.
Mr. McWilfred shared his hope for Guyanese during this time of reflection and festivity.
“On behalf of His Excellency… David Granger and the Government of Guyana and on my own behalf, [I] wish the Muslim community Eid Mubarak, Eid Saeed, Eid Kareem and to wish that good will prevail and that we will promote the true values of Qurbani, of sacrifice, and that we’ll be an example for the wider community in our practice of goodness and in our forbiddance of evil. I would also like to extend those greetings to the wider Guyanese community and to ask you to understand our practice as we try to understand other practices as Muslims… Eid Mubarak,” he said.
The Government of Guyana continues to uphold and support the right of every Guyanese, as enshrined in the Constitution, to practice his or her religion freely without fear of persecution. We as Guyanese can learn from the celebration of Eid Ul Adha. Let us all welcome the Festival of Sacrifice for the betterment of our country.