A Holy Sacrifice

STORY OF Mamadou Togo
WRITTEN BY Mohamed Ali Laswad

Managed by the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), Saudi Arabia’s Project for Utilization of Hady and Adahi oversees the supervision of animal sacrifice during Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. The meat obtained is handed directly to poor families and given to charitable waqfs, which distribute over 2,000 cooked meals a day. Large refrigerators made available by the Government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques are used to store the meat before it undergoes a rigorous safety and hygiene process. Since the project launched, meat from over 22 million sacrificed animals has been distributed to some of the neediest families around the world.

As a young boy growing up in Bamako, Mali’s capital and largest city, I always looked forward to Eid ul Adha, one of the most important festivals in the Muslim calendar. I vividly remember the details of the story my mother would narrate of the Prophet Ibrahim, as my siblings and I curled up beside her at night. As it happens, Prophet Ibrahim had a dream one night in which he was ordered to sacrifice his beloved son Ismail as an act of obedience to God.

At first, Ibrahim was skeptical and believed it was the trickery of the cursed devil, but after experiencing the same dream the following night, he understood it was a command from Allah. Although he loved his son dearly, Ibrahim prepared Ismail for the sacrifice and set off to honor his duty, thus proving his complete submission to Allah. 

Ibrahim took his son to the Mina Valley, carrying a knife and a rope in his hands. He told Ismail of his dream and made him aware that Allah had decreed for him to be a sacrifice, and in obedience, his son accepted what was commanded of him. Ismail asked that his hands and legs be tied to prevent him struggling during the sacrifice and that his father should blindfold himself to avoid witnessing the suffering of his son. Ismail was aware of his father’s love for him and knew that it would be difficult for him to witness.

As Ibrahim began to carry out the sacrifice, Allah replaced Ismail with a ram and Ismail was left unharmed. Allah had tested Ibrahim to see his dedication in his submission to the Lord and in his willingness to oblige, Ibrahim successfully passed the test. I remember feeling both a sense of dread and relief as my mother narrated the story, and I was glad that young Ismail was spared. Nonetheless, I would incessantly ask my mother to repeat the story as I loved it so much. “Again, Mamadou?” she would say, rolling her eyes as I giggled and nodded.

The best part of the story is that, to commemorate Ibrahim’s obedience to Allah, every year Muslims around the world sacrifice an animal to confirm our own willingness to sacrifice whatever Allah asks of us. As a poor family living in a small, mud-walled shack on the banks of the Niger River, we never had enough to sacrifice and relied on the generosity of our neighbors, who would share their sacrifice with us. 

"My guests informed me that they were from IsDB and had come to oversee the distribution of Hady and Adahi (sacrificial meat) to vulnerable people in Mali."

This was part of the rules of the sacrifice, as the meat from the animal should be distributed equally in three parts, with each given to family, friends and the poor. Since we belonged to the third category and couldn’t afford to eat meat regularly, Eid ul Adha was my favorite festival and I eagerly looked forward to it every year.

The sacrifice, referred to as qurbani in Arabic, takes place during the last days of Dhul Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar, which is also the month of pilgrimage. The pilgrimage of Hajj is one of the five compulsory pillars of Islam and it is my dream to one day complete it. Most families in my village share this dream but most simply cannot afford it. Nonetheless, we pray that Allah grants our wishes one day, and we can join the millions of Muslims who come from around the world to visit the Kaaba – the House of Allah – in the sacred city of Makkah. 

I have been saving up for this trip of a lifetime since I started working as a taxi driver, sacrificing long hours every day, driving my car around the dusty streets of Bamako. It can be a difficult job, especially in the scorching summer heat, but I enjoy meeting lots of different people. One day, I had the pleasure of receiving some special guests from the sacred city itself. 

I picked up Mohamed Lassoued and his colleague Abadil from the airport on a hot summer afternoon. As I drove past the colorful markets along the streets, my guests informed me that they were from IsDB and had come to oversee the distribution of Hady and Adahi (sacrificial meat) to vulnerable people in Mali. 

I was overcome with excitement as I listened to their first-hand accounts of the sacrifice that had already taken place in Saudi Arabia; a plane loaded with 2,500 slaughtered sheep was to arrive from Jeddah in the next two days. On our way to the hotel, we passed spacious yards where people had gathered for Eid prayers. As worshippers started to form a line, we decided to join them. 

After prayers, one of the imams went up to a sheep that was tied under a tree and slaughtered it. Mohamed seemed impressed and asked me the reason for this. “By doing this, the Imam encourages the worshippers to make their own sacrifices following the sunnah of the Prophet, may Allah grant him peace,” I said. After taking a break at the hotel, we went for a walk and I took my guests around the streets of the capital. There were huge crowds of people, young and old, men and women, celebrating. They all wore new clothes and exchanged greetings of “Sampi, Sampi!”, which means “Happy Eid!” 

The next morning, I drove Mohamed and Abadil to a meeting with officials from nine municipalities and representatives of civil protection, veterinary services, the media and social affairs, among others. All those in attendance wished each other Eid Mubarak and praised IsDB for its work. Mohamed and Abadil briefed the room on the processes involved with meat distribution, and together they decided how best to distribute the meat to the poor of Bamako and its neighboring villages. 

Two days later, the cargo plane arrived, and veterinarians examined random samples of the meat. When they had finished their work, they declared that the distribution could begin. According to the plan that had been agreed, large and medium-sized trucks began loading the meat. One truck went to the maternity hospital, another to the civil prison, and another to the Great Mosque, where groups of people in need had gathered. Other trucks were dispatched to shelters for the elderly, orphanages and slums in all nine municipalities of the capital and its neighboring villages. 

I accompanied Mohamed and Abadil to monitor the distribution of the sacrifices and took photos of the deliveries. Mali TV, a local station, had anticipated the arrival of the shipment and made a documentary about the distribution, capturing the action moment by moment. It was a joy to see my people receive their share of the sacrificial meat that had been slaughtered in the holy land, which we all hoped to visit one day. 

The distribution had been a success and as the day drew to an end, I dropped my guests off at their hotel. In the lobby, we saw the TV broadcasting the distribution of the meat shipments. The large screen showed an elderly man receiving his share with joy and happiness, while a woman raised her hands in prayer. We watched as a weak, old man received his meat but as he was unable to carry it, a young man rushed to help, carrying the bags back to the man’s house. We felt so happy to be part of this noble work. Mohamed turned to me and gave me my own share of meat, which I received gratefully. Later, I shared it with my family as we honored the sacrifice of the Prophet Ibrahim.