Nearly 2.5 million Muslims participated in the Hajj (a spiritual exercise that constitutes one of the five pillars of Islam) this year. The figures have risen steadily over the years, and it is safe to presume the next couple of years will follow the same upward trajectory in numbers. The El al-Adha holiday is one both Muslims and Christians can identify with even though it is not officially celebrated by Christians. The story of Ibrahim (Abraham in the Bible) and God’s command to him to sacrifice his son, Ismail is recorded in the two most popular holy books. Eid-el Kabir is tagged, a festival of sacrifice—one that commemorates a test of faith and belief in the supreme being.
Like the Sallah holiday, the Christmas and Easter holidays are anchored on another dimension of sacrifice – the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ whom Christians believe to be the undeserving scapegoat for their sins. Again, it’s a story of unshakeable faith, matchless love, and overwhelming sacrifice. One that should be acknowledged with sobriety, reflection, and a renewed resolve to do better in disposition and conduct.
Alas, this is not nearly what obtains in reality.
Instead of a reawakening and renewed consciousness of God and the concept of love, brotherliness, kindness, and forgiveness, religious holidays have been reduced to seasons where inhibitions are shaken off and self-indulgence takes over. Rather than a display of the attributes above, these periods are often marked by activities that would make the initiators and earliest adopters of the phenomenon cringe. The incongruity between Nigeria as a country that is tilting towards religious intolerance (if the sheer number of people who are eager to foist their faith on others is anything to go by) and one that touts itself as secular already cuts a picture of confusion.
We do not kid around with fanatical exhibitions and outward appearances that announce our faith. It’s evident in our observation of several holidays in the year on the basis of historical events around the two main religions. The rites and rituals and processions are activities we do not toy with as we seek to mark these special days. But too often, we neglect the most important lessons they hope to teach—the virtues of tolerance, love, and peace.
Ever wondered why the crime rate rises during religious holidays? Why sects like the Boko Haram choose to unleash the most vicious attacks at times when they should be far more docile, introspecting and embracing peace? Why kidnappers and marauders up their evil ante when they should be seeking forgiveness of sin? I dare say it’s a function of trivialising the import of the seasons on our daily living.
We perform endless vigils and thanksgivings, testimonies, and prayer sessions but are unwilling to share during Easter in spite of the knowledge that the day should be about emulating the greatest act of giving humanity will ever know. The central theme of all religious celebrations do not stray away from qualities like obedience, forgiveness, kindness, and charity, but how many of us demonstrate them during the Eid or Christmas seasons?
What often obtains is a gathering of close friends and relatives with whom we make merry and poke fun. It’s a time of ostentatious displays and unbridled spending. The Sallah meat which also ought to be shared amongst the poor becomes a reason to throw that party we have always wanted to host. And just like individuals, the government at different levels would rather spend billions on banquets and high falutin events that have no bearing on a better life for the common man.
We must begin to look within and re-evaluate the purpose of observing these breaks.
If the days set aside to help us stop and redefine the essence of our existence in relation to the creator and humanity are only succeeding in making us more selfish, then we must make a conscious effort to do better.
It makes little sense to have spiritual establishments in all the nooks and crannies of our communities if they have no positive impact on our outlook and attitude as a people.
If our pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Mecca only succeed in making us more hard-hearted and insensitive to our neighbours, then it begs the question of why we embark on these religious sojourns that are aimed at causing some kind of spiritual rebirth.
While it’s understandable that for most people, holidays (regardless of what they are hinged on) are a time to take time off to rest or do those things the hustle and bustle of daily living hardly allows them to do, it’s important to not lose sight of how these breaks can help us become better people.
So, don’t just throw down during the next break. Think about the reason for it; reflect, and strive to be a better all-round human. That’s a better way to make religious holidays count.