Zahid Hussain in Karachi, Ritu Sharma in New Delhi and Rock Ronald Rozario in DhakaUpdated: September 24, 2015 08:56 PM GMT
Pakistani men transport a goat at a livestock market ahead of the sacrificial Eid al-Adha festival in Karachi Sept. 23. Muslims celebrate the annual festival in commemoration of Prophet Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son to show obedience to God. (Photo by Asif Hassan/AFP)
The three South Asian countries of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh together are home to the largest number of Muslims, comprising about 30 percent of the world's Muslim population.
Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, now independent countries, were once together British India and share the same history and cultural and religious heritage.
About 95 percent of Pakistan's population is Muslim, with the number being 90 percent in Bangladesh and 15 percent in India. These three countries have the largest number of Muslims of any country outside of Indonesia. Muslims on Sept. 25 are celebrating Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice.
The festival commemorates the story of the Prophet Abraham, revered also by Christians and Jews, who was willing to sacrifice his only son at God's command. Scripture says that God did so to test Abraham. When Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, he was stopped by an angel. Then he saw in a thicket a ram caught by its horns and sacrificed it instead of his son.
For Muslims, this is one of two major festivals and times when they will reflect on the meaning of sacrifice and devotion, pray and together with family and friends thank God for blessings received.
Muslim-Christian brotherhood in Pakistan
In Pakistan, home to about 180 million Muslims, the coming together of Muslims and Christians is a major part of the Eid al-Adha festival.
In Mehmoodabad, a low-income Karachi neighborhood, noisy children eagerly awaited the arrival of cows and goats.
The locality is home to not only Muslim families but also a number of Christian ones. Irrespective of their different religious beliefs, children from both faith communities spent the day before caring and feeding the animals that were to be sacrificed.
The meat of the sacrificed animal is equally divided into three parts. One-third is retained by the family; the second is distributed among relatives, friends and neighbors; the remaining portion is given to the poor and needy.
"I always send a portion of meat to my non-Muslim neighbors and friends to make sure that they join us in the festivities and don't feel left out," said Saeeda Zahra, a Muslim mother of three in Mehmoodabad.
Dianna Gill, a Catholic from Mehmoodabad, agrees.
"Many of my Muslim friends send us meat every year. I happily accept it with thanks," she said, pointing out that this festival is also a time when she invites her extended family members to dinner.
She even got her little children new dresses and bangles as part of the annual celebrations.
"While they (Muslims) sent me meat and sweets, I will reciprocate the gesture by inviting them to Christmas celebrations," she added.
Michael Javed, a former lawmaker and a Christian, said Eid al-Adha is a great opportunity to promote harmony and brotherhood among Muslims and religious minorities in Pakistan.
While this is done at a people's level, there is need to hold more such events at the government level.
"There should be more interaction among people of different faiths on such happy occasions. This will bring the communities together and alleviate feelings of segregation and persecution," he said.
Indian Muslim devotees offer Eid al-Adha prayers in Hyderabad on Sept. 25. (Photo by Noah Seelam/AFP)
Tensions in India
In Hindu-majority India, which is also home to about 180 million Muslims, the recent controversial ban on eating and selling beef in some parts of the country has cast a shadow over the celebrations of Eid al-Adha.
The western Indian state of Maharashtra, for example, has since March banned beef and the slaughter of cows. Any one found selling or in possession of beef can be sentenced to five years in jail with a fine of 10,000 rupees (US$155).
The ban is a cause of concern for Muslims for whom sacrificing an animal is a main part of this festival. At this time, families get together and sacrifice a cow or buffalo jointly, dividing the cost. But this seems impossible with the ban in place.
"Goats are costly in comparison to buffaloes. There is also a paucity of the number of goats. How many can you sacrifice during a festival if other animals are not available?" asked Navaid Hamid, secretary of the South Asian Council for Minorities.
Hamid told ucanews.com that the festival is based on the tradition of sacrifice. "It is a festival of atonement and sacrifice of willpower to the almighty," he said.
In Jammu and Kashmir state, India's only Muslim-majority state, the situation is tense as a recent high court order also banned the sale of beef there.
"This is not a ban on us. It is a conflict of the state authorities with Islam. Our religious sentiments are hurt by the order," Umer Asif, a Muslim who lives in the Srinagar district of the state bordering Pakistan, told ucanews.com.
"As a show of respect for our religion, we slaughter a bovine in each area of the district on this festival day. We have to answer to God that we failed in following our religion," he said.
Religious harmony in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, with close to 150 million Muslims, a long tradition of religious harmony helps Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Muslims celebrate this festival together.
It is very common for Muslims to invite their non-Muslim friends and relatives to their houses, both in rural and urban areas.
In urban areas, Muslim landlords send their non-Muslim tenants the meat of sacrificed animals during Eid al-Adha. In various places, Muslims organize special programs for people of all faiths to celebrate the festival.
Monipuripara Kallyan Samity, an urban welfare society based in a central Dhaka neighborhood, organizes a rally and cultural program where they invite all 1,700 families of the locality, which is a Christian stronghold.
"Since the founding of the society in 2004, we have taken efforts to promote and sustain interreligious harmony among local people by common celebration of festivals," said Mintu Chowdhury, the organization's assistant secretary.
"We believe that religion is a personal matter, but religious festivals are for all. Our aim is to sustain this long tradition of religious and communal harmony in the country," he told ucanews.com.