On Friday, Muslims around the world will buy a sacrificial animal, have it slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law, and divide up the meat between their family, their relatives, and the poor. The ritual slaughter is among the central traditions of a joyous feast called Eid al-Adha, the larger of the two annual festivals in Islam, which marks the end of the annual hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. In Islamic tradition, the ritual slaughter honors Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in the name of God, although God at the last moment gave Abraham a ram to sacrifice instead.
In some countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan, celebrants will head to bustling outdoor markets to buy a choice animal—usually a sheep, but people also sacrifice goats, cows, and even camels—directly from the farmer who raised it, and have it slaughtered on the spot. But elsewhere in the Muslim world, the supply chain isn’t so straightforward. Many countries in the Middle East import the majority of their Eid livestock from places like Somalia, India, Romania, and as far as Australia. Some 12,500 Syrian sheep will even be airlifted from Lebanon to Qatar, owing to an ongoing political standoff between Qatar and several Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia, which has shut down the only roads into Qatar.
In Dubai, if you fancy a nice Australian steer, there’s no need to block off an afternoon to find one and have it slaughtered: An app from a Kuwaiti company called al-Mawashi (“livestock” in Arabic) lets you buy as many as you like online, for pickup at the “smart” abattoir of your choice, already slaughtered in accordance with Muslim law and cut up to order.
Outside the Eid rush, al-Mawashi will even deliver to your door. In a 30-second ad spot for the service, a portly kid tumbles down the stairs in an ostentatious, gold-trimmed home, imploring his mother to cook him some meat. Busy on the phone, she sends him to the kitchen to ask the South Asian cook, who declares that there’s no meat at all. He calls for his father, who sends him to Raju, the Indian driver, who tells him to buzz off. Down at the soccer field, he’s struck with inspiration when he sees an al-Mawashi delivery truck. Moments later, a delivery man hands his mother a box of meat at the door. “Who ordered this?” she wonders aloud, until the kid bounds up with a sly smile. The whole transaction is a far cry from Abraham’s sacrifice in the desert.
An app for reserving a sacrificial animal for Eid isn’t out of place in the sea of programs that have sprouted up to help the smartphone-toting Muslim go about his or her religious duties. Apps abound that calculate prayer times and send push notifications when they’re about to start, like a modern call to prayer. Many include a compass that points toward Mecca, to show Muslims which way to face as they pray. (Even Google got into the qibla-finding game this summer.) An app called Zabihah is like a Yelp for Halal food—except its desktop version has been around six years longer than Yelp itself. And hundreds of Koran apps help users memorize the holy book with translations, audio recordings, and games.
Social networks, forums, and messaging apps allow Muslims to connect with one another, and share information about Islam with curious non-Muslims. The internet is also a popular destination for believers searching for guidance from Islamic scholars about the finer points of living religiously in the modern world. Can the Koran be read on a smartphone or laptop? Yes, says a fatwa, or religious decree, from the United Arab Emirates—but reading it in print and memorizing it is best. Can a recorded recitation of a Koranic verse be used as a cellphone ringtone? No, said a panel of clerics in India in 2009, because the ringtone may be cut off before the verse is over, which would be a sin. What’s more, it would be inappropriate for the recitation to be heard by an individual in a bathroom.
These innumerable “new media” fatwas, which touch on topics large and small, have garnered some pushback from the religious old guard, some of whom see them as a threat to their authority. The proliferation of new technology also poses ethical conundrums for Muslims, who debate how it should and shouldn’t be allowed to impact their lifestyle and religion.
In a 2005 lecture titled “Islam, Muslims, and Modern Technology,” Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a celebrated Iranian scholar of Islam, explores Muslims’ relationship with Western technology. “We cannot be naïve and think it is simply neutral,” Nasr said, pointing to technology’s deleterious effects on health and mental well-being. Nasr isn’t calling for cutting out television and internet and cellphones entirely; he advocates instead for casting a critical eye on Western technology to discern its value and objectives. He emphasizes tradition: Mass production shouldn’t be allowed to take over traditionally handmade goods like Persian carpets and Indian saris, and Islamic architecture and urban design should be taught alongside their Western equivalents in the Muslim world.
Amana Raquib, a professor of philosophy and religion at the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi, Pakistan, argues for the development of an Islamic ethical framework for evaluating technology. She proposes a handful of ways to apply Islamic values to modern technology in a 2016 paper submitted to a conference called “Islamic Perspectives on Science and Technology.” Technology that promotes greed and selfishness doesn’t align with Islamic values, she writes; nor does technology that could “enhance” humans (such as gene therapy), because it contradicts our nature as divinely created beings.
Apps that order up religious sacrifices, however, would seem to be a prime example of technology imbued with Islamic values. Dubai’s ordering service may seem newfangled, but Muslims have been arranging Eid al-Adha sacrifices remotely for a long time. Numerous services allow Muslims to offer their ritual sacrifice to a family in need abroad, and some have had online order forms since the internet was young.
“These are interesting ideas because they take out some of the traditional processes,” said Gary Bunt, a professor of Islamic Studies at University of Wales Trinity Saint David. “Now it’s another product on your phone.” But for big, busy families, he said, it’s a natural progression.
Even as technology alters every facet of daily life, the core practices of Eid al-Adha haven’t changed dramatically over the years, said Hilal Khashan, a political-science professor at the American University of Beirut. The first morning of the four-day celebration involves an early visit to the mosque for prayer. Muslims make family visits, trade presents, cook traditional dishes and sweets, and slaughter and share a sacrificial animal, if they can afford to do so.
The most tangible encroachment of modernity may be an uptick in buzzing smartphone notifications around the holidays. “In the past, people would send postcards and letters,” Khashan said. “Now, everybody just exchanges holiday wishes on WhatsApp.”
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