Early on the morning of 13 September 2016, lurid images began proliferating via social media purporting to show the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh overflowing with blood-red water after a mass sacrifice of animals in honor of Eid al-Adha (Islam’s annual Festival of Sacrifice) coincided with monsoon rains in the capital city, which is known for its inadequate sewage system:
— Edward Rees (@ReesEdward) September 13, 2016
In Islamic tradition, Eid al-Adha commemorates the Quranic story of Ibrahim (known as Abraham in the Bible), whom Allah commanded to prove his obedience by killing his own son as a sacrifice. Every year during Eid al-Adha, Muslim families ritually sacrifice goats, cows, and water buffaloes to thank Allah for releasing Ibrahim from that commandment and sparing his child from death. The meat from the sacrifices is divided up in accordance with custom and shared with family, friends, and those in need.
The Dhaka Tribune described the aftermath of this year’s Eid al-Adha sacrifice as “a strange and disturbing scene” characterized by “red rivers running across the city.” Despite hundreds of spots around Dhaka being designated as sacrificial locations, many citizens chose (or were forced by the rains) to slaughter animals in their garages, on the streets, and in alleyways near their homes. According to BBC Bengali, as many as 100,000 animals were sacrificed this year (though other sources cited figures ranging from 44,000 animals to one million).
The gory spectacle was made to order for clickbait headlines, which popped up on news web sites as the day wore on, eventually finding their way into newspapers and television news broadcasts around the world.
But the “ick” factor proved even more irresistible to anti-Muslim hate sites, which played up the “barberism” of animal sacrifice and tacked on numerous additional photos and videos showing livestock being slaughtered:
Realizing that the images could be used to sully the reputation of Islam, some Muslims took to social media to argue that they were Photoshopped. It was claimed, for example, that the below-right photo, which, unlike the one at left, does not show a stream of bloody water, is the original, unretouched version:
On closer examination, though, it appears to be the greenish-tinted image at right that was Photoshopped, not the bloodier version at left. Two things to note are the utter absence of skin color in the person we see in the picture on the right (in which virtually every object has been reduced to a murky grey-green color), and the degradation in quality between the original (left) and the altered version (right). Moreover, the Twitter user cited as the original source of the photos, a United Nations adviser living in Dhaka named Edward Rees, has verified that he is acquainted with the photographer, and the images are authentic. Videos taken on the second day of Eid al-Adha in Dhaka also depict the streets awash in blood:
In the aftermath of the flooding, health professionals expressed concern that the exposure of tens of thousands of people to the tainted water for nearly half a day may result in an outbreak of disease. Children are especially vulnerable, they warned.