We arrived in Fes the 22nd day of September, a Tuesday, which meant that Eid Al Adha or Eid Al Kbir would be celebrated two days later. It is one of two dates celebrated every year in Islam, the other being Eid Al Ftir, signifying the end of the month of Ramadan. Colloquially, they are usually referred to in translation as the The Great Feast and The Small Feast. It was quite easy to determine that there was already a lot of preparation underway the day we arrived. Think the most popular mall on Christmas Eve and one has an image of the level of busyness and commercial activity.
The Eid Al Adha is based on the scriptural story of Abraham as an act of faith being willing to sacrifice his son. In the Old Testament, Isaac is the son who is to be sacrificed. In the Koran, Hagar’s son Ishmael, the progenitor of the Arab nations, is the son for whom God provides a substitute sacrifice, a sheep. Every family wants to have at least one sheep to be sacrificed on the day of the celebration. However for many poor families, it is considered shameful since they are unable to purchase a sheep. The going price this year, according to a friend of mine, was about $300. That’s quite an expenditure for families whose yearly income would be $3,000 or less. I do not have the statistics on the percentage of families at below that income level, but I know that it has to be more than a third of the people.
There were a couple of observations we made this year as a result of being here in Fes amidst all the activity. The first is that a lot of work has to be done, much of it falling on the women in the family. The actual killing of the animal is usually under the purview of a male member of the family. But there are also “professionals” who set up appointments, beginning early in the morning and traveling around in the neighborhoods, to perform the ritual killing assuring that the meat that is consumed will be “halal” or permissible. In terms of food, halal means food that is permissible according to Islamic law; for meat to be halal, it cannot be a forbidden cut or animal (such as pork). Cottage industries spring up every year to facilitate the actual practices that are followed. Such services as knife sharpening, delivering sheep (or cows) to residences within a few days of the Eid, and getting rid of the skins later in the day provide additional income. One phenomenon we observed this year was the seemingly random creation of fires in the street, to grill the severed heads of the sheep, an apparent delicacy in the minds of many people. I heard the going price this year was twenty dirhams, about two dollars per head. A couple of the photographs show the fire that appeared almost directly below our balcony. I asked the family with whom we ate that afternoon how decisions are made as to where and under whose direction these activities are allowed to operate. Evidently, whoever is able to accumulate enough wood fuel from crates and shipping flats, and can maintain a fire for several hours, is free to provide this particular service. I am certain that OSHA is not involved, since it appeared to me that there were lots of opportunity for injury. Furthermore, any standard of cleanliness or hygiene were not evident.
However, I have to admit that by Friday morning of last week, the day after the Eid itself, the locations where most of these spontaneous “services” were provided had been pretty well cleaned up and the street was back to its normal state. Not suburban Birmingham standards, but not too bad for a neighborhood in which the population density is much, much greater than that to which we are accustomed.
Ozone, the name of the private company that has the waste disposal contract in Fes, also seemed well-prepared to handle the tremendous increase in trash and all sorts of waste as well. The Eid compares to Christmas in the giving of gifts, the offering of sales to stimulate buying, and the obvious increase in the consumption of food over a three or four day period. By seven o’clock on Thursday evening the trash trucks begin appearing with sufficient personnel to get rid of all the additional waste accumulating from the slaughter of the animals themselves, the packaging and wrapping paper from gifts, and all the kitchen waste created from the preparation of a large meal in practically everyone’s home. Maintaining timely and efficient waste removal is often a benchmark of a government’s ability to provide the necessary services that separate it from a less developed nation. I had to admit that Fes, and by extension Morocco, met this particular standard in 2015.
In a more critical vein, my Moroccan friend and I lamented the loss of meaning and “commercialization” of what we considered celebrations founded with deep spiritual significance. As during the Christmas season in the United States, much of the conspicuous consumption, exhausting schedule, and keeping up with the neighbors has little to do with the original tradition. Many families here now prefer to have several sheep or if a special statement is made, a steer to be “sacrificed” during the Eid. I have heard families whose economic location is such they are fortunate to have food year round, expressing regret they were only able to have one sheep this year.
I asked a Moroccan friend who follows the same tradition as I if he were going to have a sheep this year. “No”, he said, “the ultimate sacrifice was made a long time ago.” I agreed with him but wondered if I am not as complicit as these neighbors I observed with a critical eye as they allowed much of the meaning of “sacrifice” to be lost on the altar of personal satisfaction.
Pictures by Denise
October 3, 2015