Eid al-Adha is the second of two religious holidays celebrated each year by Muslims worldwide. Technically, the word means “major festival” and is referred to by different names in various parts of the Islamic world. In North Africa, it is often referred to as simply the Eid al-Kebir, or the “big feast.” The observation of the feast is tied to the lunar calendar and occurs approximately 11 days earlier each year. Since October 5th was the date this year, in 2015 the observance should be about September 23rd. The eid occurs roughly forty days after the end of the month of Ramadan.
Like some of our own religious holidays, a number of traditions and practices have become so much a part of the celebration that much of the original intent has been forgotten. The celebration itself is to commemorate and honor the faith of Abraham in being willing to offer his son as a sacrifice in obedience to God’s command. In the Koranic version of the similar story contained in the Old Testament, the son that is to be sacrificed is Ishmael, rather than Isaac. In both instances, Abraham is stopped by God before the son is killed, and a sheep is provided as the sacrifice instead.
In Morocco today, there is tremendous cultural pressure to have a sheep with which to observe the feast. Several times in the week or so before the holiday, we would be asked by taxi drivers if we had bought our sheep yet. We always said not yet. Since the going price this year was between 2000 and 3000 dirhams that meant a family had to come up with at least $250. For most families here, that is a lot of discretionary cash to have on hand. Using a conservative estimate that any one animal served up to 25 people, that still means that in Fes alone about 40,000 sheep were killed on that one day.
Soon after our arrival on September 17th we began to see the appearance of unusual commercial activity in the streets related to the approaching holiday. Bales of hay were stacked in the median of the boulevard in front of our apartment building. There were sacks of charcoal, bags of salt, and nearer the end of the month, even cooking implements and utensils that aspiring business people provided to make sure that people had everything they needed.
Some people bought their sheep a week or two in advance to take advantage of the abundant supply before the increased demand neared the date of the eid and drove the price higher. That meant, of course, that the sheep had to be fed and a place had to be found for the animal to be kept until its day of destiny. The flat roofs of the apartments were used to provide temporary “housing” for the animals, though in many cases there is no shelter at all. We began to hear a lot of bleating and “baa-ing” in the neighborhood.
I am uncertain as to when the idea became acceptable that other animals such as cows, goats and camel were acceptable sacrifices as well. We do not have camels here, but there were a number of cows I saw staked in various locations, and saw a number of them, as well as goats being transported during the last week or so before the holiday. There were even some cows that were taken up on the roofs, though I wonder how PETA would feel about leading a cow up five flights of stairs.
Most of the apartments in our neighborhoods have western style bathrooms, and quite often have a traditional “Turkish toilet” as well, usually in a room about four feet square. Many folks fearing their sheep might be stolen were they to leave it overnight on the roof, used the small room as a holding pen for several days.
The actual slaughter of the animal is done either outdoors if a place with water can be found, on the roof, or most often in the house itself. Of course that means a tremendous amount of work and cleaning up that has to be done that day. As you might guess, more likely than not, that work falls to the women of the household, especially the cleaning up. Because we were in Casablanca on the day of the eid itself, we had our meal in a restaurant that day, a Pizza Hut. We opted for the Pepperoni Lovers. However, I noticed that afternoon, that many of the cafes were quite crowded, all men of course.
Another ancillary business that seems to have developed as a result of the celebrations is a specialized part of the transportation industry utilizing three wheeled vehicles with a small compartment similar to a small pick-up. Some of the pictures here show the sheep being delivered to a home or some location where the animal can be kept. I am guessing that the time of the eid presents the owner with his best opportunity of the year to realize a return on his investment in the carrier. We saw a lot of animals in the backs of these vehicles with looks of real anxiety on their faces.
This year was the first time in fifteen or so years we had been here for the actual holiday itself. It did seem to me that a lot of change has taken place, maybe like Christmas decorations appearing soon after Halloween in department stores in the states. There is a lot of emphasis on having more now; discussions like maybe we should have a cow this year, or two sheep. I guess that I am as liable as they for that type of thinking, and cannot be too critical of their motives when I am honest with myself about my own.
For the Christians we know here, there is some internal conflict as they think about how to be supportive and respectful of their neighbors, but also not to draw too much attention to the fact that they might believe differently about the celebration itself. A Christian family might have a sheep anyway, and share some of the meat with their less fortunate neighbors, an important part of the tradition. I did ask one of my friends who shares a similar world view to me if they were going to have a sheep. He gave me something to think about when he replied, “No, I think the lamb has already been slain.”
Fred – Photos by Denise