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To Kill A Sheep? Modern Muslim Doubts Around Eid Al-Adha Holiday

Article illustrative image Partner logo Getting ready for the Eid Al Adha ritual sacrifice

CASABLANCA - The traditional Eid al-Adha holiday marks the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca, and recalls Abraham's obedience to God's command to sacrifice his son Ishmael. [Muslims believe the bible's would-be victim was Ishmael, the father of the Arabs; Christians and Jews believe the story refers to Isaac, the ancestor of the Jews. Both were sons of Abraham.]

At the center stands the ritual sacrifice of a sheep, which creates a temporary mini-industry in itself throughout much of the Muslim world. During Eid, it is not unusual to see people taking up jobs they might not do during the rest of the year: some become butchers, woodcutters, coal or knife vendors, blade sharpeners, fleece merchants or haulers. Some are happy to rent out their garages for the sacrifice.  

"Every self-respecting Muslim must slit the throat of a sheep. It's not a question of being for or against the Eid, but for or against the Sunna," says one young Moroccan man using the term for traditional Muslim belief.

Fatima Zahra, a retired Moroccan woman, does not agree. She believes the Eid is both too exhausting and too expensive. “I prefer to buy kebabs or chopped meat, rather than spend three days cutting, chopping, grilling and cleaning," she says. "No one is required to kill a sheep. It is just a commemoration of Abraham's sacrifice. People focus on the sacrifice even though there are many more important acts in the Sunna."

The sacrificial rite can also be a "nightmare" for young children. The sight of all the blood was always hard to bear for one young woman named Fedwa. "My grandmother is crazy.  She traumatized me with this holiday," she says. "I was very little when she made me help her hold the intestines, empty out the guts and cut that poor animal into pieces."

Fedwa remembers her hands covered with blood, and the strong odor from the slain animal. "How can you feed a sheep, cuddle it, take care of for several days, and then kill it from one day to the next, as if that is all right?"

Taking off

The Koran recalls that to reward Abraham's obedience, God sent a ram as a replacement to spare his son. The symbolic sacrifice itself is not a farida, or absolute obligation, but a sunna mouakada, or ritual favored by the prophet Muhammad.

Aside from the religious consideration, the rite scarcely pleases everyone. More and more people choose not to sacrifice a sheep, for a variety of reasons. "It's ridiculously expensive," says Hamza, 33. "I work all year long, and I prefer to take advantage of my holiday. For me, 3000 dirhams ($350) is an all-expense-paid two days in Marrakesh."

Others have a hard time accepting all this "unnecessary frenzy" about sheep. "Why should people have to go into debt or take out loans to buy a sheep, when they may throw half of it away?," asks Karim, 38. "Why are there so many fights just before Eid? It's supposed to be a holiday, yet you hear about murders and rapes. It's ridiculous. I don't accept that and I won't stay for the holiday, that is certain. I just have to decide where to go." 

Ahmad says he has never liked the atmosphere around the holiday, beginning with the ritual slaughtering. "I have never been able to buy nor to kill a sheep. I feel like a foreigner in my own family,"  he says.

There is another, perhaps more modern reason why others choose not to take part in the central feast of the holiday: "Lamb," said one, "is full of cholesterol."

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