Eid Kebir is a Muslim holiday which celebrates the memory of Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram to God.** Islam, like other religions, incorporates the Old Testament into its faith. It is most common for a ram (male sheep) to be sacrificed, but a cow, goat or camel may be sacrificed as well depending on the size of the family. The sacrifice is intended to praise God and must be done cleanly and without torture to the animal (the jugular is sliced quickly and the blood must drain completely). Many Moroccan homes have hooks in an inner courtyard and the courtyard has a drain. This is specifically to facilitate the slaughter, hanging up of the animal and draining of the blood for this holy occasion.
A slaughter is required under Islam for people who have the money to buy a ram. Also, after the slaughter, much of the meat is given to the poor. This “giving of charity” is one of the pillars upon which Islam is based. But putting religion aside, the sale of rams is big business before the holiday, and could be compared to pumpkins at Halloween or Christmas Trees at Christmas, lilies at Easter or Hallmark cards
on Mother’s Day. The meatier the ram, the more expensive it is (like the bigger the pumpkin). Selling one’s stock of rams could be the sole source of income for the year for some families and this time of year it can be a crazy and deadly serious business. (For all the sheep reading this blog, please forgive the pun.) A diseased sheep or even one with a sore on it may not be slaughtered or consumed, so defective rams are off the hook. (Again, sorry about the pun!) Otherwise, “sorry dudes.” A friend of ours showed us a cartoon where a sheep was reading a book on how to be another animal just days before Eid.
A ram, should not be confused with a lamb. A ram is a male, un-castrated sheep over one year old. Lambs, like those sold in Publix and consumed in the US, are baby sheep (boys or girls), usually around 3 months old. Ewes, or female sheep, are given a reprieve from EID slaughter. Ram meat is called mutton and it is much stronger in flavor than lamb (but super good). Some say it is an acquired taste, but we love it! Almost
every part of the ram is used or consumed, however, it is forbidden to eat any reproductive parts or the bladder. ALL of the other parts are generally consumed in a specific order, starting with the organs. The typical way of eating the meat is BBQ. A week before the holiday, the streets and sidewalks filled with vendors of charcoal, hibachi grills, knives and little stands with men eager to sharpen any knife, axe, hatchet or machete that a person brings to him. As an aside, there are no licenses required to set up and sell your products on the side of the road (or the sidewalk), so generally, unemployed people who sell these things have a great opportunity to make some money during this time to support themselves and their families. Next week, these same people may be selling books, clothes, or vegetables.
Living in Morocco this year, and watching the preparation for this holiday, reminded us in many ways of the Christmas holiday and weeks before it, in the United States. People are out shopping for new outfits, presents and food. There will be massive cooking. It is forbidden to fast during Eid and in celebration, there
will be much eating, drinking (non-alcoholic, of course) and praises to God.
A few days before the main holiday day, little kids were out caroling door to door, carrying with them little bags which were filled by residents (including us) with candy, money, bread or whatever. This experience was much like combining Christmas with Halloween! The closer the day came, the more joyful the people became and the more alive were the streets and markets. Businesses close for the most part for about a week, so we were told by our friends to stock up on essentials, bread, milk, eggs, etc.
One huge difference about the celebration of holidays here in Morocco versus the celebration of holidays in the US is that 98% of the country’s people celebrate ALL the holidays!!! The reason for this fact is that 98% of the people living in Morocco are Muslim. There is no political correctness with regard to the country’s minority as to the fact that a religious holiday is being celebrated. Throughout the streets the calls of “muh-brock leh eye-eed” are heard and answered with vigor! Any well-wishing of a generic “happy holiday” would be considered confusing and silly… after
all, it’s Eid and it should be called that!!!
About a week before the official day of slaughter, we received a large plastic bag, delivered right to our front door by our garbage company (it is odd to have trash pickup in Morocco, but our town has invested in it and we are lucky!). After looking at the bag, we realized that it was for the discarded sheep “parts” so they would not be throw into the streets. GREAT IDEA!!! Accompanying the bag was a paper notice with what appeared to be the dates and times of pick-up of the carcasses which were to be deposited in the bag (it was in Arabic script, which we can’t yet read). We were expecting to see carcasses piled up on the streets, so we were excited that the bags were going to be used!
A few days before the big day, we saw rams everywhere and they were being transported in manner imaginable!!! Every kind of vehicle had sheep strapped to it, piled on top of it and shoved in it – on motorcycles, leashes, bicycles, in carts, cars, inside trunks of taxis and in vans. Does it seem crazy?
Yes. Do we understand it now? Yes. With understanding came a feeling of “okay, this makes sense for them” even if for ourselves we find it uncustomary to us and sometimes sad. One more interesting fact about slaughtering the sheep is that the day before, the sheep are not fed anything. This withholding of food is to empty the stomachs and prepare them for the knife, so the stomachs will not be full of undigested food (less messy!). However, the result of this withholding of food is that there are 24 hours of VERY hungry sheep bleating their little hearts out at the top of their lungs all over town!!! The night before Eid, there was a grand cacophony of bleating coming from EVERY house in our neighborhood. Try as we might, sleep did not come easy or well and even if they did not know what was coming for them, we did.
EID for Muslims is all about praising God and counting one’s blessings. Whether you believe in God or not, or in a slaughtering custom or not, the slaughter is well-intentioned and giving meat away to the poor is a good deed by anyone’s standards (well maybe
not the PETA organization! LOL!). We are not Muslim, but we do count our blessings here every single day and watching other people do so is inspiring, even if it is not just as we would do it.
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