RABAT, Morocco- Mothers squeegee blood from the terraces, grinning children drag hides, still warm, through the streets and fathers lounge in red stained clothes like badges of honor. This is Eid al-Adha, or festival of the sacrifice in the old medina. For days the calls to prayer echoed a little deeper, smiles stretched a little wider and bellies, even of the stray cats, bloated with satisfaction. Across the Islamic world the latter of two annual Muslim festivals celebrates life, by the sacrifice of a sheep, cow or goat in the name of Allah.
“This is from you, but it is also to you, and I’m doing it in your name” Khalid Saqi, Assistant Director of Dar Al Hadith Al Hassania said about the sacrifice, which is an offering to Allah in Islamic tradition.
The annual slaughter of livestock, mostly sheep, honors the prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail to Allah. In preparation for the slaughter, which fell on a Sunday this year, thousands of sheep were herded into the labyrinth of the medina. A chorus of nervous bleats echoed off its high walls.
Stacks of hay piled high, a means to fatten the coming feast. Impromptu huts of are made of these. Clouds of hookah and laughter of gambling men rolled from underneath their roofs late into the night.
Children scrambled around wide-eyed rams, similar to children around a Christmas tree in the United States; presents are waiting to be unwrapped. The anticipation was palpable. Emotions that follow the sacrifice teeter between heartbreak of a lost friend and triumph of a job well done.
One word rings high above the hushed circles of female gossip, “hawli”- sheep, and throughout the week necks strain to peak between terraces to catch glimpses of the temporary family members, as sheep are kept in the homes for sometimes up to a week prior to the sacrifice.
The sheep stand as a unifying competition, a prized-commodity, a holy sacrifice, a celebration.
Before the sacrifice, their bleats grew more timid, the layer of feces on their hides more thick, and their carts were pushed with a little more fever.
On the day of, their limbs and heads roasted in the streets. Nothing goes to waste during Eid al-Adha.
“It epitomizes the whole religion” Saqi said, “We do it to celebrate life, not death.”