Warning: The slide show at the end of this post contains photos of animal blood and dead sheep and goats.
All photos are by Anitra Lavanhar (unless marked with my initials ML).
Our first week in Morocco we saw men, women and children awkwardly pushing and pulling reticent sheep and goats through city streets and into apartment buildings and homes. The unmistakable bleat of these animals cried out from windows and roof tops throughout the city. We walked past homes with sheep in the stairwell or peeking out of the front door. People used pick-up trucks, cars and even motorcycles to haul these, soon to be sacrificed, animals.
Every household that can afford a sheep is expected to purchase one and sacrifice it on the morning of Eid al-Adha (the festival of sacrifice). It is also called Eid al-Kebir (the great festival) because it is the most important festival in the Muslim calendar.
Experiencing Eid al-Adha
We experienced it publicly and intimately when we were spontaneously invited into a home. Such sacrifices are conducted by Muslims worldwide in a festive, family tradition that marks the end of the hajj season when pilgrims return from the holy city of Mecca.
Our surprise hosts were a delightful family in Chefchaouen (the Blue City) in Morocco. Families like this one have a rooftop terrace on which to conduct the sacrifice. Most who do not, do it on the sidewalk or street in front of their home. The streets literally run red for much of the day.
The Story of Abraham
The tradition is in commemoration of the story of Abraham who it says was asked by God to sacrifice his only son as a test of his faith. If you know the story from the Hebrew Scriptures or Bible you know that at the last second God provides Abraham with a ram to sacrifice instead. Here is where perhaps the biggest conflict between Jews and Muslims begins.
In the Jewish scriptures (the Torah) it says it is Abraham’s second son Isaac who is almost sacrificed. Yet in the Islamic scriptures (the Quran) it was his first son Ishmael. Why does it matter? Because Isaac is said to have spawned the Jewish people and Muslims understand they are the offspring of Ishmael.
Traditionally Muslims have believed the Jewish Torah is a divinely inspired, but corrupted, scripture, in part, because it swaps out Isaac for Ishmael in this story. Muslims believe the Quran was revealed by God, to Muhammad, to correct the record.
The Morning of the Festival
If you are concerned about the animals, you should know that the sacrifice is done in what is considered the most humane way possible and the entire animal is used. Many parts of an animal go to waste in the USA. Also, the poor in Muslim countries benefit a lot from the holiday, as a portion of the sacrifice goes to help feed people who are struggling financially.
At least in Morocco, the morning begins with prayer in the mosque, for men, followed by a joyous breakfast with the whole family. Then, once the king of Morocco sacrifices his sheep, everyone else is free to begin theirs. The king’s is televised.
After we were stuffed full of bread and cheese and olives and pastries and mint tea and other delicacies, we went up to the rooftop terrace where a goat was being prepared for sacrifice. I will spare you the details. The attached photos and captions tell more of the story.
Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar is the Senior Minister at All Souls Church in Tulsa. He is currently on sabbatical and traveling with his family. Read his earlier blog post from the beginning of his sabbatical here. Rev. Lavanhar returns to All Souls for Gratitude Sunday, August 7. Find details on our website, allsoulschurch.org.