Sunday, October 28, 2012

Morocco 101: Eid al-Adha

Today is the third day of Eid al-Adha, one of the most important celebrations in the Moroccan calendar. "Eid" means "Festival" and "al-Adha" means "of the sacrifice." We spent the day with one of our good friends and his family, so I thought I would use this blog post to talk a bit about the day and also include a few photos from our experience (don't worry, nothing too graphic!).

So what is this sacrifice?
Eid al-Adha honors the story of the prophet Ibrahim (or as many may know from the Bible, Abraham), who was commanded by Allah (God) in a dream to sacrifice his first-born son Isma'il (Ishmael), as a test of his faith. Ibrahim blindfolded himself as he could not bear to see the sacrifice of his son, and as he cut Isma'il's throat and removed his blindfold, Ibrahim was astonished to see that Isma'il was unharmed and instead, he found a slaughtered ram in his son's place. As a reward for his faith, Allah granted Ibrahim the good news of the birth of his second son, Is-haaq (Isaac).

Wait, didn't Abraham sacrifice Isaac in the story?
This is slightly different from the story that many may know. In the Torah and the Christian Bible, Isaac is the son that Abraham was about to sacrifice, whereas in the Qur'an, Ibrahim (Abraham) was about to sacrifice his first son, Isma'il (Ishmael). The theological importance of the distinction is that Jews trace their descent from Isaac and Christians believe that Jesus was a descendant of Isaac, whereas Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammed was a descendant of Isma'il.

Special Practices during Eid al-Adha

Preparing for Eid
To prepare for Eid, Muslims are encouraged to put on new or best clothes available, and to ensure personal cleanliness (people get haircuts, sometimes women will do henna). Muslims pray in the morning of the first day as a congregation before performing the sacrifice.

Justin and I in traditional clothes (the sheep, in his birthday suit)

The Slaughter
Muslims who can afford it purchase an animal prior to Eid to be slaughtered after the morning prayers. Those who cannot afford a sheep buy a goat or a less expensive animal. Justin and I guesstimated that there were about 10,000 sheep in our town the night before Eid, and we could hear the "baaaaaaaa's" echo through the night! After the morning prayers on Eid, the head of the family slaughters the sheep, or in some families, a butcher comes to the house and performs the ritual.

The men getting the sheep ready for the slaughter (don't worry, I didn't post a photo of that!)

Charitable giving  
As with many other Muslim holidays, in Eid it is important to give to the poor, through money or through sharing meat of the sacrificed animal.

The Hajj
One of Islam's revered observances, Eid al-Adha corresponds with the end of the Hajj - the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that annually draws 2 million Muslims.

Greeting Friends and Family
It's important during this time to visit friends and family and to wish them a "Mbrouk L'Eid" (Congratulations on Eid).

The Foods

Families eat sweets and cookies for breakfast, along with traditional bread-based fares. Here are some of the foods that were on our breakfast table!

Milwi, a traditional pancake type dish. Also called msemen in some places.
Lots and lots of cookies!

Post-Slaughter Meal
It's Moroccan tradition to prepare organ meats such as the liver and the heart on the day of the slaughter. What seems to be typical is wrapping pieces of the liver and heart in a fatty film that surrounds the stomach, skewering these on kabobs and grilling, and then eating with bread and spices.

Making kabobs with the family
The spices: cumin, salt, and hot pepper (here they call it sudaniya).
The finished kabobs... pretty tasty!

Other Meals
The days following the slaughter are very meat-heavy, as families continue to eat the remainder of the animal. Almost no parts of the animal go to waste - even the head and legs, these are roasted and eaten in the days following the slaughter.

And there are a wide variety of cooking methods, from roasting to grilling to slow cooking in tagines or otherwise.

Sheep head and legs roasting on the fire (I won't be eating this!).

This was our second year to celebrate Eid al-Adha (last year was during our training period). I found that it's a really great feeling to be experiencing things a second time around, to compare our experiences from town to town and year to year, gaining a better understanding of how customs and traditions can differ even within the country. And once in a while, having an idea of what to expect can be really nice when each new day in Morocco can bring us something very unexpected!

On an unrelated note - Thinking about everyone on the East Coast with Hurricane Sandy approaching. I hope that the damage is minimal and passes through quickly! And doesn't mess too much with Halloween :)

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