The Big Holiday

At the beginning of October Muslims in Morocco and all over the world celebrated Eid Al-Adha, which translates to “The Festival of the Sacrifice.” In Morocco we refer to it as Eid Kbir, or “The Big Holiday.” When I received my invitation to serve in Peace Corps Morocco nearly a year and a half ago, this holiday was one of the first things I read about Morocco. Needless to say, all of that anticipation made me very excited and curious to participate in the holiday myself.

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The significance of the holiday stems from a story in the Quran and honors Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) willingness to sacrifice his promised son Ismail (Ishamel) at Allah’s (God’s) command and His grace of providing a ram to sacrifice in his son’s stead. On this day, Muslim families sacrifice a sheep to remember Ibrahim’s unwavering commitment to Allah. If this story sounds familiar to you that’s because you can find a similar story in both the Bible and the Torah. The holiday also marks the end of the Hajj, or the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca.

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On the morning of Eid Kbir I went to my host family’s house to begin the festivities.  After breakfast, we went up to the roof to begin the sacrifice. My host dad and mom completed the entire slaughter and skinning process themselves. The entire process took probably less than an hour and a half, and yes — I know what you’re wondering — I did watch the whole thing. Muslims believe that the slaughter of animals should be as humane as possible and have many strict rules about how the process should go (to ensure that it is halal). For example, it is required to use a very sharp knife to ensure a quick death, they won’t sharpen the knife in front of the animal, the animal is not supposed to see the death of another animal, etc.

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Traditionally on the first day of the holiday they eat the organs of the sacrificed animal. For lunch we ate liver wrapped in stomach lining that was barbecued like kababs over a fire. We seasoned them with cumin and salt and ate them with a bit of bread and salad. It truly was delicious! We also ate the lungs of the ram, which was still good but not as good as the liver. Later that night we ate the leg of the ram, which was cooked in a tagine with olives and prunes.

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In the months leading up to Eid Kbir, knowing that I would be witnessing my first animal sacrifice, I thought a lot about eating meat and what it means. I read Eating Animals by Johnathan Safran Foer and The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and learned more about factory farming, the corn industry, and the environmental effects of eating meat. Due to financial reasons, I don’t purchase meat very often here in Morocco. I wouldn’t call myself a vegetarian, but my diet certainly looks very different than my diet was in America pre-Peace Corps. After all of this research and soul-searching, I knew I would need to think very seriously about my decision to eat meat when I return stateside — what I didn’t know, however, was how watching the sacrifice would influence my decision.

Now that Eid Kbir has come and gone and I’ve had a few weeks to ponder, let me be blunt — I’ve never felt as good about eating meat in my life as I did on Eid Kbir, which is probably the exact opposite thing you were expecting me to say.

My host mom raises goats, sheep, and chickens on the roof of her house, so she cared for the ram that was slaughtered for its whole life. This upbringing coupled with the procedures Muslims use to carry out the sacrifice means that this was a far more humane process than any animal I’ve consumed in the United States has gone through. Additionally, after the animal has been slaughtered, they eat the entirety of the meat and none is gone to waste (and I really do mean everything). Tradition dictates that 1/3 of the meat is eaten directly by the family, 1/3 is given to friends and relatives, and the last 1/3 is given to the needy and the poor.

To me, this is the way meat should be eaten. When I return to the land of factory farming and inhumane animal slaughter I plan to try my hardest to be conscious about where my meat comes from and how much I consume — and if I’m unable to do that maybe I won’t be eating meat at all. We shall see.

Beyond the sacrifice, Eid Kbir for me was marked by a sense of community. During the holiday and the many days that followed I experienced so much hospitality and joy. I spent time with nearly a dozen different families in my town and the villages surrounding it, and was kissed and welcomed like family at each one. At each house I shared in meals, drank tea, and participated in their traditions without the expectation of anything in return. I was given meat and fruit to bring home with me and was invited to three different weddings. I barely had time to do anything at my house but sleep a few hours per night for nearly ten days straight. I fell in love with my town and its people all over again.

It was, without a doubt, some of the best days I’ve spent in Morocco.

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3 thoughts on “The Big Holiday

  1. As usual, a very thoughtful post! Now that you are aware… when you return home,, you will find there are numerous sources of humanely raised, appropriately fed (ie grass for grazers, bugs and plants for chickens) meat back in the States. In Vermont and Massachusetts many restaurants reveal which farm suppies their meat and produce and how it was raised or produced. Several farms sell grass fed beef retail (sort of like Polyface Farm’s chickens) though I think there are restrictions about the how and where of the slaughter.

  2. Great reflection. What is the background on the “Wedding Season”? How do they celebrate a marriage? Are they arranged marriages? Do they marry at a young age?

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