This post will be devoid of photos, in honor of the animals who gave their lives today (Sunday) in the Eid al Adha and my neighbors, whose privacy I want to respect.
The actual slaughtering of the animals was not at all — in any way — how I had imagined! In some respects it was a “non-event.”
The festivities began about 8:30 this morning with each mosque (there must be at least 20 in the greater Chefchaouen area) taking its turn to call out the pryers that included “God is Great” and “Praise Be To God!” This went on for at least 20 minutes. I saw several men, dressed in their holiday whites, heading for the mosques. There was a palpable feeling of excitement and celebration in the air. Our alpha rooster was crowing all night and morning, safe in his inner understanding that roosters are NOT an acceptable sacrifice animal for this holiday.
Tomas witnessed the first two sheep being lead around the corner toward the back side of one of our neighbor’s houses. Neither the central courtyard nor the revamped structure was to be used for slaughtering as we had thought.
When I asked Tomas about the low guttural sound I was hearing from one of the animals, he assured me that these were common sounds that he had heard before when he had been a witness to the slaughter of cattle in Belize. “They get nervous and they make those low sounds,” he said.
I wanted to make sure I was not hearing the sounds of a half-dead animal and Tomas just laughed: “There are no ‘half-dead’ animals. The knives are razor sharp and the skilled butcher cuts right through the jugular vein. One minute the sheep is standing and the next second they fall to the ground.. There may be some jerking of the limbs but one senses that the consciousness of the animal has left its body.”
I felt relieved.
About an hour later, the energy picked up a notch or two and Tomas suggested we go out and see what was happening. We made our way past the sheep with the low voice; he was tied to the house that attaches to ours. When we rounded the corner to the place where Tomas had seen the men lead the sheep, we came upon a scene that was as ancient as human society itself. A group of about 10 – 15 people (spanning three or four generations and comprised of several neighborhood families) was in the process of cleaning and dressing two recently slaughtered sheep.
As we stepped into THEIR circle we were immediately welcomed and included. Each person came forward to greet us personally and acknowledge our presence there. Shortly, the grandfather (Patriarch and co-butcher) presented Tomas with almost a pound of liver from his animal. This was clearly their way of honoring us as guests. Later, his son (head butcher) came over and shook both of our hands. So we feel that we have been officially welcomed into our neighborhood community.
The whole process seemed so natural – so earth-based. Nothing traumatic or dramatic going on – just a community of friends and neighbors “getting a job done” together. The scene I witnessed this morning could have taken place in any rural region of America (or any other country) even today and certainly within the last 80 years. Everyone was grounded, aware, humble and very busy with the tasks at hand. Actually, the men and boys handle this part of the Festival; slaughtering and “dressing out” the animals seems to be “men’s work.” The woman were present as “morale” support and eagerly accepted the animal’s organs as they became available and whisked them off to their kitchens. Such care, a sense of admiration for these wonderful animals, was present, as well as a deep mindfulness infusing the actions and the work. To me this is the true meaning of sacrifice or bringing sacredness into daily life.
I have never seen or read about how one skins an animal and both Tomas and I were fascinated with the method we saw today. A bamboo reed was inserted into a small slit made in the leg. It must have been between the hide and the fascia, the thin membrane that covers the muscles. Then one of the older teens blew into the reed and a bubble began to form between the hide and the fascia, until the whole sheep looked like a huge wooly balloon. At that point the hide was easily removed with a knife. As it appeared that every part of this animal would be used for something, we guessed that the hide would be rolled up and put somewhere to be cleaned and tanned – sooner than later.
So I mentally reviewed the Qur’anic rules that I’d written in my last post: the knives were sharp and the animals had died quickly. The grandfather and father of one family appeared to be skilled with their knives. There wasn’t any excessive blood anywhere. We had seen the waiting animals tied outside the killing area, so they would not witness the deaths of their fellows. We did not witness the actual slaughter, so I don’t know if the animals were “tied comfortably” or just held by capable helpers. So it appeared to me that in this tiny section of semi-rural Chefchaouen, Islamic law (which includes compassionate, humane slaughtering practices) was followed in letter and spirit.
Since the animals now have to hang and “bleed out” for 24 hours, only the internal organs (particularly the liver, heart and stomach) will be consumed today. We came home with about two pounds of heart and liver from three different animals and were encouraged by Fatna to “grill it right now.” So we did and it was delicious; no “liver” taste at all. I guess that when the meat is that fresh, it’s kind of like eating fish right out of the stream or the ocean – it doesn’t taste “fishy.”
To sum this up: the Sacrifice is about sharing something dear and precious with the greater community. The intention to share one’s wealth with those who have less is the point of the Sacrifice. The slaughtering part is what has to occur in order to be able to share the meat with others. It needs to be done with reverence and respect and that’s what we saw this morning and what we continue to behold this afternoon. The work of “being responsible to” the creature that gave its life continues.
Families are sitting outside, visiting in a relaxed manner, doing small projects related to readying the innards for cooking. I’m typing up my thoughts and savoring the high frequency I’m feeling during this time of celebration.
If it appears through the media that all is doom and gloom and that the “world is going to h… in a hand basket,” I can assure you that there are places on the globe where the energy is festive and full of a spirit of giving and sharing. Right now I am grateful to my Muslim brothers and sisters for contributing this quality of joyous celebration to our Human Collective.
Peace be upon you. Salaam.