For the past two weeks, sheep have been flooding in and out Meknes and every other town in both Morocco and the rest of the Islamic world. Held on the back of motorbikes, walked down the street on leashes, and driven in rickety carts or in the back seats of passenger cars, these sheep were everywhere. It had become routine to see their fluffy little faces around every corner, greeting us with their unmistakable–yet undeniably annoying–bleating.
The reason for this sheep overload, made known to me only about a week ago, was the upcoming Islamic holiday, Eid Al-Kabir, or traditionally Eid Al-Adha. This news came when our directors informed us that each of the sheep that we had seen in the preceding days would be taken home, sacrificed, and eaten as a part of the widespread festival.
To give you a little background on the subject, Eid Al-Kabir is one of the two largest holidays celebrated throughout the Islamic world, with its significance stemming from the loyalty of Abraham to God. In religious texts, Abraham was ordered by God to prove his faith by sacrificing his son, Ishmael. Driven by conviction, Abraham took his son to a mountain top to complete his religious duties. Before any human sacrifice could be made, however, God replaced Ishmael with a sheep and gave life to the modern Islamic interpretation of sacrificing livestock.
Today, families with enough money to afford a sheep select their livestock and complete the ritual on the morning of Eid. Meat from the animal will be barbecued for that days’ feast, and preserved to be used as food for the weeks to come. The holiday, comparable in excitement to Christmas back home in the States, is a time of celebration, joy, and community among Muslim families and friends.
Despite my weak stomach, being in Morocco for one of the world’s biggest Islamic holidays has been an incredible experience. The love and generosity shown by the people here is absolutely contagious, and each day leading up to Eid has been filled with cheerful greetings and a buzz of excitement throughout Meknes. The happiness shared by the community makes the sacrificial undertones of the holiday seem less intimidating, and while I didn’t partake in that part of the celebration, it’s still pretty exciting to have been here for such a large cultural experience.
The world awaits…discover it.