After a smooth, short flight from London Stansted to Fes-Saïss airport we were met by our driver to take us excitedly back to our house (currently, the only direct flights from the UK to Fes run from London Stansted on Wednesdays and Sundays). Upon arrival our house manager informed us of an upcoming islamic celebration – eid al-adha. I had heard of it before, and I remembered our Arabic teacher telling us we were very lucky to be going to Morocco during the time of the festival as it is fully, traditionally embraced in the Moroccan culture.
Eid Al-Adha (عيد الأضحى) is an islamic holiday celebrated worldwide every year. The day of celebrations coordinates with the islamic lunar calendar, falling on the 10th day of Dhu al-Hijjar (the sacred month of Pilgrimage). The festival honours the submission and willingness of Ibrahim (a prophet and messenger in Islam) to sacrifice his son to God. The eid is celebrated by sacrificing a sheep, which is then divided into three parts. The first part is kept and consumed by the family owning the sheep, another division is given to non-immediate family members and the final is given to the poor.
In the busy two week build up to eid in Fes, knives will be sharpened in the streets – try not to be alarmed! Local families will purchase their sheep, there is usually just one sheep per family, however if money will allow then other animals such as a cow will be sacrificed also. There will usually be more than one sheep in the house as there is often more than one family living under a roof together. The sheep come from various markets and the countryside where they are kept in open environments. Once bought, the sheep will be fed and watered, living in the family home up until the day of sacrifice.
Men walking in traditional dress and babouches (traditional Moroccan leather slippers) to Mosque for morning prayer
Only in Fes, the ancient tradition remains where horses will storm the medina with riders chanting to signify the commencement of the sacrifice. No sacrifice can be made until the King makes his own in the capital, Rabat, which can now be watched live on television. Before the days of television and radio, the use of horses was the only way to inform the civilians. The horses begin at the Bab Boujloud (Blue Gate), one of the main entrances into the old Medina (city) at around 8/9am – and you will certainly hear them coming! The chief of the area leads the troop and bloodstains can be seen on the front of their shirts from their own sacrifices. The horses are all dressed up and their coats and tails decorated with henna. The men carrying the message are local men and friends of the chief. It is only men who will carry out this duty and it is a huge honour, some will pay around €10,0000 to purchase a horse purely for the occasion, before re-selling it after the eid for a lower price. The horses trot through the medina and are greeted with cheers as the locals flock to the streets to watch and chant, before the men are given a glass of milk and dates.
The Chief giving the message of the King’s Sacrifice to locals
Horses entering the medina through Bab Boujloud with the Chief leading at the front
Racing through the medina
The Chief and other men are greeted by locals
Once the signal has been given, the people are free to carry out their own sacrifices. It must be a male sheep and any other animals must be kept away as it is sinful in Islam to allow an animal to watch another be sacrificed. Traditionally, the sacrifice will take place at the centre bottom room of the house or riad, the equivalent of a living room. Prayers are made and the butcher or a male family member will slice the main artery of the throat of the animal with a very sharp knife, which kills it instantly – it is also sinful in Islam to allow the animal to suffer when being sacrificed. Once the sacrifice is complete, the head of the sheep is cut off, before the legs are broken and removed at the knee, the animal is then skinned, gutted and hung up in the family house. It is a very quick and efficient process, and the skin is laid out to dry in the streets – this makes for a very pungent smell when walking by! The heads are then barbecued on the streets outside the houses on metal beds and the fur is singed off.
Two sheep in the family home
The first part to be eaten is the liver, which is partially cooked, before being spiced, chopped, wrapped in fat, skewered and cooked again. These kebabs are called boulfaf and is eaten with bread, zaalouk (an aubergine and tomato mix), and onions mixed with tomato. The next day the brains are eaten for breakfast or lunch with eggs and tomatoes, then usually for dinner shish kebabs are made. Throughout the remainder of the week, the rest of the carcass gradually gets eaten until every morsel is used. Even the bone marrow is eaten and intestines are hung up on washing lines to dry before being used to make sausages.
Traditional Moroccan breads (centre) surrounded by accompaniments for the liver cooking in fat on a clay barbecue on the left.
It is a huge celebration for Muslims worldwide, but very graphic and can be really quite uncomfortable for the unsuspecting, particularly if you are a vegetarian! Having said this, it is a great honour to be invited into a family home to join in on the celebrations. It is absolutely not an opportunity to be missed, particularly in Fez where the ancient traditions are still very much kept alive. From my own experience, I think it is also important to understand the process from an educational point of view. So many people today, particularly in the Western world are completely removed from the processes their food follows from farm to plate. Many meat eaters do not fully understand nor want to know how their meat is butchered, but I believe it is crucial to understand the process, out of respect for the sacrifice which has been made.