Eid Al-Adha: Celebration, Sacrifice and Sharing

As we filed off the bus into a predominantly Muslim area of Hyderabad, the prayers from the Imam called out through loudspeaker from every direction. We proceeded down street, consuming the surrounding area with our eyes. Men and Women watched us with wonder and little boys peeked out from balconies of the surrounding apartments as we continued down the street. “White People? What are they doing here on Eid al-Adha?”  I can only imagine that was what they were thinking – I know I would of been. Because that day was a significant day in the Islamic Calendar: Eid al-Adha or The Festival of Sacrifice. The festival celebrates the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son as an act of submission to Allah. This willingness is normally celebrated with the Eid prayer and sacrifice of a halal animal

After several minutes of walking we approached a mosque with hundreds of men praying in unison in the Eid Prayer, here we stopped and watched for a few minutes. Seeing hundreds of white skull caps in such uniform lines praying was quite an amazing sight, and having never really experienced any form of Islamic worship firsthand before it was certainly interesting to see.

We continued to watch for a few minutes before we were led to an Apartment garage where, much to my surprise, was the location of the Goat sacrifice. As we stepped into the roof covered garage we were greeted with the sight of two dead goats lying in a pool of blood, a third hanging from a hook being skinned and several more goats awaiting their fate. Initially the sight was shocking, three carcasses await the knife while two men wrestling a goat into submission, slitting its throat and letting its life bleed away. While the initial shock was mainly down to our disconnect with our food. For as westerners, for the most part, our food comes from the super market and not our personally reared goat; I still did not expect what I saw there and how the sacrifice was enacted. I guess I expected more ceremony around the whole sacrifice and less of a abattoir feel but as I watched and learned about the process I understood more that while in some parts of the world there is ceremony that surrounds it, the significance of slaughtering the animals is to celebrate Ibrahim and also to then to distribute the meat among the poor, the community and yourself and through this act of distribution the community maintains links and good relations, strengthening the community.

Perhaps I am looking at the whole process from too much of a structural functionalist perspective but the sacrifice, while having a strong religious importance, to me (with my very limited knowledge on the festival) seems to have a significant if not equally important social aspect to it through the sharing of the meat.