I was in Egypt for Eid ul-Adha one of the two most important holidays. It is a yearly commemoration of Abraham’s willing to sacrifice his beloved son Ishmael (in the Islamic tradition, of course it was Isaac who was to be sacrificed according to Judaeo-Christian tradition).

Eid ul-Adha (btw, it’s Arabic for the Holiday of the Sacrifice) is a time where hundreds and thousands of cows, and sheep are slaughtered.  It’s an interesting site to see because of the different dimensions of it.

Many object to this holiday, considering it barbaric to kill animals en masse like that.  I personally, don’t see the difference between slaughtering them this way or the horrendous ways in which cattle are butchered in Western societies.  At the end of the day, killing a living thing is not a pretty process.

What Eid al-Adha makes me do is be aware of the fact that meat does not grow on trees.  That steak, that nicely wrapped packet of chicken breasts, was once a living, breathing entity.  When I see how many men it takes to hold down a poor cow or bull before the deed is done, I can’t help but be grateful for the fact that I do not have to catch my own food:  Otherwise I would never eat meat as it is just too cumbersome a process.  More than this though, there is a sort of poetic symbolism that I see in the act of sacrificing an animal.

In Islam meat must be slaughtered a particular way, slashing the animals throat with a sharp knife so that all of the blood runs out (which is pretty similar to what is done in the Jewish tradition to make Kosher meat). The end of life is fast and slow all at once:  There is a gush of blood and then the animal’s movements and breaths get slower and slower.  In this way it’s a metaphor for life in general.  Or perhaps, I am going to deep with this.

The other aspect of Eid al-Adha which perhaps I did not like so much is the spectacle aspect of it.  People on my street literally brought folding chairs out so they could sit and watch, as cow after cow, sheep after sheep were slaughtered and reduced to nothing more than chunks of beef and steak for kabobs and soups.  Then again, I also contributed to this, as I snapped photos from my balcony and other places.   The smell of blood that filled the city was also nothing to be happy about, it’s almost sickening to think of how overpowering it was.  Thankfully, a day or two later and it was gone.

These things aside, much of the meat is given to the poor, people who otherwise would not get meat at all, as it is extremely expensive and beyond the reach of many here.  Charity is something I never scoff at.

Overall I am happy to have had the opportunity to observe how people celebrate such an important holiday in a Muslim-majority country.

The following is a slide show of what I saw.

NOTE: pictures may not be suitable for all audiences, watch with caution and at  your own risk.

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Anonymous: Egypt, Fall 2011