Eid al-Adha in Algiers - Sheep to the slaughter
So it happens that my trip to Algeria was during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice. As the story goes, Ibrahim (Abraham) was willing to sacrifice his son Ishmael (a.k.a. Isaac, apparently with his consent as a show of faith) to Allah but upon committing the deed, found that his son was unharmed and a sheep had taken his place. Very old testament stylee stuff and indeed this is a story that is in all Abrahamic religions, not just Islam.
Muslims, however, commemorate this event, by slaughtering a domestic animal and feasting on 1/3 of the meat and giving the rest to family/friends and the poor.
Having grown up in Malaysia, the concept was certainly no surprise to me. What was unexpected was how widespread and public the actual act of slaughter was in Algeria. Whereas in Malaysia, cows would be sacrificed in the compound of mosques and village halls, in Algiers every family seems to take great relish on having one animal of their own to carry out the act and often in public.
On the drive back to the airport (on the eve of Eid) there were a number of sheep being transported in the back of pickup trucks. This was followed on in the evening where some local kids were leading the sheep around town.
On the morning of Eid al-Adha, as we drove from the hotel to the office, there were five sheep being slaughtered right on the main road from the hotel, blood squirting into the street.
While, I'm not particularly bothered by the macabre sight of slaughtering (as a meat eater, I fully believe people who eat meat should face up to the reality that they are taking the life of an animal for food) but it was disturbing for hygiene reasons and that people seemed to take great relish in the killing itself, which appeared to cause stress and suffering to the animal.
"The underlying attitude of Islam toward ritual slaughter is not that of blood atonement, or seeking favor with God through another's death, but rather, the act of thanking God for one's sustenance and the personal sacrifice of sharing one's possessions and valuable food with one's fellow humans. The ritual itself is NOT the sacrifice. It is merely a method of killing where the individuals kill as quickly as possible and acknowledge that only Allah has the right to take a life and that they do so as a humble member of Allah's creation in need of sustenance just like every other species in Allah's creation." Shahid 'Ali Muttaqi
So my take on it is that it is more a cultural (rather than religious) practice that is no longer needed in our times.
At the same time, it certainly makes for interesting travelling seeing a whole society with very different practices and values than myself. It is precisely when one feels uncomfortable that one has stepped out of his/her comfort zone so I'm glad I had the opportunity to witness the event and learn more.