Saturday, November 28, 2009

Paying for the Eid Sheep in Morocco

Mabrook al `Awashir! It only seems right to post a story about the Eid. Eid Al-Kbir in Morocco sure beats anything I've ever seen in the US. Here is an article about Moroccans buying sheep for the Eid even if it is beyond their means.

Moroccans ignore high costs to honour Eid al-Adha rites


Saturday marks the start of Eid al-Adha in Morocco, a religious and cultural occasion that preserves long-cherished rituals and Prophetic tradition.

By Imane Belhaj for Magharebia in Casablanca – 27/11/09

Despite tough financial times, many Moroccan families will still adhere to an ancient ritual when Eid begins on Saturday (November 28th). The Adha feast calls for the sacrifice of a sheep, but honouring the custom can prove costly.

Like many Moroccans, Ibrahim, aged 54, has been setting aside hundreds of dirhams from recent paychecks to be able to afford a sheep. He is determined to participate in the sacrificial rite to please his wife, three children and mother. There is no possibility of forsaking the practice because of the cost.

At the sheep market in Casablanca, Malika evaluates her choices. She will not leave until she gets the ram that her family deserves, regardless of how much it costs: a healthy and horned ram, as dictated by the Sharia. Her husband has to pay for just the right animal, so she will not feel embarrassed by an inferior selection.

"People do nothing these days except watch the sheep that are brought into the neighbourhood," Malika tells Magharebia. "They weigh them just by looking at them from their windows and can price them even better than the vendors."

Malika is determined to buy a ram that will dignify her among her neighbours.

Some Moroccans let their relatives do the slaughter and the cooking. Each year for Eid al-Adha, Samira heads to Mohammedia to celebrate with her husband's parents.

"We spend three days there and it is an event for a family reunion, as many family members, whether single or married, come home," Samira noted. After the celebration, she and her husband return with bags of left-over meat.

But whether one stays at home or lets relatives perform the ritual slaughter, housewife So'ad says, prices are higher this year – well above the budgets of most families. Some sheep cost as much as a small calf.

So'ad blames "greedy" livestock breeders for the annual price spike. Brokers, or shanaka, contribute to the exorbitant cost, she argues. These wily operators intercept sheep farmers on their way to the market, buy their livestock and then raise the price to make a re-sale profit.

"People shouldn't complain," secretary Hoda countered. "Peasants need the extra cash in return for their efforts in raising their livestock." Besides, she added, "the event calls for some sacrifice".

Earlier this month, the Moroccan government tried to reassure the public by explaining that prices for sheep may vary depending on the quality and the age of the animal, the vendor's location and how close to Eid the animal is purchased.

The official explanation did little to persuade Nabil Mohamady. The Casablanca resident tells Magharebia that prices make little sense, especially when last season's heavy rains led to fertile pastures, an abundant harvest and good-quality livestock.

With the price of a sheep at least 3,000 dirhams, loans are becoming a common practice. Banks offer tempting packages to lure in the biggest number of clients.

Mostapha applied for a bank loan, as he does every year. His company lends him the money to buy the sacrificial sheep and allows him to repay the funds in ten monthly instalments. Such financing options allow even those with limited incomes to enjoy holiday traditions.

Even with changing social conditions, some Eid customs remain unshakable, such as the tradition of setting up neighbourhood communal fires, where young men cook the heads for a small fee.

Some households insist on handling the slaughtering themselves, a skill mastered after years of practice. Most people, however, choose to seek the help of ritual butchers, who roam districts in search of clients. They are often accompanied by young helpers eager to make extra money by assisting in the skinning process.

"Slaughtering fees are constantly on the rise," Ibrahim complains. "It climbed from 50 dirhams per sheep to 150 within a span of 3 years. That is quite overpriced. Slaughterers take advantage of the fact that people have no choice but to purchase their services at whatever price they name."

Rachid does not care much for the feast preparations. Like many of his friends and their wives, Rachid decided to leave on a vacation to enjoy the holidays in Marrakech or Agadir, where rated hotels offer competitive packages for the holiday.

Rachid's avoidance of the tradition typifies a new trend. Indeed, Eid al-Adha is already starting to lose its social and religious value, with the wealthy seeking to dodge it, while the poor striving hard to be able to afford the sacrifice, sociology professor Ali Fdaili argues.

"Things should be the other way round; the affluent should be buying the sacrifice to give away to the poor," he tells Magharebia.

Economic conditions play a role in changing behaviour patterns, no matter how deeply-entrenched they may be, confirmed social analyst Mostapha Rajeh. Compassion for the needy, which constitutes the basis of the customs and traditions of the feast, has become threatened.

Still, there are those who adhere to the meaning of the feast. Sa'id, who lives alone in Casablanca, has a good job which enables him to afford a sacrifice. He prefers, however, to offer the money to a needy family living in an older district of the city. The day of the feast, he fixes a small meal and shares it with a few friends.

"It's a laudable Prophetic tradition that drives us to think about people who might not have had a morsel of meat throughout the year and are eagerly awaiting the occasion. I feel such a relief when I help some poor family buy a sacrifice because I know that is going to make everyone in the family happy," Sa'id says.

"This is the true spirit of solidarity that Islam urges."

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