Spending three months in a country is not enough to fully understand a culture but it is enough to experience a few things we would otherwise never have experienced, like the two most significant Islamic holidays, and a funeral.
Eid-al-Adha, a Celebration of Sacrifice
This week our neighborhood began to sound and smell like a barnyard. Our apartment is on the fourth and top level of our building. The buildings all around us rise to the same height and are separated only by narrow streets a little wider than a car. There are stray cats on every street but little room for animals of a larger size.
We heard the sounds of sheep a few days ago coming up from the atrium of our building. The breeze carried the smell of the animal and the other scents that come along with it. The following day goats joined in the ruckus and the sounds of bleating and grunting came from all directions. A few small shops had animals roaming around inside ready for sale.
The local Marjane, a large supermarket chain, had tents set up with stalls of sheep and goats. Customers lined the alley next to the tents to scrutinize the sheep. The buyer would feel it all over, checking out the crotch area for heck-knows-what. Once chosen the animal is placed in a bucket and weighed.
Each family was purchasing their sheep or goat to prepare for the upcoming Eid-al-Adha holiday.
Eid-al-Adha commemorates Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son
Eid-al-Adha is a celebration that has its roots in an event that occurred 4,000 years ago. According to the Qu’ran (written between 610–632 AD), Ibrahim (Abraham), the prophet, was asked by Allah to sacrifice his son Isma’il (Ishmael) on Mount Arafat. Ibrahim discussed the request with Isma’il and both agree that he should obey. Just as Ibrahim was about to kill his son, Allah stopped him and said that no sacrifice was needed.
Another different version of this story was written somewhere between 1445-1405 B.C. It can be found in the Bereshiyt, the first book of the Torah, and in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. In this earlier account Abraham, the first patriarch, was asked by God to sacrifice Isaac his son. Isaac’s mother was Sarah, Abrahams’s wife. Ishmael was Abraham’s son by Hagar his concubine. By this time in the narrative, Ishmael and his mother Hagar had been sent away. In this account, Abraham obeyed without discussion. Before the sacrifice, God stopped him and provided a ram stuck in a bush nearby to be sacrificed instead.
Ishmael is considered to be the ancestor of the Arabs, and Isaac is the ancestor of the Jews.
The sacrifice today
On the morning of Eid-al-Adha, we went up on the rooftop. All around families were gathered on their roofs with their animals.
There the sounds of animals ceased. The smell of them was overpowered by the coppery scent of blood as they were all sacrificed to Allah.
During our walk that evening we noticed that all the cats seemed to be in hiding. Bags of entrails and piles of turned-out hides were stacked around the dumpsters. We walked by a few bonfires still being tended to. Hot coals glowed beneath the blackened severed heads of sheep and goats. The man in front of us carried a carcass over his shoulder the skinned scrotum dangled behind him, slapping against his back in cadence with his steps. On the next street, a line had formed at the butcher’s shop. They all had carcasses in buckets waiting for their turn to have their meat chopped up.
While in the Qu’ran Allah says that a sacrifice is not needed. The Hadith says that a ram was provided as a substitute for Abrahams son. There are six books of Hadith considered to be sayings of their Prophet Muhammad. These books are not considered sacred to the same degree as the Qur’an but they are important to Islamic legislation.
Two months before we were in Dades Gorges, still our favorite spot in Morocco, for the Eid-al-Fitr celebration. This celebration is the breaking of the fast after Ramadan so everyone is happy to finally eat. Our host in Dades gave us a portion of his feast and it was a delicious meal. This is certainly a calmer Eid and is known as the lesser Eid.
Living in a Neighborhood
It is summer here and there is no AC. Our windows and door out to our patio are fully open, day and night. The open windows capture the cooling ocean breeze and every sound from the streets. The child who throws a tantrum downstairs and our neighbor leaning out the window while on the phone all sound like they are in our apartment. Conversations of people walking by and the clipping of the horses’ hooves pulling a cart clatter down the street. Every few hours a vendor wanders through the neighborhood yelling out their wares.
Trin usually pops up and runs out to the porch to look down and see what they are selling. A few days ago Trin threw on his shirt and shoes and ran down the 52 steps from our apartment to catch a vendor (there are no elevators in most buildings). He came back up with a huge smile and a bag of fresh sardines.
Death of a Neighbor
One evening there came a new sound. Dusk was just settling over the neighborhood when I heard the wailing. Voices below created a commotion. I leaned out the window and saw people in the street and a van with red and blue flashing lights. I assumed it was an ambulance.
The wailing continued, sometimes it seemed like one mournful heart crying out. Other times multiple voices joined together in sorrow that was palpable.
The following morning a tent had been erected. It stretched from our building, over the street, and to the building adjacent to us. Under the tent, a crowd was gathered around tables and chairs. All day the sound of mourning echoed through the neighborhood. At times it was intense, other times it quieted down, but the voices from the gathering were constant.
Reverberation of Mourning
At 11 PM we heard the crackle of a loudspeaker being adjusted then the singing began. It sounded like an acapella quartet. First, they sang a calming yet sad harmony. The voices blended in unison then broke off into harmony dancing along the scale then joining together again ending on one solid final note. When it ended there was silence.
Moments later the voice of a lone singer reverberated through the street. Just one phrase, then silence. The song continued each phrase punctuated with a long pregnant pause. It was as if the pain of loss was playing its own melody echoing on the concrete walls as it passed through the streets and made its way to the sky. Can sorrow transform into sound and escape like that?
The process of mourning is so different in every culture. Here the pain emanating from the street below gave me tears and I never met the person being mourned. In my culture getting through a eulogy without crying is respected. Crying publicly is considered weak. But is it though? Is it a weakness to face our sorrow? How much better to express it openly and share it on the day they honor the dead? Then together they can comfort each other and begin the long process of healing.
Around midnight the monotone songs of mourning lulled me to sleep.
“May God bless you in your affliction,” is the phrase used to acknowledge someone’s loss along with a gift of sugar cubes.