Baa Baa Black Sheep Have You Any Sacrificial Flesh

December 24th, 2007

My brother in law just came to visit us from London, and his gift to me was a book on Al Qaeda- because he thought I should know everything about “their” culture. While I don’t think that’s exactly the kind of literature that will help me feel like one of the gang here, I must say that I think I’m getting there.

I say this because we just celebrated Bakr Id in full form here. With the Qurbani (sacrifice) of two goats right below our balcony. I must be getting used to India because it didn’t phase me quite as much as I thought it would. Or maybe I’m actually becoming Muslim.

2 days prior to Id our family started to arrive. Akbar’s grandparents, his aunt and uncle and cousin. It’s interesting when family comes. On one hand, the amount of work that has to happen is quadrupled. With just a few extra mouths to feed there is suddenly an extraordinary amount of effort that goes into preparing lavish meals from scratch. So everyone (especially and mainly the women) are exhausted the whole time. When Akbar and I first got here our mail focus was to lessen the work load. We made simple suggestions like toast and herbal tea for breakfast instead of idlis or dosas made from scratch- for which my mother in law spends an entire day washing grains and grinding them into batter to use for 3 days. But these suggestions went unheeded. Quality of life here is directly measured by the food you eat. And that means nothing less than lavish full course meals that cause back pain and fevers for 3 days afterwards. On the other hand though, without any work the women in my household have nothing to do. Their dedication to full time motherhood and wife-dom leaves no time for dabbling in personal interests or hobbies. Low levels of formal education means reading or writing are out. And not having much disposable income leaves them pretty much tied to the house. So when there is no work they alternate between watching tv and just sitting around, mostly re-telling the same stories.

So anyway, we were prepared to be exhausted by this holiday. The celebration of Bakri Id starts from the tenth to the twelfth day in the Islamic month of Dhu’l Hijja, and marks the anniversary of the day when the Quran was declared complete. On the Id day, all the men in our household go to the mosque. Akbar’s grandmother makes her prayers in the house, starting at 6 am.

After the Namaz, Qurbani (sacrifice) is performed. The animal sacrifices made during Bakri Id are mainly to provide food to the poor and to commemorate the noble act of Ibrahim.

During the week of Barkr Id the streets of Hyderabad become lined with sheep and goats for this sacrifice. Only the wealthiest of households can afford to participate in this ritual. The animals are painted yellow or green and their horns are decorated. They range in all sizes. Obviously the bigger the animal to sacrifice, the greater the blessing. Akbar’s uncle in Bombay performs this Qurbani with 4 goats that cost 40,000 ruppees ($1000) each. That is about what a middle-class family could live on for 4 months. These goats are brought up from birth specially to be sacrificed. They are fed milk and yogurt every night and sleep on a bed with silk sheets. They are fattened and groomed for years to be worth the prestigious status of Qurbani. The ones Akbar brought home for us weren’t as fancy, but they were BIG. Two large goats were tied to the post in front of the downstairs apartment, where we normally park the car. A large tent was put up to give them some shelter and grass laid down on the ground for them to munch on.

We went down to look at them that evening. I think they knew they were going to die the next day. They were both very still. They made no sounds, showed no fear, and would not look at us, no matter who approached. They gave no signs of a nervous animal in a new place. It was like they were resigned to their fate.

It is said that every true Muslim who possesses wealth equal to or more than 400 grams of gold or is capable of affording two square meals a day, is expected to sacrifice an animal. A goat or a camel or a sheep is slaughtered during one of the three days of the festival and the meat is then distributed. One third portion of sacrificial animal meat is given to poor, another third to relatives and remaining for self and family. The story behind this ritual is that apparently God asked Abraham to sacrifice his child to prove his love for the lord. Not willing to back down, Abraham lifts his knife to sever his child’s head, and just as he is swinging his arm God replaces the child with a goat. And so now the ritual is to sacrifice goats. We can argue if it’s right or wrong or barbaric, but it sure is better than sacrificing your own kids.

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