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Dispatches From Cairo: Feast of Sacrifice

Posted on Nov 10, 2011
Green Prophet (CC-BY)

By Lauren Unger-Geoffroy

We asked Lauren Unger-Geoffroy, an Arabic-speaking American who lives in Cairo, to share her perspective of life in Egypt after the revolution. In this entry, she writes about the first post-revolutionary Feast of Sacrifice.

CAIRO—The streets of Egypt ran with rivers of blood Sunday. It was the blood of sacrifice and not the blood of slaughtered humans this time. It was the slaughter of cows and sheep and goats for Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice—the feast of Ibrahim (Abraham), the common father of the three major monotheistic religions who is said to have built the Kaaba at Mecca.

Every adult Muslim, male or female, who owns any form of wealth that is surplus to his or her basic needs is under an obligation to offer a ritual sacrifice. This could be a goat, sheep, cow or camel.

The meat must be divided into three parts. One part for the home, one part for relatives and friends, and one part for the poor and needy. Great care must be taken to distribute the meat equally. 

The Eid spirit of charity runs high as every Muslim who sacrifices an animal is eager to share his or her meat with the poor. Since many here cannot afford to buy meat, they get to eat it just once a year—on Eid al-Adha. Some better-off families go so far as to dedicate several animals solely for feeding the poor and hungry on the three days of Eid. No Muslim goes hungry during the tiring but joyous days of Eid al-Adha.

In Muslim countries, animals are slaughtered everywhere on Eid al-Adha, including on roads and streets. (In non-Muslim-majority countries, animals can be sacrificed only at designated places, with prior permission from authorities.) The animals are slaughtered by bleeding. The blood should be allowed to drain completely from their bodies. This is why the streets fill with blood.

The children run around, excited by the activity and the new penny toys they have received. As in Eid al-Fitr, they get sweets and toys and families awake at dawn, bathe and put on new clothes to go to the Eid prayer, all calling out the takbeer together on the way: “Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar (God is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest!). Laa ilaaha illallaahu Allahu Akbar (There is no god except God, God is the Greatest!). Allahu Akbar wa lillaahil Hamd (God is the Greatest and for God is The Praise!).”

As soon as the prayer is finished, the sacrifices are made and people begin to divide and prepare the delicious meat feast. I see the eager (often unhealthy gray) faces of the street children and the market urchins and the beggars and the poor around here. Today they will feast like the rich people.

Later in the morning the scent of cooking meat fills the neighborhood and mingles with the fading smell of the slaughter as the gallons of blood are absorbed into the eternally thirsty dirt and sand of the streets.

In the afternoon the sounds of a few scuffles, undoubtedly about portions, have gone. Things have calmed, people are digesting their feast, and I go down to give candy to my little friends, daughters of the boweb (concierge) across the street. The men are sitting on one mattress on the dirt floor and the women on another. The three who know me smile and greet me happily when I lift the cloth that covers the doorway. They are drinking tea and chatting. There are five adults and four children in the small space; a couple of cousins are visiting from their village. Hoda’s dirty little face is beaming as she shows me her plastic candy dispenser, and her little sister, Amal, shakes hers to show me her new gift. They both seem more energetic than usual, and underneath the smudges I notice they have some color in their faces. Their mother is smiling too, and we joke about the people squabbling after praying, and people eating too much and farting, we all laugh, and other people around who have partaken in their Eid share of red meat also look noticeably healthier and relaxed.

Eid al-Adha is also the celebration of the completion of the Hajj, the weeklong pilgrimage to Mecca that all able Muslims are obligated to perform at least once during their life. Many save for years to go to Saudi Arabia for Hajj. This year there were 3 million people circling the Kaaba in their white, stitchless clothing, in unity, in peace and kindness, and in faith, experiencing the awesome spiritual sense of connection with history with all Muslims, with each other, with their faith and God. There is a big Udhiyyah in Mecca after the Hajj.

Eid al-Adha is usually a much gayer holiday, but this year the somber significance of the Feast of Sacrifice is lost on no one here. Egyptians cannot ignore the daily massacres that are going on now in Syria and Yemen. Brothers in Palestine, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain—in every place that is in upheaval—are being slaughtered. And the people of Egypt have not forgotten for one second their own martyrs, sacrificed to our own struggling revolution. Some Egyptians have been trying to organize a global demonstration of solidarity with Occupy Everything for Nov. 12, but I haven’t heard about it lately.

This holiday has always been a bit difficult for me as a vegetarian and animal-empathic person … hearing the death wails and smelling the effluvia of animal fear hormones and blood and descending to red, red streets, sometimes ankle-deep in blood. But this year I was desensitized to some degree: I have seen humans killed and their bodies heaped and shoved and crushed in a way that the animals never will be. Sorry, sheep.

After the feast we will return to work and watching and trying to hang on to our revolution as the slip and slide of political parties and potential candidates continue. The claws of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces are well sunk in, and grow stronger by the day. Now, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, SCAF commander in chief and de facto head of state, is being proposed as a candidate.

The presidential elections are not scheduled until July 2013. As we watch the vacillating popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party as well as other parties, anything is possible. We can only hope to learn this political game fast enough and well enough to have a success that will not demand more revolutions before we get it right.

Egyptians support all people in struggle and sacrifice against injustice and oppression and corruption. Their hearts are with those who are fighting for their lives and willing to sacrifice for freedom. They watch with growing solidarity the protesters of Occupy and are with the good people. Happy Eid to all of you. Be brave, be true and be careful.


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JohannG's avatar

By JohannG, November 18, 2011 at 4:56 am Link to this comment

My apologies. Maybe my disgust about mankind’s
stupidity as expressed in this article carried me too
far. It may be that the Universe would be a better
place without us. Sorry if I offended anyone’s sensibilities. I truly am an ignorant fellow.

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By abu al ez, November 17, 2011 at 6:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

its very clear your hat against Muslim and Islam. When
you “not the blood of slaughtered humans this time.”
may be you need to remember your western criminal
history agianst the Muslim world. From Palestine, Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq. etc. your criminal
history smile like a trash can.

Report this

By ardee, November 11, 2011 at 2:28 am Link to this comment

Phillip Irwin, November 10 at 5:53 pm

Hey, Phil. If you haven’t anything to say don’t say it.

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By Lilith, November 10, 2011 at 11:30 pm Link to this comment

Sheesh people, how about taking Cultural Anthropology 101 before you start making such disparaging assessment of a culture, history and people you know zip about, let alone saying it was better when they were “slaughtering each other”. Talk about ugly Americans ....

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By Phillip Irwin, November 10, 2011 at 4:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I liked it better when they were slaughtering each other…..

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By Diana, November 10, 2011 at 11:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

here and elsewhere.  MERCY FOR ANIMALS, check it out.
See the the hellish treatment of these gentle
creatures as the fat, gluttons eat their way to the
grave.  Look at the obese children as McDonalds (and
others) do it all for you.

Mankind is destroying everything with this killing
zest.  Stop worrying about the mythical GOD(s) and
use your common sense!  Yes, “Do unto others .  .  .” 
Golden rule and good common sense.  Where does this
joy and/or excuse for killing end?  We’ve been
warned.  When the water runs out - the rich will have
it (at least for a while) while everyone else is

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By GoyToy, November 10, 2011 at 11:06 am Link to this comment


Are you a vegan? If not, find out about animal “farming” in our own country. You’ll have plenty to criticize.

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By gerard, November 10, 2011 at 10:50 am Link to this comment

Profound words—“Sorry, sheep!”  Apology and prayer.  That we ourselves not be victims.  That we stop victimizing other beings. That we regret our murderous behavior.  That the human thirst for blood not be translated universally into a huge nuclear abattoir. That blood may cease to be the emblem of cleansing and retributive justice. That the mythical person who is thought to have said “Feed my sheep” had a vision which compels universal mercy.

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By berniem, November 10, 2011 at 10:49 am Link to this comment

Yo, GoyToy. Have you been introduced to your Like-Mindless fellow traveller by the name of Odd Sox? I’m sure you benighted souls will find much to lament regarding the lack of appreciation for your medieval thought processes.

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By berniem, November 10, 2011 at 10:45 am Link to this comment

Why do such celebrations need to result in slaughter? You’d think that after all this time humankind would have outgrown this nonsense. Peace on earth will not occur until the tyranny of religion is erradicated along with that of despotic and authoritarian governance. FREE BRADLEY MANNING AND TIME DECHRISTOPHER!!!!

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By Diana, November 10, 2011 at 8:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The trouble with these blogs. is the excessive name-
calling when one doesn’t agree.  Knock it off and
grow up.  If this world were using the land to raise
crops instead of animals for slaughter - everyone
could eat and not just for a day. 

Religions do more harm than their “feel good” efforts
as far as I’m concerned. The hellish treatment of
animals always sickens me, and eating the flesh of
these frightened creatures cannot justify the
starvation that prevails.  As water continues to be
poisoned by the run-off of animal waste; mankind will
thirst and die. 

Being able to cut the throat of these innocent
creatures is a great practice for using it on human
beings (as we’ve heard about over the years).  Life
is short and ignorance is long. . .

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By GJS, November 10, 2011 at 7:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s certainly a noble gesture to share with the poor & it’s a pity it’s not done all the time however this can be done in a myriad of ways that does NOT require animals to have their throats cut & just left to bleed out, it’s not only barbaric & cruel but an incredible health risk to anyone around.
I realise it’s an age old custom but so was sacrificing babies something that has been hopefully
stopped through education & realising it was all for nought.
I have no problem with anyones religion or what they do but when it comes to things that include other living things is where the line must be drawn. Too many things in history have been carried out & excused by authorities because it was done in the name of religion.
Sacrifice achieves nothing except from subjecting animals to a horrid death & I can’t believe ANY GOD would want unnecessary pain & suffering inflicted on anything or anyone.
Unfortunately mankind has bent & corrupted ALL religions along with everything else to justify & satisfy their own ends more is the pity.

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By GoyToy, November 10, 2011 at 6:22 am Link to this comment

Johann G, you’re an ignoramus, and probably bigoted too. I’m not big on eating meat, but this particular sacrifice is a commemoration of God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son. So this particular Muslim feast is to give thanks to God. By the way, a third of meat is kept for family, a third goes to relatives and a third to the poor. So the meat is shared. Back when the ritual started in the early history of Islam, understand that people did not eat much meat—meat eating was a very special occasion.

So sit comfortable in America and go ahead to ridicule everyone else. Hope that makes you happy—though I doubt it will.

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By Lilith, November 10, 2011 at 5:50 am Link to this comment

@JohannG, I do not know where you live, nor your economic-level now or in the past, but your racist post is so typical of those who do not know what life is really like for those they so easily despise. If you will re-read the article, the “poor” the author talks about are apparently “vegetarian” 364 days a year and eat meat for only one day (for the most part). Considering how poor they are, and how little arable land there is to grow food, I can well assume that they can not afford to practice a healthy non-meat diet. Whether it is shrouded in the mysticism of religion, or simply culture, how can you begrudge the feeding of those who other wise would simply go without.

This type of sacrifice is more than just a pale token, or a practice done out of habit rather than a true purpose, it has both a deep and abiding meaning religiously, culturally and literally, which stems from a time when sharing with others was not just a jester but a cultural solution to survival. The ability to have food, let alone have enough to share it, AND to believe that sharing it is the most noble and sacred act a person can do, is anything other than “retarded, extraordinarily stupid” as you claim.

The only thing that I see that is truly “retarded, extraordinarily stupid” is your unenlightened and intolerant post.

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By ardee, November 10, 2011 at 5:35 am Link to this comment


I guess its a bit too much for you that we are atop the food chain. Did you fail to notice the charitable nature of the sacrifice? Are you then against feeding the poor as well?

What do you classify as “unnecesary killing” then? Food animals are killed to provide us with food, are you then an advocate of starvation?

I think your diatribe against religion pretty well sums up the reasons for this nonsense you post.

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JohannG's avatar

By JohannG, November 10, 2011 at 12:56 am Link to this comment

I offer this as my sacrifice: My deep disgust towards
unnecessary killing and my contempt for the the truly
retarded, extraordinarily stupid religious beliefs that
go with it. Other than that I liked this exposition of
mankind’s true nature: Sacrifice to your Gods and spill
blood if at all possible. What more is there to say?

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