Last weekend was the three-day Islamic holiday Eid al Adha (spelled عيد الأضحى, which means “festival of the sacrifice.”). I was here for Eid al Adha last year, but since I spoke about 4 words of Arabic at the time the experience was pretty confusing for me, so I figured I’d wait until I got the details cleared up this year to describe it. Basically Eid al Adha celebrates the story of the phrophet Ibrahim’s (in the Bible, Abraham’s) willingness to sacrifice his son Isma’il (Ishmael) as submission to God’s command. In the story, God intervenes just before the sacrifice and they kill a ram instead. Muslims generally celebrate the sacrifice by killing a sheep, cow, or even a camel on the first day of Eid and then dividing the meat into three parts- one for the family, another for relatives and friends, and one for charity.
I knew we were approaching Eid again this year when I started seeing sections of the sooq in my village and the nearby cities fenced off and filled with brightly marked cattle. At my center we got ready the week before by making these cards:
And by talking about it endlessly.
Everybody gets pretty excited about the whole process and just about everybody comes out to watch the sacrifice in the early morning on the first day of Eid- even the youngest kids. Most Jordanians I know are a lot more comfortable than Americans with seeing animals killed before they’re eaten, which seems admirable to me (although I was not at all disappointed that my landlord’s family skipped the sheep this year).
I woke up at dawn on the first day of Eid to the chanting of the Takbir (the traditional Eid prayer) that was played over loudspeakers from the mosque across the street from my house. The prayer went on for two hours and it sounded like this. After the prayer ended there was a sermon (also played on loudspeakers) and after everybody finished praying, the sacrifices went down. My landlord’s family didn’t buy a sheep this year, so they got their meat personally delivered by a tiny girl in an impeccable white dress, heels, and frilly socks who came running into the house to hand my landlady a large transparent bag filled with bloody lamb.
At around 9am the family visits started. The procedure for visits on Eid is the same, except that everybody buys new fancy clothes and gets all dressed up, especially the kids. I definitely saw significantly more rhinestones, clip-on ties, and hair gel than usual. The kids run around to all the adults with hands outstretched, because it’s tradition to give out money to children during Eid. The kids then turn around and spend it on huge amounts of candy, chips, and toy guns, which pretty much lays out the entertainment for the rest of the day. I hung out and ate sweets and got wired on Arabic coffee with the moms pretty much the whole first day, and on the second and third days I visited my host family from my training village.
The whole experience is pretty overwhelming (albeit delightful), and after three days of marathon visiting and way too much caffeine I was about ready to return to normal life. But even so, when I sat upstairs with my landlady and her daughters, just talking and watching the kids run around (and shoot plastic guns) I was struck by how quickly they’ve become my family in the past two months and how readily they welcomed me into this tradition that means so much to them. So Eid mubarak (happy Eid!), everybody.