Muslims worldwide observe two major religious holidays: Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha. The first marks the end of Ramadan while the second culminates the annual hajj season. Of the two, Eida al Adha is regarded as holier and more significant; for that reason it’s also called Eid al Kabir, “the greater festival” or “the big festival.” The term Eid al Kabir is used quite widely in Morocco, where both general Islamic and unique cultural traditions are associated with the holiday.
Significance of Eid Al Adha
The Arabic words Eid al Adha translate to “The Festival of Sacrifice.” It’s a three-day holiday which commemorates the occasion when Prophet Abraham had a vision that he was to sacrifice his only son. Trusting that this dream was a divine command and test of faith, he set out to comply. It was only when Abraham was about to carry out the sacrifice that God commanded him to stop, indicating that his willingness to obey was fulfillment enough of the vision. A ram was slaughtered instead.
On Eid al Adha, Muslims demonstrate similar obedience to God by slaughtering an animal such as a sheep, goat, camel or cow according to strict Islamic guidelines; they then donate a portion of the sacrificial meat to charity. This sacrifice, referred to as an udhiyah, is required only of those able to afford it.
Many people—particularly those from the West who prefer to ignore where their meat comes from—are put-off by the idea of a religious or home slaughter, believing it to be a cruel and unnecessary waste of animal life. However, scientific studies have shown that the Islamic method of slaughter (zabihah) is in fact humane and produces healthier meat than automated slaughterhouse methods used to supply most grocery stores. And, despite the large number of animals slaughtered worldwide on the occasion of eid, none of the meat goes to waste, with the poor being the largest group to benefit. Additionally, many Muslim cultures have unique food traditions surrounding the offal and variety meats that typically get discarded in the West. The animal hides, too, are collected and purposed appropriately.
Moroccan Traditions During Eid Al Adha
Many Moroccan Muslims follow Islamic tradition by attending an early morning congregational eid prayer and khutbah (sermon) prior to performing the slaughter. Many families choose to slaughter immediately afterward, although any time that day or in the two days following is acceptable.
Some Moroccans prefer to wait for the king of Morocco to slaughter first, out of respect for his official position as the Amir al Mu’minin (leader of the faithful). This, and the eid prayer which the king attends, is usually televised.
The slaughter itself is a significant part of Eid al Adha, but it’s not the only aspect of the Muslim holiday. Other Moroccan traditions observed during Eid al Adha include the distribution of meat to the poor, buying new clothes or gifts for children, paying visits to family and friends, preparing holiday sweets in advance and cooking Moroccan dishes culturally associated with the holiday.
In the week or two leading up to eid, it’s common to see sheep hauled home via motorcycle or cart, or perhaps in the open trunk of a car. Temporary shelters, sometimes referred to as “sheep hotels,” will be set up in parking lots, city garages, or on empty lots for the sale and care of sheep until the day of eid. Feed and straw, for those who prefer to care for their sheep at home, and large bags of charcoal for grilling are readily available from curb-side vendors. Souks and grocery stores prominently display cooking and grilling equipment such as skewers, braziers, grill baskets, knives and more.
On the first day of eid following the prayer, many Moroccan neighborhoods are bustling with activity. Butcher stations may be set up on city street corners near apartment buildings to provide services to residents of congested areas while in quieter neighborhoods freelance butchers may walk the streets, offering their assistance with home slaughters. Makeshift grills can be found on street corners or empty lots to accommodate the charring of fur from heads and trotters; men or boys with hand-pushed carts make their rounds to collect unwanted animal hides. And, in the days following, poor people might go door to door to ask for handouts from the meat portioned out for charity.
Moroccan Food Traditions for Eid al Kabir
Food traditions can vary widely in Morocco, both among regions and among families. However, some are so common as to be familiar to nearly all Moroccans. Those Moroccan food-related traditions of Eid al Adha include:
- Preparing an elaborate spread of food for breakfast which gets served after the early morning prayer. In addition to the appearance of cookies on the table, the breakfast might include Moroccan specialties such as a cream of wheat soup called herbel, layered crepes called msemen, spongy pancakes known as beghrir, semolina griddle bread called harcha, and anise-flavored sweet rolls called krachel;
- Cooking some if not most of the offal shortly after the slaughter. Organ meat is always best fresh, and as it’s the first part acquired when cleaning, many Moroccans tend to clean it and cook it right away. (Additionally, some follow the Islamic tradition of not eating the day of eid until they have sampled meat from the sacrificial animal; typically that first bite would be offal.) Among the Moroccan offal dishes which might hit the barbecue or stove that first day are:
- Boulfaf, a brochette of seasoned liver cubes wrapped in caul fat which is often enjoyed outdoors while work from the slaughter is still going on;
- Kouah, a liver kebab similar to boulfaf but without the fat casing, it may include the additions of heart and kidney;
- Heart and Kidney Kebabs, in which cubes of seasoned heart and kidney are skewered and cooked over charcoal;
- Mokh, or brain, which might be prepared any number of ways, including a popular version in tomato sauce; and
- Kercha, or tripe, which is usually prepared in a stew called tkalia or douara that may include a mix of other offal such as the lungs, spleen and intestines.
- Prepping variety meats. This primarily involves charring then scraping the fur off the feet and heads, in preparation for the following dishes:
- Leaving the meat to hang and age for most of the day or overnight before butchering. Some do this themselves at home while others take the whole animal to a butcher shop where it’s professionally divided into proper cuts of meat. After setting some of it aside for charity, the remaining meat will be used in traditional Moroccan lamb dishes such as:
- Harira, a chickpea, lentil and tomato soup famously associated with Ramadan but often prepared year round, including the days of Eid al Adha;
- Qotban, skewers of the most tender meat from the leg of lamb, seasoned with onion, herbs and Moroccan spices;
- Mrouzia, an intensely-seasoned confit-style tagine of lamb, raisins, honey and almonds;
- Grilled lamb chops, which might be seasoned with garlic, lemon and mint;
- L’ham M’hammar, a braised then roasted dish of buttery-tender meat that is regionally popular among Fassis;
- Mechoui, roasted leg of lamb or shoulder; and
- Roasted Spareribs, prepared in similar manner as the leg of lamb in mechoui.
- Preparing dried and preserved meat. In the days before refrigeration, preparing the Moroccan equivalent of jerky and preserved meat was an essential practice. Many families continue the tradition by making:
- Gueddid (or geddid), which is strips of marinated meat left to dry, preferably outdoors rather than in the oven;
- Khlii (or khlea), which involves long, slow simmering of dried meat strips in suet and olive oil; the fats solidify at room temperature, serving as a preservative for the meat;
- Dried innards such as the intestines (douara) and stomach (kercha), which can be used later in the year; and
- Drying an entire leg of lamb, for later use in couscous or stews.
Another Moroccan food tradition associated with Eid al Adha in Morocco is to hold a family or neighborhood khaylouta. The term, which translates literally to “a mix,” is the name given to the gathering of young children for the purpose of making or “mixing” individual tagines—or alternatively a single large one—using meat from the sacrificial sheep. Khaylouta tagines are ideally cooked outdoors over hot coals in braziers and the children then share the finished dishes among themselves.
Depending on the region of Morocco, other names may be used for the khaylouta tradition including achawa (mini-dinner), ma’aïn (dishes) and ghraama (something due).
The Boujloud Festival
This event, deeply rooted in Berber tradition, occurs several days after Eid al Adha and is mostly found in southern Morocco as an event to entertain children. The name boujloud translates to “the father of skins” or “the one who wears sheepskin” and it refers to the silly, sometimes scary and sometimes elaborate costumes worn mostly by young men during the spectacle.