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The Day of Sacrifice

A story from a partner in Asia.

The annual day of sacrifice is typically a colourful event, but the escaped cow running loose into the crowds around the mosque forecourt made it even more so.

The mosque was to slaughter many cows and even more goats, and after the all-night prayer vigils (amplified by loudspeaker), the early-morning sermon (also amplified), and the reading of the donor’s names, the moment had arrived for ‘cow number one’ to be sacrificed.

A bustling crowd of a few hundred looked on around the edges. Vendors selling iced drinks, fried egg-pancakes and balloons were out in force. With the promise of copious amounts of fresh meat for all, there was an air of happy festivity.

The initial signs of struggle came while they were trying to figure out which legs to tie first so it would lie down the right way (facing Mecca). The imam worked up his best sholawat, a triumphant oratio of “God is great!” over the loudspeakers. In the confusion, the cow panicked, jumped loose from the bonds, and bolted straight across the yard where the crowd screamed and shrank back as one. The spooked cow made a U turn, dodged one of the quicker guys, and made several circuits of the yard. The crowd squealed in laughter and terror, men holding ropes and running in disarray, all while the imam continued his urgent soul-lifting mantra undeterred.

We stood behind a concrete barrier, just in front of ‘cow number two’, chewing his grass and lazily looking at us with those beautiful bovine eyes, seemingly unaware of the drama behind him. One of our children stroked his horn, animal-lover that she is. Eventually ‘cow number one’ was persuaded to offer its life in a different corner of the yard. It took considerable effort to drag its carcass across to the correct butchering area.

We laughed about the incident with friends that evening as they seared goat sate sticks over a scrap-wood fire. The country is glutted with red meat, paid for by the rich and dispensed free by mosques. The feast (Idul Adha) coincides with the climax of the hajj pilgrimage events in Mecca, and is the second main highlight in the Islamic calendar (the first being Idul Fitri, the post-Ramadan festivities).

"Do the donor’s keep any for themselves?" I asked.
“No, that’s not allowed!” a friend replied, offering another stick of meat.
"Why do they do it?"
“There’s a story, about the Prophet ... who was it? ... Ibraham nearly sacrificing his only son, the Prophet Jesus.”
"Don’t you mean Isaac, or Ishmael?"
“Oh ya, one of them. God gave him a goat to sacrifice instead.”

Either way, it’s a few days of rare abundance for our neighbours. Beef is a treat, usually only eaten once a year at this occasion. Even though our neighbours often receive less desirable cuts, they seem grateful enough. One of our friends opened several bags of offal – heart, liver, guts. Another man chopped up every last piece of a goat’s skull for what he hoped would be a delicious soup.

“Is there this much meat back in the village?” I wanted to know. “No, nothing like this.” Another reason to migrate from the country. The promise of the ‘trickle-down effect’ in the city is obvious on a day like this.