Sacrifice (Bakr id)

December 28, 2006

The first beautiful cow arrived in the alley last night.  By this afternoon, there were two more.  Over the next three days, there will be 32 cows (last year, there were 50) and one camel (which will have traveled for 30 days, on foot, from Rajasthan), all tied up in this one alley.  The camel will be given one day to rest from its long journey, before it, the cows assembled in the alley, and the goats, which are kept in people’s houses for safe-keeping, are sacrificed.

As each animal arrives, everyone in the neighborhood gathers around to admire the animal and to talk about who will have the most animals, how much each animal cost, and how much in total each family will spend for the holiday.  (The wealthiest family in the neighborhood will spend about Rs. 150,000 – a little over U.S. $3,400.)  Those who are particularly devout will have bought animals a month earlier and kept them in the playground, painstakingly feeding and caring for them better than members of their own families.  Wealthier relatives will provide animals for family members who cannot afford them.  The camel is a joint purchase – beyond the means of just one family.

On Bakrid, the Muslims go to the mosques in the morning to offer prayers to Allah, and then sacrifice the animal at home. Bakr means ‘sheep’, and on Bakrid, the affluent sacrifice one animal per member of the family, and distribute two-thirds of the meat among the poor. A full-grown camel, cow, goat or sheep, free from any disease, is sacrificed.

Id ul Zuha, more commonly known as Bakr id, which commemorates Abraham’s sacrifice of his only son Ishmael, falls on January 1 this year.  Syed Ishmail Lane, where Rosalie Giffoniello of Empower the Children lives, is the alley where all the animals are kept and slaughtered for the Muslim population in this neighborhood – all these animals in a one-block lane about the width of a cow.

Several times a day, Rosalie will run the gauntlet of cows, quickly edging along the alley, in constant fear of being splattered with urine or dung.  (Her first year in the apartment, she was paralyzed with fear, and little children would take her hand to guide her through the alley safely to the perpendicular, cow-free lane.)  Her landlord and neighbors have advised her to move out for the three days before the festival, but she takes a perverse pleasure in successfully negotiating the alley without getting pissed or shit on.  The sense of competition, accomplishment, and immense relief compel her to continue to use the alley even though there is another, albeit out-of-the-way, egress through a charming one-and-a-half person walkway behind her apartment building.

Every year, her landlord’s family brings her a plate of three types of meat and ask:  “Did you know which one was the camel?”

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