Eid al-Adha, or the ‘festival of sacrifice’, is a religious ritual for Muslims which marks the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). It is a festival of sharing and passing on culinary knowhow from one generation to the next.
CC - The sacrifice of Ibrahim, Illumination from the book Hadikat as-Suada, Turkey, C16th-17th
The sacrificial animal
The sacrificial animal of Eid al-Adha is the sheep. It emulates an episode in the life of Abraham, who, obeying God’s command, prepared to sacrifice his only son, Ishmael. At the last moment, God sent the angel Gabriel to replace the child with a sheep. This episode is found in all three monotheist religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam). The sheep symbolises both the act of divine generosity and the replacement of Ibrahim’s son. As such, the animal plays an important role in family life before its immolation. The family gives it a name, feeds it leftovers, walks it and generally pampers it. The sacrifice is not one of the pillars of Islam and is therefore not a religious obligation. It is a gesture of generosity towards others, according to the Muslim saying: “Of all this mutton, it is only the part which we give which is of value. What we have eaten is swallowed, what we have given is valuable” (Brisebarre, 2007).
Tradition and culinary sharing
According to tradition it is the father of the family who performs the sacrificial slaughter of the sheep during the Eid al-Adha festival. Once the animal has been slaughtered in accordance with halalprinciples, it is cooked and shared among the guests. The various parts of the animal are eaten in a specific order. On the day of the slaughter, kebabs made from the liver and lungs and wrapped in caul fat are boiled and then grilled over a fire. On the second day, the family cuts up the rest of the animal. The head is the most traditional dish and is often served as mechoui, slow-roasted over a fire. Traditionally, in the Maghreb, cooking tasks are allocated according to gender: Men are in charge of grilling meat over the embers outdoors and women prepare the stewed meat in the kitchen, inside the family home. In France, legislation forbids the consumption of offal such as the head, spleen or spinal cord. Younger generations from immigrant families, accustomed to Western products, are gradually turning away from this type of dish, which is not always to their taste. As Eid al-Adha is a time of inclusion, sharing and giving, one third of the meat is given to the poor and needy.
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. On this specific day, it is forbidden to fast. It is also known as the ‘sweet festival’ as desserts become the focal point once morning prayers are over. This festival of forgiveness and peace can last up to three days. Tradition dictates that, to mark the occasion, practising Muslims pay the zakat, a charitable donation to the poor, equivalent to four times the amount of food held in two cupped hands.
Ramadan is not just about depriving oneself of food, it is also a matter of taste. During Ramadan, the day is devoted to asceticism, strictly forbidding eating, drinking and addictive or pleasurable pursuits. Night, however, is a time of conviviality and sharing with family and friends, where careful attention is paid to the purity of the food served in iftar and suhur, the two night-time meals.
Established in Medina in 624, the fast of Ramadan is a commemoration of the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, which occurred in the ninth month of the lunar year. It is a moment of joy and generosity, where individuals think about the poor and needy and strengthen links with the religious community. Practising Muslims observe prayer times, strict daytime abstinence and the breaking of the fast at sunset.
The market for halal food is a recent phenomenon. From the 1960s onwards, as immigrant Muslim populations began to settle in the West, especially in France, demand for halal meat increased. The 1990s saw the emergence of ‘Muslim consumers’ mindful of what they put on their plate. Specialist butchers began to develop locally, then the product range diversified and globalised within the agri-food business. Halal became a commercial quality label.