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Bloodless slaughter

November 17, 2010

Does the Feast of Sacrifice mean that streets and squares in Mecca are filled with slaughtered animals? No! As DW reporter Ali Almakhlafi discovered, digital sheep are getting more and more popular.

Meal of rice and meat
The e-sheep help pilgrims to give sacrificial meat to the needyImage: DW/Ali Almakhlafi

Blood and dead sheep everywhere? Spellbound pilgrims slaughtering live animals by the dozen? That's how a friend of mine imagined the Feast of Sacrifice. And maybe some of DW's readers thought so as well.

Pilgrims eating together
Multicultural Mecca: Pilgrims from Chad, China, Lebanon, Brazil, and AustriaImage: DW/Ali Almakhlafi

I can't say that animal rights activists and vegetarians would enjoy what's happening here – but the Feast of Sacrifice in Mina isn't massacre-like, as my friend expected.

In accordance with Islamic tradition, the sacrificial animals are slaughtered by a method called Thaliba: Their throats are cut and they bleed dry. Usually, this is done by a butcher or under professional instruction in one of the big butcheries. The animals are definitively not being slaughtered on market squares, or even in front of a mosque.

The ritual took place on Tuesday, November 16, when Muslims celebrated the Feast of Sacrifice. However, animals are also sacrificed on the following two days of the Hajj.

So far, however, I haven't seen any blood. And that's due to a new trend, which is quite popular in Mecca, but also among Turkish and Arabic Muslims living in Germany: Instead of sacrificing a real sheep, they sacrifice digital sheep - also called an electronic sheep or an e-sheep.

picture of a stone thrower with a red circle and slash
This sign indicates: 'No stone throwing'Image: DW/Ali Almakhlafi

I know it sounds funny, but it's actually quite reasonable if you think about it. On the one hand, Muslims are supposed to sacrifice an animal during the Hajj and then give the meat to the poor and needy. On the other hand, there aren't all that many needy people in Saudi Arabia, at least not compared with other parts of the world, such as Africa.

The idea is, you pay 400 Rial (80 Euros) to a charitable foundation online, thereby purchasing a digital sheep. The foundation will then make sure that a real sheep is slaughtered, and the meat is given to needy people in the respective country.

"I think that's a great idea," a Saudi pilgrim tells me. "What should we do with all the meat in our fridges? There are people who need it much more than we do."

Throwing stones at Satan

I'm here as a journalist, so I didn't slaughter a sheep, not even a digital one. But I wanted to at least stone the devil.

Again, that all happened symbolically. On the Hajj, pilgrims stone the devil numerous times. It's an important ritual, not only on the Feast of Sacrifice. When throwing a stone, pilgrims speak out loud: "In the name of God, God is great." By doing so, they're asking for God's forgiveness for their sins. The pilgrims have collected the stones they throw in the valley of Muzdalifah. 2 million pilgrims arriving in Mecca with 49 pebble stones each – that adds up to some 300 tons of stone. After the Hajj, Saudi authorities make sure that the stones are transported back to Muzdalifah.

Ali throws a stone
I succeeded at 'stoning the devil'Image: DW

A wall at one of the three pillars of Jamarat Bridge symbolizes the devil. In fact, the huge bridge is a blessing for the Hajj. A couple of years ago, it was reconstructed as a five-story building with the help of German engineers. Now it's a lot bigger, and also safer than before. Since it was rebuilt there have been no mass panics causing causalties, like there used to be.

A hair for every sin

When the Feast of Sacrifice is over, pilgrims leave the state of consecration. That was when I meet Aaron from Indonesia, who was holding scissors in his hand. Along with many other men here, he was about to have his head shaven.

Shaving, or at least cutting ones hair, is an important part of the Hajj. I asked Aaron why he wants to have his head shaven instead of just cutting off a little of his hair. He said: "Every hair on my head represents a sin to me. And having my head shaved completely, it's like being a newborn child – free of sins."

Alis Mekka Tagebuch
Aaron from IndonesiaImage: DW/Ali Almakhlafi

By the way, I discovered a funny aspect to the ritual. There are, of course, men who have a bald head in the first place. They either prefer a bald head or they lost their hair for some reason. However, many of those men have their heads shaven symbolically, even though there's really nothing to shave.

After the ritual, pilgrims take off their Hajj garment and put on their everyday clothes. And so I put on my jeans and polo shirt once again.

Hajj attire "made in China"

You might not have thought about the fact that many of the Hajj clothes in Mecca bear the label "Made in China," but they do. Muhammad, a pilgrim from China, told me that – and he's very proud of it. He's part of the Muslim minority in his country, which is even suppressed to some extent. But Muhammad still feels like a real Chinese. He told me he wished China would become the "world champion of global economy,"

Well, I guess China is heading in the right direction.

Muhammad portrait
Muhammad is proud that many Hajj clothes are made in ChinaImage: DW/Ali Almakhlafi

Again and again, I'm excited by the international atmosphere over here. I'd like to answer a question posted by DW user Detlev Abebe, who wants to know: "What's you're impression of the majority of pilgrims? Are they open-minded and tolerant – or do they just stick to a fixed ideology?"

I would say it's the former. I definitely haven't seen anybody holding a fundamentalist speech in public. Most of the people here are just happy to experience a highly significant religious event together with pilgrims from around the world. Of course, the official Saudi interpretation of Islam is something different. It's very conservative, indeed.

Yet, I'm also surprised by how the conservative regulations are handled over here. For example, there are rather strict rules for how men and women should interact with each other. But they aren't taken that seriously by many pilgrims - especially when they're not in public places. And here's another rather peculiar example: It's illegal to sell cigarettes in Mecca, but it's allowed to smoke.

Unveiled Women

I haven't found a definite answer to a question posted by DW user "Milena": "Why is it that women aren't allowed to wear veils during the pilgrimage?"

Apparently, the rule says that women's faces need to be recognizable during the Hajj. A religious scholar here told me that it probably goes back to how the prophets' wives used to dress. They weren't wearing veils. And I personally think it could be a good sign that veils aren't a matter of religion, but a matter of tradition.

Author: Ali Almakhlafi (ds)
Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn