Sheep: in their pre-sacrifice state
Where: Throughout Muslim regions of the Middle East
When: In celebration of a new home, baby, graduation and anything worth partying over
What Happens: A lamb is slaughtered without too much pain, the blood smeared on the doorstep and the meat barbequed for everyone in the neighbourhood to enjoy
If you are a foreigner lucky enough to be invited to visit someone in their home in the Middle East, you may experience a local custom that not many see. Flossie or Dolly fans, beware!
What Happens at the Lamb Sacrifice Festival
This custom is performed for a variety of life’s accomplishments – new home, new baby, graduation, returning from a long trip, new car – whatever is worth celebrating! The idea of the custom is protection for whatever life change has been made – and preventing accidents related to the change.
“Dah-hah” or “lamb sacrifice” is literally what it means. A local butcher comes to the home bearing a lamb and either the butcher himself, or the mother of the family cuts the throat on the front step. The doomed beast must expire quickly and painlessly – with one cut to the throat only. Any more is extremely haram, shameful and wrong – a sin, even, and negates the good that would otherwise result from this ritual. Blood is smeared on the front step and the door and sometimes family members put bloody handprints on the door and the surrounding area for good luck. In the US, this might raise a few eyebrows, but in the Middle East, it’s an excuse for a party!
Let the Feasting Begin
After the slaughter on the front step, the lamb is barbequed and turned into a feast for everyone. The distribution of food is based on a principle of three. The first group is the family, the second is the neighbours, and the third is anyone who is less well off. In this way, no one goes hungry in Arab countries – it is very haram to eat without making sure your fellow countryman is not hungry. After the feast, it’s time for a party, with the usual array of music, dancing and general merrymaking!
Guardian: Muslims’ kinder way of eating meat
Guardian newspaper article on Middle East sheep slaughtering rituals
Guide Written by Erika Linden Green-Rafeh