Today is just another ordinary day for most Belgians. They may be looking forward to Christmas, but they have nothing to celebrate on this 19th of December. For the Muslim community in Belgium and across the world, today is `Eid al-Adha`: Sacrifice Day.
When the day starts, I notice an unusual number of well-dressed people wearing long, traditional clothes that do not look like the latest Belgian fashion. I soon find out that they are on their way to the mosque to perform the Eid prayer. This session is supposed to take place at sunrise, and it marks the start of the celebrations.
..explains why Moslems sacrifice sheep on Sacrifice Day
Zared (41), originally from Morocco, explains that Sacrifice Day requires everybody to put on their nicest clothes when they visit the Mosque in the morning. The celebrations typically take place in families, but Zared has not got any family in Brussels and will have meal with an Egyptian friend instead. He will do the same for Christmas, which may not be an Islamic celebration but `it`s Belgian, an I am Belgian`, says Zared.
Mohammed (30) explains what`s happening after the mosque visit in the morning. `Families are traditionally required to sacrifice their best domestic animal, most often a sheep. That`s where the alternative name `Sheep`s Day` comes from. In Belgium, things are a little more organised. Some time before Sacrifice Day, families pay a visit to local farms and select one sheep. On the day itself, the farmer delivers the sheep to a slaughterhouse. Families will come to the slaughterhouse after going to church. In the presence of a veterinary, the most senior person in the family will perform the ritual slaughtering of the sheep by cutting its throat.
After most of the blood has poured out, the sheep is shared in three. One portion serves for the traditional meal prepared by the family, one third is given away to friends and another third is given away to the poor. The third given to the poor can be handed to them directly, with the meat prepared or unprepared, or will be given to the mosque. The institution usually provides a collective meal for those who cannot afford to buy a sheep themselves. It is the duty to leave no Muslim without access to sacrificial food.
The two thirds of the sheep meat will be eaten by families and their invitees during the two days following the Sacrifice Day, which actually form an integral part of Sacrifice Day. Sacrifies Days would therefore be a better description. Due to practical restraints, not everybody celebrates on the same one out of three days. Sacrifice Day is not a public Belgian holiday, so a lot also depends on whether people need to work or not.
Necim (18, photo), originally from Tunisia, tells me about the origins of Sacrifice Day: `The Koran describes how the prophet Ibrahim dreamt that God wanted him to sacrifice his son. Ibrahim wanted to prove his willingness to obey and prepared to kill his son. According to the story, God told him to stop at the moment he wanted to perform the ritual. God then sent a lamb from the heavens for Ibrahim to kill instead, as a reward Ibrahims` for Ibrahims dedication to God. Still nowadays, this sheep stands for the willingness to make sacrifices for a holy ideal, and this is what we are celebrating. Sacrifice Day is taking place 70 days after the Ramadam and moreover marks the end of the Hadj. It brings is a crossroad between many different Islamic events and is also referred to as `The Big Celebration`.
Eid ul-Adha is taking place on the same day each year ? according to the Islamic calendar that is. The calendar most frequently used in Europe is the Gregorian one, based on the sun. The Islamic calendar is based on the moon. One Islamic year is approximately eleven days shorter than a Gregorian year, pushing all Islamic celebrations eleven days back in time for the next year. Sacrifice Day is celebrated on 19 December this year. For next year, it will be December 8. The exact dates are however determined by religious leaders.
Whether or not people will get a day off work to celebrate Sacrifice day is not officially prescribed. Rachid (35) works in a bakery in an Arabic neighbourhood of Brussels, where the shops usually close on another day of the week than Sunday. He will celebrate tomorrow, which coincides with the weekly Thursday closing of the bakery.
Rachid thinks that Belgium is fairly open to people from other cultures. He agrees that number of people coming in should be controlled, but cannot understand that many Western countries do not face the reality of having a big immigrant population. `It seems like it`s not something they are prepared to accept, only something they want to fight. It`s a shame to see how politicians are fond of erecting barriers between people, tearing the population apart in two different camps. Belgium is a nice example of that ? they can`t even keep together their own population because they are not willing to accept the reality that people are different. It`s people who together form a society, much more than politicians shaping people into society.`
Brussels is a particular place for immigrants, with fairly high unemployment. It`s not the limited number of jobs available. It`s the language requirements employers observe. Somebody speaking at least French and Dutch can, in many cases, easily replace two people speaking only one. Being trilingual French-Dutch-English is almost even a guarantee for finding a decent job.
Many immigrants come from Northern Africa or the former colony Congo. They often do speak French, but have a hard time learning Dutch. It puts them on par with a good share of the French-speaking population in Brussels. Monolingual French-speakers will have a hard time finding a job, even if they are 100% Belgian. They have to compete with the French-speaking locals for the same jobs, and more often than not end up losing. Rachid illustrates: `Being accepted as a Belgian means being bilingual in Dutch and French, even while many Belgians themselves are not. But if immigrants are, they will be counted as one of them and all other differences lose their importance.`
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