It's lambs to the fore again as as Eid al-Adha approaches

When livestock sellers start putting their sheep on show on the streets of Cairo, people know that the Eid al-Adha festival is upon them once again, dpa reported.

Eid al-Adha, or the Greater Feast, is a four-day event associated with the sacrifice rituals and the hajj pilgrimage. It also means new clothes, new movies in the theatres, and more family meetings.

But it is the lambs that remain the centre of attention - at least until their slaughter early on the first day of the feast, after the Eid prayers.

The sacrifice aims at reminding Muslims of the Prophet Ibrahim's (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail to Allah as an act of obedience and submission.

When Ibrahim dreamt he was sacrificing his son, he decided to do as ordered, in the knowledge that God inspires the dreams of prophets.

So when both father and son showed their obedience to God, He saved Ismail and replaced him with a ram. Ever since, those Muslims who can afford to do so are asked to slaughter an animal such as a sheep, camel or goat.

"Buying the lamb is a good opportunity for my children to know their religion. When I brought it home for the first time, my daughter kept asking me questions about it and I told her the story several times till I was sure she understood it," said father-of-two Ahmed Shaker.

A third of the meat should go to one's immediate family, a third to the poor and the last third to members of the larger family.

"It also allows our small family to reconnect with other branches of the family, those whom we would not have the chance to visit throughout the year," added Shaker, who works as a teacher.

Shaker, like many Egyptians, has to work all day in order to provide a decent living for his family. It leaves him little time for social activity.

Shaker's daughter Salma Ezzat remembers how she learnt the story of sacrifice when she was only three while sitting on her father's lap watching the lamb.

Salma, now a 19-year-old student, remembers how she would grow attached to the lamb her grandfather got every year.

"I would go to my grandparents house in the few days that preceded the Eid to play with it. Yet, it was not love at first sight - my mom told me I got really scared, and was watching it from a distance for the first few days," Salma said.

Each year she and her cousins would play with the animal. "We used to bring him his food and ride on his back," said Salma, adding she still likes to have the sheep around. "Unfortunately, I can't ride on its back anymore."

Year after year, prices of meat go up and more Egyptians struggle to buy their lamb in a country where around 30 per cent of the 80- million population live below the poverty line. Many families can only buy a few kilos of meat for the Eid feast.

But people still try hard to buy an entire animal. "It's not just about eating meat. Buying the lamb means a lot to my family. It's a tradition I was brought up to, and I want to bring up my children to it as well," said Ahmed Ezz, a 40-year-old engineer.

This year, Ezz has been saving up for months to buy a lamb, which costs an average of 1,500 Egyptian pounds (around 275 dollars).

Mona and her husband, a taxi driver, are among the many who have to make do with sharing a small cow with the family.

"We regret our children cannot enjoy being around the sheep like we used to, but our only relief is that we get God's blessing for our sacrifice and the kids get to see the cow before it is slaughtered in the morning," she said.

Eid al-Adha, which falls annually on the 10th of Zul Hijja, the last month of the lunar Islamic calendar, starts this year on December 8.

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