The struggle to afford the Eid Al Adha sheep

November 18, 2010

Ali Zamni carrying his daughter

Ali Zamni feels fortunate. He has a close cousin who sells him a sheep without making his life miserable. His cousin is willing to accept the money in instalments and keeps the sheep with him until two days before Eid Al Adha.

The arrangement is wonderful news for Zamni, a teacher in the coastal Tunisian resort of Monastir — he gets a fine sheep, pays the price at his leisure and does not have to take all kinds of risks in keeping the sheep at home.

However, only few people are as fortunate as Zamni.

For most Tunisians, buying a sheep for Eid Al Adha is an obligation that, under demanding living conditions, is becoming increasingly difficult to honour.

Children invariably demand that their father buy them a sheep that they can show off with great pride to their neighbours and relatives.

A small sheep will not do them pride and they are not willing to tolerate the presence of a cat-like sheep in their homes.

For wives, the sheep provides the family with a significant boost in social status. Very few families are willing to admit that they were not going to have the coveted animal in their homes for Eid.

Social pressure

The tremendous family and social pressure is mainly on the men who have to provide the prized trophy for their children and wives.

Those who can afford to pay the price, the situation does not present any problems.

They go to the sheep market and select the one they like and then have someone deliver it.

But for those who are unable to spend one month’s salary to buy a sheep, the situation requires all careful planning and problem-solving.

The easy way out is to borrow money from friends and relatives. The payback is slow and sometimes last ten months. Just on time for a new borrowing for the new Eid. Several parents suffer in silence, stretching one loan onto the other for the sake of their families.

“It is extremely strenuous,” said Kamal, a postal worker. “It is a non-stop issue and I have to struggle to ensure that I give money to the creditor and keep on feeding my family. But there is no way I can tell my three daughters and one son that I cannot bring them the sheep they want for Eid,” he said.

Taufiq Sandeed said at times he had to sell some of his treasured belongings f to buy a large sheep.

“I could afford a small one, but it would not look good and my children would not beam into smiles as I want them to do,” he said.

“So, I looked around and sold some of the decoration items I kept for a long time. It might sound crazy, but I would rather sacrifice some of my things than see my children shed tears for not being like their neighbours or cousins,” he said.

Religious figures are trying to step in and have urged people to celebrate the true spirit of Eid.

True spirit

“This is a religious occasion to teach people to be humble, strengthen family and neighbourhood ties and obey God,” Abdul Razzak, a religious leader, said.

“Unfortunately, the occasion is losing its true religious significance and turning into a show of ostentation with unacceptable consequences for families,” he said.

Even under-stress, families insist on having thier own sheep.

“This is like prayers where no-one can substitute for the others. You have to do your own,” said Aisha, a housewife in her late 70s who rejects any suggestion to change deep-rooted traditions.

Younger people who do not wish to keep up the traditions say that they would like to use the money to travel instead.

“When you think about the money being spent on the sheep, you can always think of going to a resort and spending a couple of days there relaxing and re-charging your batteries,” said Sawsan, a banker.

“The resort, and thank God we have so many of them both by the beach and on the mountain, can save you lots of headaches and take off unnecessary pressure.”

However, such ideas for the time being do not seem to be tolerated by the larger families amid accusations that the couples keen on leaving town are selfish, resent family ties and disobey God by not sacrificing a sheep for the holiday.



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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