As Eid Al-Adha (Greater Bairam) approaches, millions of Egyptian Muslim are preparing to celebrate with the centuries-long ritual of slaughtering cattle and sheep and distributing their meat among the needy.
The ritual marks the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail after he saw a dream in which God ordered him to slaughter his son. However, an angel substituted Ismail with a lamb at the last minute. Since then Muslims who can afford it slaughter a cow, lamb, or goat and donate a portion of its meat to the poor.
The days preceding the Bairam, coming on 20 July this year, usually see a huge demand for livestock. However, this is not the case this year. While demand was hard-hit last year by the pandemic, the hike in the price of cattle and lambs this season made it unaffordable for thousands of Egyptian households.
Traders said the market is witnessing a recession.
Mohamed Wahba, head of the Butchers Division at the Federation of Egyptian Industries (FEI), told the press that many citizens have delayed or chosen not to purchase sacrificial animals this season.
The cost of one kilogramme of sheep ranges between LE60 to LE65 compared to LE55 to LE60 last year, making the average price of sheep at around LE5,500.
The price per kilo of cow meat is around LE58 with the cost of the cow ranging from LE19,000 to LE65,000 depending on its weight. The cost does not include the slaughtering fees of butchers, which are estimated this season at LE500 for sheep and LE3,000 for cows.
The surge in price is due to the increase in the cost of fodder, in addition to the increased cost of transporting livestock from one governorate to another.
Egyptians who are unwilling to drop the religious tradition are opting to resort to an alternative: the sacrificial sukuk, or Islamic bonds, purchased from the country’s charity organisations. Through the sacrificial sukuk, charities are authorised to buy, slaughter, and distribute sacrificial cattle to thousands of needy people.
Among the charity organisations are the Egyptian Food Bank (EFB), Misr Al-Kheir Association, and the Orman Charity Association (OCA). The EFB is selling sacrificial sukuk for LE3,400 for local sheep whereas the sacrificial sukuk for imported sheep is LE1,950. This is compared to last year’s LE3,300, while imported sukuk were for LE1,900.
Abdel-Hamdi Abu Moussa, a member of the board of directors of Misr Al-Kheir Association, noted that there is an estimated 40 to 50 per cent rise in demand for sacrificial sukuk this season compared to last year.
“People are refraining from slaughtering at home due to the escalating prices of livestock,” Abu Moussa said, adding that this year’s rise in demand for sukuk comes as more donors are keen to have their sacrifices delivered to the neediest as charity organisations can reach those living in remote, impoverished areas.
In addition to being easier on the wallet, buying sukuk is a hassle-free alternative for Muslims rather than buying the cow or sheep, slaughtering it, and distributing its meat themselves.
Mohamed Nayer, an IT expert, told Al-Ahram Weekly that he has been resorting to sacrificial sukuk for the last two years. “I practise the ritual with less cost and the least possible hassle,” Nayer said.
Others believe that the ritual should not be abandoned this year despite the hike in prices. Ayman Adel, a banker, said that he prefers to observe Eid Al-Adha traditions. “I will take from my savings to buy a sheep for the sacrifice and will not abandon the ritual.
“Since I was a child, we have been accustomed to delivering the meat of the sacrifice to certain individuals and families every Eid,” Adel said. “I can’t keep them waiting as many of them are so poor that they only eat meat during the Eid days.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.