I drove into Damascus on the second day of Eid el Adha (the feast of the sacrifice and the big Muslim holiday marking the beginning of their new year). The streets were empty. Hardly any cars, most of the shops closed, and no street vendors except for the occasional one squatting on the roadside by a stack of bloodied sheep skins. This was a new sight for me. Then it occurred to me that the skins must be from the lambs that are freshly slaughtered for the feast of the sacrifice — each family slaughters a lamb to prepare their own feast, and to distribute meat to those who can’t afford it. I was too slow to ask my taxi driver to stop for me to take a picture but I came across an even more gory sight the next day as we were leaving the city to drive to Aleppo. It was on a regular corner in a non-descript quartier and still in the city. Two men had just rigged a butcher rack  right on the street, with two skinned carcasses hanging from hooks and a small flock of sheep herded on the opposite corner, waiting for their life to end and for their coats to be sheared. In fact, some had most of their coat already off — the skins are sold to tanners who treat them then sell them as rugs or  lining for winter coats.

It was quite an extraordinary, and bloody sight as you can see from the clips, and I wonder how long this will go on for given the present government’s push to develop tourism and modernise the country.

sheared sheep copy

And here is the flock of sheep with some already sheared, and you notice the fat tail much better when the wool is stripped off.

There is 15 comments on this post

  • Annisa, Charles Perry explained tail fat to me.. I never knew if was a different animal until then.. now I get to see… what remarkable tails they have! One of these days I must taste it… next time I make an ancient lamb recipe would be nice but we don’t have them here… can you get them in ENgland??

  • no sadly, i can’t but am having a lot of it here, grilled with lamb kebabs. totally delicious but perhaps not the healthiest option 🙂

  • Such makeshift Eid “slaughter stations” can be found in Morocco as well. We drove by one in our own neighborhood, but it was tucked off the main street in a parking lot. The need for these stations is understandable if you consider that many apartment dwellers simply don’t have proper space to slaughter at home, or space to house the sheep for a day or two preceding the holiday. And for those that do have the space, say a rooftop or garage, there are butchers who walk the streets to offer their assistance in skinning the animal and cleaning out the innards.

    I’m always bothered when the sheep have full view of such a scene as in your video. From an Islamic perspective, the sheep are supposed to be spared seeing even the knife, let alone slaughters that occur before them. And honestly it really isn’t a blood bath here in Morocco by any stretch. Everything is usually whisked and washed away immediately. But just as you would find in a commercial slaughter house, there will be blood and more to turn one queasy.

  • the fatty tail is what makes lamb from the middle east (especially lebanon and syria) so tasty.

    get some of that into a nice piece of bread with some asbeh and some freshly ground cumin, and bharrat . Oh yeh.

  • yum, yum… love asbeh nayeh (raw lamb liver) 🙂

  • According to etiquette of slaughter in Islam, the animal must not be distressed and seeing blood distresses animals very much. In the year 1991 or 1992, when I was in India, we wanted to slaughter a young buffalo in Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah, New Dehli. We took the buffalo to the slaughter area not knowing there was a blood bath. The butcher should have known but he was thoughtless and careless. On seeing the blood bath the buffalo went crazy and legged it. We chased it in narrow alleys for about half a mile or so and then he entered the open door of a house. There was an elderly Hindu woman sitting on the porch in the house. The tears were flowing from the buffalo’s eyes and the Hindu woman was cursing us. Eventually, we covered the head of the buffalo and took it to the slaughter area. I was a young boy then and the memories of that day are still vivid.

  • sounds terrible, and i can understand the memories being very vivid. i can still see the headless chickens that my syrian aunt killed for our meals flying about in her courtyard but i was tickled by the spectacle. always had a taste for gore!! and you are right about the animals needing to be slaughtered humanely and not distressed by the sight of blood or any mishandling which i can’t say was happening where i was, which was too bad.

  • Gory and tasty!

  • So interesting. I saw a drawing of the fat-tailed sheep in a book a while ago (Food in History, Reay Tannahill) and never knew if it was a real animal or not. Cool to see the pictures. Thanks for sharing anissa (and others)!

  • I grew up on a cattle ranch in New Mexico USA. I can assure you that all producers of meat be it ordinary chickens , beef, sheep or deer or pigs are doing this exact same thing. In countries with populace out migration to the cities the qurban is not replaced by the supermarket. In the US ranchers and farmers, and hunters likewise do it in the back yard. Everyone watches,even the kids. If you aren’t accustomed to it there is an attempt to distance yourself from the activity with a remark about someone elses customs and culture. I do think that people ought to know how food gets to the table.It is very important HOW you kill these animals . In the US they are electrocuted and I personally find that vile cruelty.
    Self reliance is still a supreme virtue and Muslims have that nailed down.
    This slaughter is far far more humane than the stockyards of west Texas or the chicken factories. This meat even done here like this is far less pathogenic because there are not 2,000 head of cattle standing in their own filth for weeks . This is the way everyone did it before facory farms came. None of this food is shipped stored frozen or cut up by a crew of illegals . It gets eaten immediately . And… dont forget it gets blessed twice and shared with the poor. The Syrians are feeding 3 million Iraqi refugees .I am far more concerned about them than I am about a few stray tourists.

  • I hope it continues no matter pushes for “modernism.” It’s a beautiful holiday and a generally a beautiful feast. I love your blog. If you have a taste for gore, check out my pictures from eid in Egypt.


  • thanks. am so glad you enjoy my posts. as for your gory images, i wish i’d been there. was the meat good? or fairly tough? and i love sakkara. i’ve been there only once but it was a magical day.

  • How funny… I found your blog as we were both mentioned on Fiona Beckett’s recently: http://foodandwinefinds.blogspot.com/2010/12/decembers-blogs-of-month.html
    It looks like we were in Damascus at exactly the same time! We too were intrigued and stunned by the wholesale butchery in the streets, not to mention the smell of it all, one that unfortunately lingers on one of the sheep skins I brought back….

    Anyway, glad to have found your blog. I’ll come and back and read in future!


  • thanks. i had a friend who wanted to buy one of the skins (v sheep!) but gave it back when i said it really smelled. then we put the antiseptic on our hands and moved on. shame cos they are lovely but they do stink. we may have bumped into each other without knowing 🙂

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