ALGIERS: It was a typical holiday of Id-al-Adha, the biggest Muslim holiday of the year. Two men in paper overalls placed the struggling sheep in the direction of Mecca before taking a shiny blade to its throat and unleashing a fountain of warm blood that quickly filled the floor of the small cement courtyard.
Half a dozen small children watched, mesmerized, as the annual ritual took its surprisingly soundless course. Other things were perfectly ordinary, too: the fragrant smell of charred bone lingering in the deserted streets, the special prayers echoing off the city's bleached walls.
Yet in Algiers at least, politics seemed to infuse the event in new ways. "Since terrorists started slaughtering people, I can't watch the slaughter of the sheep anymore," said Soumaya Laggoune, a 43-year-old surgeon, who prepared vegetables and traditional sweets indoors with her sister while the men proceeded to skin and gut the lifeless animal outside. "These days, death and sacrifice have a different meaning."
There is much death to brood over. Freshest on people's minds were the two suicide attacks of last week that killed dozens of people in the capital. But this Id is also the first since the execution of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. On the first day of Id last year, people recalled with bitterness, the Iraqi dictator was executed, an event shown on television.
"That was an insult for the entire Muslim world," said Naima, a resident of Hydra, the neighborhood where one of the attacks occurred. "None of us like Saddam Hussein, that's not the point. But to execute him on our holy day of sacrifice was a slap in the face of all Muslims. And nobody here believes it was a coincidence."
"That sort of thing is feeding terrorism, feeding the sense in the Muslim world that the Islamists are the only ones defending us," her brother Soufian said. With the death of Saddam, many Algerians said they waited a day to slaughter the sheep.
Other grievances seem now to be attached to the joyous holiday, including memories of the brutal civil war that killed 200,000 people in the 1990s - the "black decade" people call it - the war in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The distress expressed here is not limited to Muslims in Muslim nations. In the United States, "many Muslims are wary of the increasing anti-Muslim bigotry in this country," said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American Islamic relations, by telephone from Chicago.
According to Islamic tradition, every Muslim who has the means must sacrifice a healthy animal to honor God and share the meat with the needy once a year. The holiday of Id commemorates the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael to God as proof of his unconditional love and belief; it is a tale also honored by Jews and Christians, although in their teachings it was Abraham's youngest son Isaac who was concerned.
According to all three religions, when God was satisfied that Abraham had passed the test, he sent him a lamb to sacrifice instead. Every Muslim who has the means must sacrifice a healthy animal to honor God and share the meat with the needy once a year.
In Laggoune's courtyard, Soumaya's father sliced both main arteries and the trachea of the sheep in one clean cut to minimize the suffering of the animal. As the blood drained from its body and wild spasms moved its legs for one last minute, he said a prayer.