MAKKAH, 25 December 2007 — Makkans have had a long tradition of refraining from eating meat in restaurants for a couple of weeks after Haj. Why? Because it’s common knowledge that the surplus meat often ends up on the tables of restaurants, meat that may not have been handled in the most hygienic manner.
Sacrificial meat is supposed to be given to the poor to be consumed, but what is a homeless person with no access to refrigeration or hygienic conditions supposed to do with 25 kg of mutton? The answer is often: sell it to local restaurants or, perhaps more likely, unscrupulous meat purveyors that then sell the meat to local restaurants.
Whatever the moral or religious implications of this practice, one thing is certain: a lot of the meat from the slaughtered livestock in Haj season ends up being consumed locally instead of going to the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) for global distribution in a hygienic manner that adheres to proper practices.
Although there are no statistics for how the annual sacrifice affects the local meat market, the Makkah Municipality estimated that about 100,000 sheep were slaughtered at two local abattoirs during Haj this year. Some abattoirs automatically take most of the meat for IDB redistribution globally; other slaughterhouses give all of the meat back to the customer who distributes it at his or her own will. Many Saudis assume that somewhere there exists rackets where this meat is collected and redistributed by people who aren’t considered the ideal recipients of this meat.
This doesn’t count the slaughters during the peak of the rite of Eid Al-Adha. Complicating the ability to determine how much meat floods the local market in this short period of time is the fact that many pilgrims buy IDB coupons. These coupons are then used by the IDB to buy sheep and slaughter them for global distribution. It is not known how many pilgrims in Saudi Arabia forego the coupon process and stick to the more traditional route of slaughtering their own sheep and personally giving away the meat. What a lot of people believe is that somehow, by hook or crook, this meat ends up in places like the local shawarma restaurants or butcher shops.
Abu Saleh Al-Harbi, a resident in Makkah’s Al-Nakkasa district, said that the meat is always stored in unhygienic conditions during the Haj season, because there’s so much of it.
“Don’t be surprised if you find the meat stored in abandoned homes and empty fields for weeks and they market it to restaurants,” said Al-Harbi. “I remember a few years ago after Haj there was very bad smell coming from one of the empty fields in our neighborhood. It was so bad that we thought that there was a corpse inside and we called the police to check it out.
When police stormed in they found large quantity of rotten meat and there was an Afghan man inside. He admitted that they were selling the meat to restaurants and people nearby.”
In Jeddah, teams from the municipality and the Ministry of Commerce managed to seize more than 100 trucks carrying meat from an estimated 3,000 sacrificial sheep on its way to local restaurants and butcheries. Most of the meat was deemed not fit for human consumption. Drivers reportedly admitted that each slaughtered sheep was going to be sold for SR120, which is less than a third of the normal market price.
Right after Haj it is common to see poor people, usually of African nationalities, probably illegal residents, selling mutton in uncertain sanitary conditions: out of plastic bins by the side of roads with no ice or refrigeration.
Arab News witnessed this in action in Makkah’s Al-Mansour, Al-Mesfala and Al-Kadwa neighborhoods. In some places can be seen filthy street stalls where meat that hasn’t been refrigerated being used to prepare meals for poor workers. When asked about whether the meat has been stored and prepared in a sanitary manner, a street stall cook scoffs. “We sell it cheap and this is why they come to us,” he said.
In Makkah’s Al-Nakkasa and Al-Baladeya neighborhoods the picture was very much the same, except that here instead of Africans you see Burmese, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis selling sacrificial meat. As time passes the price of the meat goes down. Where exactly this meat ends up is anybody’s guess.