Each year, in a solemn Sunni Muslim feast, the Ait Mazine of northern Morocco reenact the story of Abraham as a ritual sacrifice, a symbolic observance of submission to the divine. After comes a bacchanalian masquerade which seems to violate every principle the sacrifice affirmed. Costumed men sing and dance and torment villagers, their wild activities centering around a mute figure sewn into the skins of sacrificed animals. This character is attended by several others who keep up a constant patter that mocks the social order, especially marriage, women, older men, and the Qu'ran. Because of the apparent contradiction between sacrifice and masquerade, observers have described the two as entirely separate events. Abdellah Hammoudi's study reunites them as a single ritual process within Islamic tradition. Working with metaphors of stage and play, Hammoudi details the festival from the rituals of makeup and costume through the final spectacle. Each part of the ceremony denies and at the same time conjures up the other. The contradictions inherent in social and religious life are vividly enacted; sacrifice and masquerade appear.
Abdellah Hammoudi is professor of anthropology and Near Eastern studies at Princeton University.
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