Harvard University skilled anthropologist and head of the Paleontological Research Corporation, Dr. Joel Klenck, conducted a study of Bedouin sacrificial rituals that expose a diversity of beliefs in Arab populations in the Levant. Sponsored by a endowment from the Joe Alon Museum, Klenck conducted a study of Bedouin sacrificial rituals completed in 2012 and featured in a imminent magazine.
Rarely exposed by Western researchers, Arab pastoral travelers observe several types of sacrificial rituals other than the main banquet of forgo or “Id al ‘Adha” that occurs the tenth day of the Hadj or “Dhul Hijjah” and is practiced by all observing Muslims. Three other rituals include sacrifices to morale or “ginn”, ritual slaughters to ward off curses and bless newly married couples, and commemorations to deceased family members.
Another type of sacrifice practiced by Bedouin in the Levant comprises sacrifices to a “weli” or respected person. Klenck states, “Bedouin sacrifice sheep, goats, cattle and sporadically a camel to a weli to redeem vows, incur healing, give thanks or insure fertility. Individuals performing the sacrifices believe the weli will act as a mediator between them and Allah to facilitate their requests.” Around 1771, Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, a cleric who traveled throughout Saudi Arabia and Iraq, began to influence the ruler of Dara’iya, Muhammad Ibn Sa’ud, whose tribe created the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.
The religious leader al-Wahhab formed a movement that denounced Bedouin believing in the special powers of a weli, punished individuals performing sacrificial rituals to these revered persons and largely eradicated these practices. Although sacrifices to Bedouin saints are mostly forbidden in Saudi Arabia, these rituals continue to be practiced by Muslim pastoral nomads in the Levant and North Africa. Klenck states, “I was able to observe Bedouin venerating the tombs of Sheikh Abu-Hurreira, Ibrahim, Hussein, Falougie, Nebi Musa, and the adjacent sepulchers of Al-Azzam and Al-Nabari.
The sheikhs’ tombs vary in their size, care and decoration. The tombs often feature sticks of wood mostly of palm with white or green cloth tied to each structure. According to the Bedouin, the white cloth represents peace and goodwill and is a beneficial omen for those petitioning Allah through a weli. The Bedouin consider the color green to be very holy as its significance stems from their traditions and because they allege the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad and the Kabbah in Saudi Arabia are covered with green tapestries.
At the tombs the Bedouin often light candles and sometimes leave salt, sugar, matches, and coins in the sacred area.” While Bedouin women perform prayers and light candles at the tombs, the men perform animal sacrifices near the sepulchers. At the tombs of Al-Azzam and Al-Nabari, the trees surrounding the sacred areas exhibit slash marks where Bedouin hang animal carcasses during butchery activities. After the sacrifice, the meat is boiled and everyone participates in the subsequent feast, especially the poor.Several Bedouin stated that in past centuries, individuals left valuable possessions at the sheikh’s tombs knowing that no Bedouin would dare steal from the tomb for fear of being cursed. Klenck concludes, “Studies of Bedouin animal sacrifices reveal a diversity of beliefs and are important in understanding cultures and ritual activities in the Levant.”