Lambs for sale ahead of Eid in Cairo's City of the Dead, Cairo, Egypt, 25 Nov 2009
Lambs for sale ahead of Eid in Cairo's City of the Dead, Cairo, Egypt, 25 Nov 2009

Muslims, worldwide, are preparing for the Eid al Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice, marking the end of the Hajj pilgrimage.  The holiday is celebrated with the slaughter of an animal, which is then shared with the poor.  While charity is key to the celebration, businessmen still do well.  

Death lurks in the maze of alleys in Cairo's City of the Dead.  It's not just in the tombs of the thousands who have passed on, but over the flesh and blood of those about to. 

For tucked into the byways of the cemetery are many of the capital's sheep markets. 

And, there is no time busier than in the days leading up to Eid al Adha.

The holiday commemorates the story of Ibrahim's willingness to follow God and sacrifice his son.  Pleased with Ibrahim's obedience, God substitutes a ram for the child.

The story is one shared by Jews, Christians and Muslims -- who all recognize Ibrahim, or Abraham, as a prophet of their common God.

But it is Muslims who focus on the symbolism of the sacrifice.  Mahmoud Kenawi is among the shoppers looking over the lambs outside one of the tombs.

He says the slaughter takes place after the Eid prayer.  He says (according to the Sunna or tradition of the Prophet Muhammad) a third of the meat is for the household; a third goes to relatives;  and a third goes to the poor.

There are hundreds of lambs along this stretch of the cemetery.  The occasional cow and water buffalo are also to be had, sacrificial meals for those with more to spend.

Mahmoud's wife, Shadia Mohamed Ismail, sits close by in the family truck, ready to take whichever lamb they choose home.  She is somewhat chagrinned to be shopping just two days before the holiday. 

She says her family used to raise lambs on their roof, but they were too late this year.  That's why she's buying expensive lambs.

Like Valentine's Day roses, lamb prices climb as the holiday approaches.  They are now about five dollars a kilogram, up by more than 25 percent.  That means at least $250 an animal, more than a month's salary for many here. 

But the sellers know this is their time.

A last meal for lambs ready to be sacrificed durin
A last meal for lambs ready to be sacrificed during the Eid al-Adha, Cairo, Egypt, 25 Nov 2009

One seller admits to boosting prices. But he argues the increase is split between the merchant and the buyer, words met with skepticism by those nearby.

Despite the last-minute desperation of some buyers, the sellers continue to make an effort, fluffing up the lambs' wool and giving them a last good meal of field greens. 

The lambs look content with all the attention.  They are serene, unaware of their fate -- non-metaphorical lambs to the slaughter.