Moslems in Washington who sacrifice live goats and sheep as a demonstration of their Islamic faith are angering a Northern Virginia animal protection group.
"It's happening right in our own city here," said Gail Snider, executive director of the Alexandria Animal Welfare League, a group that has seized some animals before they were slaughtered by their Moslem owners.
Snider said disturbed neighbors have frantically called the league to report that sheep and goats purchased in Fairfax or Prince William counties are being kept in basements and garages of Alexandria homes until the day of sacrifice.
"In two of three cases, by the time we got there the goats had been pushed into the backs of station wagons and driven away," said Snider. "But the straw and the droppings were still in the basement, and the owners did not deny they were keeping the animals for a religious sacrifice."
The league is concerned because the animals awaiting slaughter are requently mistreated, Snider said.
Sacrificial rituals are outlawed in the District or Columbia, according to health authorities, but have been permitted at certain Virginia and Maryland slaughterhouses. The officials could not estimate how many animal sacrifices had occurred.
Dr. Muhammad eabdul Rauf, director of the Islamic Center in Washington, said the sacrifice of live sheep and goats is an ancient Islamic custom that marks the conclusion of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. It commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son as an act of faith, Rauf said. Instead of his son, Allah decreed that a ram be slaughtered, Rauf said.
"I've never heard about keeping the animals in the basement," said Rauf yesterday. He conceded that some Moslems who buy the livestock at Northrn Viginia or maryland farms during weekend outings might not always have a place to keep them until the sacrifice.
What usually happens, he said, is that Moslems "go to a farm on the day of sacrifice to do it there."
Bauf said, however, that not all of the several thousand Moslems in the Washington area particpate in the sacrifice ritual. "People who cannot afford it are exempted," he said. "For those who can afford it, it is recommended only.
"Not everyone can do it, kill a sheep," he said. "I myself, have never done it."
Rauf said he usually waits until he knows a Moslem group is going out to the slaughterhouses. Then, because "you don't have to be present" at the sacrifice, "I get a friend to do it."
Farmers in Northern Virginia say the Moslems make good customers because they are eager to pay the average $71 cost of a lamb. "They have their customs and so do we," said Larry Blair, an agent with the Virginina Cooperative Extension Service in Prince William County."
Blair said he and his grandson have sold sheep and lambs to the Moslems and he has seen them purchase lambs at regular livestock auctions held in the county.
"I wonder why people get so concerned about it," he said."If people saw our methods for slaughtering and processing animals for food, they might not be too pleased with it, but by whatever means the animals are slaughtered, they're dead. Right?"
The Alexandria Animal Welfare League first started getting calls about the sacrifice rituals about three years ago, Snider said.