LYNNWOOD -- On Wednesday, Ahmet Kulaga prayed alongside hundreds of other Muslims at the Lynnwood Convention Center to celebrate the beginning of Eid al-Adha, a three-day holiday that marks the end of the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
Today, he plans to visit a rural farm on the Olympic Peninsula and select six lambs. He will look each one in the eyes, invoke the name of Allah, then, with quick motions, slit the neck of each one.
"We do a lamb every year," Kulaga said. "This time, we'll do one for me, one for my son and more for other people."
Kulaga, a Bosnian immigrant who lives in Snohomish County, needs the lamb meat to celebrate the holiday, which commemorates the ancient tale of Abraham, who placed his son Isaac on an altar as a sacrifice to appease a divine demand. An angel appeared at the last moment with a ram to take Isaac's place.
For Muslims, a meal of lamb during Eid al-Adha is as important as turkey is to Americans on Thanksgiving Day. They eat the meat themselves and also give some away to those in need, in observance of Quranic law.
Many Muslims purchase their lamb at "halal" markets, where butchers follow Quranic edicts, including using a sharp knife to quickly slice the animal's throat instead of electrocuting or shooting the animal, but others believe it's best to slaughter the Eid lambs themselves. They want to say their name to the animal, look it in the eye and assure that it dies honorably.
It's a practice they say is difficult to continue in the United States. Some sheep farmers are increasingly wary of the liability caused by allowing strangers to slaughter animals on their land, and also worry that they might incur the wrath of animal-rights activists.
"If you hire a meat shop that comes out to kill on your place, that's not as bad, but to let strangers come out? I don't do that as much," said Eileen Hordyk, who raises sheep on Sand Hill Farm in Arlington.
Hordyk, who is not Muslim, said she has sold sheep to individuals for religious holidays, including the feast marking the end of Muslim Ramadan and the Greek Orthodox Easter, since the early 1970s. In recent years, though, she has gone from selling to most people who see her farm from the road to only working with people she knows are skilled enough for the job.
"I need to know that my animals aren't going to get hacked," she said. "I don't want my animals to struggle."
Several sheep breeders in the county said they sell to local Muslims, but they declined to speak publicly about the practice because they fear repercussions from the state over the slaughters.
When the Marysville Livestock Auction Yard closed in 2006, Muslims who want to slaughter their own meat were left with few options, Hordyk said.
"All they can do now is drive around the countryside looking for sheep," she said. "And there aren't many sheep sellers left, either."
Snohomish County doesn't restrict the slaughter of animals on farms. According to state law, a person may humanely slaughter an animal he or she owns, but that person cannot sell the meat, said Jason Kelli of the state Department of Agriculture. A person must carry a slaughterhouse permit to custom butcher animals for profit, and the meat must be turned over to the owner of the animal.
Most Muslims purchase meat from halal butchers, said Ahmed Rehab, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C.
"Treating animals in a humane manner is important to Muslims," Rehab said. "No way of killing an animal is going to be a nice way, but the most merciful way is with a sharp knife rather than with electrocution."
The main purpose of the slaughter is to feed the needy, said Ervin Bayrami, a 47-year-old Bosnian Muslim.
"I used to pay to have an animal slaughtered back in Bosnia, but then I realized that there are needy people here, too," he said.
The best way to find a lamb to slaughter is to look for sheep farms, Bayrami said.
"You just see the sheep on the field, and you go and ask the owner," he said.
Abubaker Ahmed, a 34-year-old Sudanese immigrant who has lived in the United States since 1998, said a Muslim can easily spend an entire day looking for a lamb to slaughter.
This year, he paid a friend $180 -- the price many Muslims say they paid for a live lamb -- to slaughter an animal in his name. The friend is offering the service to a group of people, Ahmed said.
"He just has to say my name to the animal," he said. "That's the important part."
There is a slaughterhouse in Sumner, near Puyallup, that welcomes Muslims, but Pa Sanyang, 35, an immigrant from Gambia, said that even if he goes there, he asks to do the slaughtering himself, to avoid any chance that a non-Muslim is involved in the process.
"As a Muslim, I have to say, 'In the name of Allah,' and face the lamb in the direction of Mecca," he said. "I like to know that's been done."