Strolling the streets one suddenly runs into a goat.
Wagons are busy unloading lambs and calves into a garden and a former parking place suddenly turns into a barn over night. And what is the purpose of all this? Well, the Muslim world is getting ready to celebrate Eid al-Adha.
Dec. 8 is the first day of Eid al-Adha, the four-day Islamic Feast of the Sacrifice, or Kurban Bayramı in Turkish. It was celebrated last year beginning on Dec. 20 but, due to the fact that the Islamic calendar is based on a lunar system, Islamic festivities shift 11 days earlier each successive year on the Gregorian calendar. Thus, every 32 years it happens that two Kurban Bayramı dates fall in the same year, as was the case in 2007.
But out now with the bad news! That is to say, as the name “Feast of the Sacrifice” already suggests, all these cute cows and lambs are actually living their last hours right now. During the festival they will be slaughtered according to Islamic teachings and their meat will be distributed to the poor and needy.
In this way the Feast of the Sacrifice celebrates the Biblical and Quranic account of the story of Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son Ishmael (or Isaac in the Old Testament) to prove his complete obedience to God. Not until the very last moment did God stay Abraham’s hand and send the Angel Gabriel, who provided a lamb to offer in substitution, praising Abraham for his faithfulness. In remembrance of this occasion, Eid al-Adha is held and thus, the head of each Muslim sacrifices a sheep on the morning of the first day of the celebrations.
On the festival’s first day, all male members of the family go to the mosque to commence the celebrations with a congregational prayer and sermon, or khutba. After this, the actual sacrifice begins. The animal is given water and salt, its eyes are wrapped with a clean rag, and its face is turned toward Mecca. Then the animal’s throat is cut while invoking the name of God. One third of the meat is given to the poor and the rest is shared with friends and family.
Following Islamic tradition, every household that can afford to do so should buy one animal. However, in recent years some families have begun to make donations to charitable institutions instead of sacrificing animals. This way, every year, many charity organizations are working to collect and distribute donations, including food and clothing, to the poor and needy as part of its Feast of the Sacrifice activities.
Last year, for instance, the Ankara Chamber of Commerce (ATO) calculated that 2 million goats and sheep and 600,000 cattle and camels were sacrificed during the holiday. The amount of charitable donations was estimated to have exceeded YTL 2.5 billion.
Is there something strange about it?
Watching animals slaughtered in what one is used to seeing as the environment of everyday life can be a shocking experience, particularly for foreigners and city slickers. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of horrific stories circulating among foreigners in Turkey about the disastrous scenes said to be playing out in gardens, backyards, streets and even on balconies or in kitchens.
There is a lot of scaremongering in these stories and much of it can probably be taken as the result of a good amount of ignorance. However, Turkish authorities are aware of possible problems relating to the ritual slaughtering. Thus, last year the Turkish government enforced a ban on killing animals in public places, such as playgrounds and parks, and issued warnings and advisories to have the animal sacrificed by a professional butcher in a designated area. In accordance with the EU Veterinary Platform, clean slaughterhouses consistent with hygienic standards were set up in many neighborhoods throughout the country. Additionally, this year the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has decided to send experts to Turkey to inspect the sale and slaughter of the sacrificial animals.
In short, instead of worrying too much about the whole sacrifice process, you will probably be much better off taking part in the celebrations and getting some great insights into Turkish family life. Though, for some, bayrams have become nothing more than a chance for a vacation, rather than maintaining any real religious significance. But many still use the opportunity to visit friends, neighbors and relatives to celebrate. The younger people then visit older family members and kiss their hands. In the old days, the older members of the family would then put some bank notes inside handkerchiefs and give them to the children who kissed their hands. Today children are given some pocket money and lots of candy and lokum (Turkish delight) is devoured throughout the festivities. Helping hands, such as doorkeepers, are also tipped during the festival.
It is also tradition to visit the graves of deceased family members on the day prior to the festival. The holiday coincides with the end of the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which is the fifth pillar of Islam and obligatory for Muslims in good health who have the financial means to undertake it at least once in a lifetime.
Needless to say, domestic and international travel is intense in Turkey at this time and planes, trains, buses and hotels are likely to be very crowded. Keep in mind also that banks, businesses and government offices are generally going to be closed for four days or longer, while museums or tourist sites should be open at least some of the celebration days.
In this spirit, “Bayramınız kutlu olsun!” (Have a nice bayram)
SOURCE: TODAYS ZAMAN