On the way home from the airport she asked me about the men she had seen wearing white clothes at the airport. The next day when we were having breakfast she asked me about the sound she had heard in the early morning hours. I was impressed by how diplomatic she was in saying the “sound” she had heard in the early morning, rather than the “noise.” On her first day, when she was out and about, she noticed lots of livestock around and people looking at them. My guest was curious about many things.
One of the most important Islamic holidays is just around the corner. Muslims will tell you that the Kurban Bayramı, also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice, or Eid al-Adha, is the most important Muslim religious holiday of the year. Millions of Muslims around the world will offer a sacrifice to God.
If you are like me and travel a lot, you are probably also curious about other faiths and their practices. I’d like to share a few important points about this major Muslim holiday, to help those of you who are non-Muslims traveling in a Muslim country or who have a Muslim neighbor or Muslim colleague at work to better understand the Islamic holiday.
Kurban Bayramı, or Eid al-Adha, is the Islamic festival that coincides with the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and is marked by sacrificing an animal such as a sheep, goat, camel or cow. By the way, just in case you don’t know why the people I mentioned earlier were dressed in white at the airport, it is because they were either headed to or returning from Mecca. This is the fifth pillar, known as the Hajj, or “pilgrimage.”
Kurban Bayramı begins on the 10th day of the month of Dhu al-Hijja (Zilhicce in Turkish) on the Muslim calendar and lasts for four days. In my book “Culture Smart: Turkey” I explain in more detail about the significance of the holiday. In short, the purpose is to identify with Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice everything, including his son, to God, and to celebrate God’s deliverance of Abraham by providing a sheep as a substitute.
Kurban Bayramı commemorates the Quranic story where Abraham shows the ultimate act of submission to the will of God (“Islam” means “submission”) by being prepared to sacrifice his son Ishmael. God stops him and instead leads him to sacrifice a ram in the place of his son. (This is similar to the Jewish and Christian story, except that in the Torah and Bible the son is Isaac, not Ishmael.)
My German guest came back from her walk on the first day of the holiday and asked questions about why she had seen the sacrifice of an animal and what would happen to the meat. Good questions! After the animal has been sacrificed following the morning prayer, the meat is given to the poor and needy, and shared with neighbors and friends.
A few days before the holiday, animals are seen on street corners and in market areas. Those who participate in the tradition do so in large groups. Wealthy families usually purchase and sacrifice a bull. Other families save to buy a sheep. Poor families group together and share the cost of a sheep. In this day and age, a sheep can be bought and paid for in monthly installments or by credit card! In İstanbul, many neighborhoods have areas where you can choose your animal, and trained Muslim butchers can sacrifice it for you, giving you the meat and hide. The municipality has licensed certain trucks to collect the sheepskins and cow hides for donation to charity.
Expats and visitors are often unaware of the length of the holiday. Most offices and all banks will be closed. Tickets for travel during this time will be sold out early, so don’t be caught out! Noon on Wednesday Oct. 24 is the start of the celebration, and it lasts for a further four days. Oct. 25-28 are the four official dates. In addition to this, Oct. 29 is a national holiday known as Republic Day. This year it is going to be a long celebration!
Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: email@example.com