This week is the Kurban Bayram holiday – a 5 day holiday in Turkey where most businesses, all government offices and banks are closed. It also marks the first official day of travel to Mecca and can clog travel in and around the country. It’s an important holiday in Turkey as it follows the Islamic calendar (and therefore is a different date every year).
This year, it falls on 8/21-25 and is also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice. In biblical terms, it commemorates Abraham’s dedication to God when he was asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and at the last-minute, God (or an angel of God) spared his son and gave him a ram instead to sacrifice. In Islam, it’s the same story (as most religious stories are…): it commemorates Ibrahim’s (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael (Isaac), to show his faithfulness to Allah (God).
During the holiday, rams/sheep/goats are sacrificed and used as a large feast and family celebration where gifts are exchanged. As part of the holiday, a portion of the meat is donated to the poor. In more modern times, it’s also acceptable to donate money to the poor and skip the animal sacrifice part altogether. Like Thanksgiving in the USA, it’s an important charitable time of year where family and friends get together to celebrate and give thanks. And, like Christmas, it might be one of the few times a year that a non-practicing Muslim will go to a mosque to attend the morning prayer.
There are government dedicated areas where it’s allowed to conduct the sacrifices. We passed one of these yesterday in rural Datca where many animals were in a corral awaiting their grisly fate. Thankfully, we weren’t there long enough to see any action.
If you travel to Turkey or any Islamic country, you should always check their religious calendars and holidays as travel can be disrupted. However, it’s interesting to be here during these times as you learn something culturally relevant, too.
We attended a large neighborhood potluck last night celebrating as a community. Everyone brought something to share, and the wood fired oven on our property was fired up all day yesterday (for the first time!) to slowly roast the sheep and make fresh bread. Everyone wore white, and there was music, wine, some dancing and much discussion of the state of the neighborhood’s infrastructure. A fun night and great way to make new friends.