'Feast of Sacrifice' to begin in Turkey

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- If you see herds of sheep in the streets of Incirlik village and Adana, don't be worried. It is a sign that the Muslim world is preparing to celebrate Eedu-l-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice, which falls on the 10th day of the last month of the Islamic calendar.

Feast of Sacrifice, which lasts four and a half days, is the longest religious holiday. It starts at noon on Nov. 5. The festival of sacrifice is called Kurban Bayrami in Turkish. Religious dates are determined by the lunar calendar. Therefore, festivals are observed 10 to 11 days earlier every year.

On Nov. 6, the first day of the festival, thousands of sheep, goats and calves will be slaughtered by Turkish citizens celebrating Kurban Bayrami.

The sacrificed animal should be at least 1 year old and in good health. You can see sheep sacrificed in many places: the garden, driveway, backyard and streets. This is especially true during the first day of the festival, though you can also see animals sacrificed on the second and third day of the festival.

The government banned killing animals in public and unhealthy environments. Almost every city designates a central location with professional butchers to conduct the butchering for the believers, but many people follow the traditional way and kill their animal where they please.

The sacrifice is only a symbol; it's not the meat or blood they believe pleases God, rather the expression of thankfulness to him and the affirmation of faith.

According to Muslims, this event started with the prophet Abraham when he was ordered to offer his son in sacrifice, an order which Abraham and his son were ready to obey unquestioningly.

Ismael's life was spared and ransomed by a ram. The offering of the sacrifice has become an annual celebration to commemorate the occasion and thank God for his favors.

About 3.5 million Muslims flock from all over the world to Mecca to perform the pilgrimage called Hajj, which is the fifth pillar of Islam.

Hajj is obligatory at least once in a lifetime for every healthy, financially capable Muslim man or woman. In fulfilling this service, Muslims express their devotion to Allah. The pilgrimage is an annual event attended by Muslims from all over the world. They meet in one place, Mecca, and all are dressed in similar uniforms.

Eed (short for Eedu-l-Adha) means recurring happiness or festivity, a day of peace and thanksgiving, a day of forgiveness and moral victory, a day of good harvest and remarkable achievements, and a day of festive remembrance.

The climax of Hajj is marked by offering a sacrifice to celebrate the completion of this devotional course and feed the poor so they may feel the universal joy of the festival.

This duty, sacrificing an animal to God, is not only undertaken by pilgrims but by all able Muslims.

On the festival's first day, all family members wake up early to make their final preparations. Male members go to the mosque to perform the special Bayram Namazi, a sacrifice festival prayer. The actual sacrifice begins after the men return from the mosque. The head of the family is expected to perform the sacrifice, but a butcher can also be used to perform the ritual on behalf.

The animal is given water and salt, its eyes are wrapped with a clean rag and it's turned to face Mecca. Verses are recited from the Koran, the holy book of Islam, and the animal's throat is cut. The meat is then divided into three portions - one is given to the poor, one to neighbors and relatives, and the third is kept for the household.

Another tradition practiced is visiting the graves of the deceased family members. That is mostly done one day prior the festival. Therefore, the cemeteries are very crowded on that day.

Friends, neighbors and relatives visit each other celebrating the festival. Traditionally, people offer cologne, candy and Turkish coffee during those visits. Children might be given pocket money, as well. Kapicis, or door keepers, maids and gardeners are also tipped during the festival.

In recent years, some Muslims made donations to charitable institutions instead of sacrificing animals. This year thousands of Turkish people will donate victims of the Oct. 23 earthquake Van, Turkey, that killed more than 600 people.

Bayraminiz Kutlu Olsun, pronounced Buy-rahm-ihn-is Koot-lou all-soon, or Iyi Bayramlar, pronounced ee buy-rahm-luhr, are the phrases you should use to celebrate your Muslim friends' sacrifice festival.