Ask Mehmet: Feast of Sacrifice

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

Feast of Sacrifice, which lasts four-and-a-half days, is the longest muslim religious holiday. The festival of sacrifice is called Kurban Bayrami in Turkish. This year, it's observation begins at noon on Wed., Sept. 23. Religious dates are determined by the lunar calendar versus the more commonly used Gregorian calendar. Therefore, festivals are observed 10 to 11 days earlier every year. 

On the first full day of the festival, Sept. 24, thousands of sheep, goats and calves will be slaughtered by Turkish citizens celebrating Kurban Bayrami.

According to Muslim tradition, the sacrificed animal should be at least one year old and in good  health. The animals are sacrificed in a vareity of places: the garden, driveway, back yard and street. This is especially true during the first day of the festival. But you may 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 central locations with professional butchers to conduct the butchering for the beleivers.

The sacrifice is only a symbol, it's not the meat or blood that pleases God. It's the expression of thankfulness to him and the affirmation of faith in him.

According to Muslims, this event started with the Prophet Abraham when he was ordered to offer his son, Ismael, 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.

Meanwhile, approximatly 3.5 million Muslims have begun to flock from all over the world to Mecca to perform the pilgrimage called Hajj -- the fifth pillar of Islam.

Hajj is obligatory at least once in a lifetime for every Muslim, male or female, in fairly good health, and financially capable and secure. In fulfilling this service, Muslims express their devotion to Allah. The pilgrimage is an annual event atended by Muslims from all over the world. They meet in one place, Mecca, and all are dressed in similar uniforms. There is no discrimination or preference between them; all are Allah's creations.

Eed (short  for Eedu-l-Adha), which  means 'recurring happiness' or 'festivity,' is 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, an obligation in the way of God, to celebrate the completition of this devotional course and feed the poor so that they may feel the universal joy of the  festival.

This duty, sacrifying an animal to God, is not only undertaken by pilgrims, but by all able Muslims in every corner of the globe.

On the festival's first day, all family members wake up early to make their final preparations. Male members go to  mosque to perform the special Bayram Namazi (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.

The animal is given water and salt, its eyes are wrapped with a clean rag, and is turned to face Mecca. Verses are recited from the Koran, the holy book of Islam, and then 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 will be  very crowded.

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 (door keepers), maids and gardeners are also tipped during the festival.

In recent years, some Muslims have begun to make donations to charitable institutions instead of sacrificing animals. 

The government has announced Sept. 21through 23 as holiday days. Thus, the length of festival will be a total of nine days, including the two weekends. The Feast of Sacrifice ends Sunday, Sept. 27.  The state offices and schools will be closed from Sept. 21 to 27.