'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 in Islam.

The festival of sacrifice is called Kurban Bayrami in Turkish. This years it starts at noon Monday, Oct. 14, and lasts four and a half days. Religious dates are determined by the lunar calendar. Therefore, festivals are observed 10 to 11 days earlier every year.

On the first full day of the festival, Oct. 15, thousands of sheep, goats and calves will be slaughtered by Turkish citizens celebrating Kurban Bayrami.

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

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

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

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.

The son'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 Allah for his favors.

Meanwhile, about 3.5 million Muslims have started to 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 Muslim, male or female, in fairly good health and is financially capable and secure. 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. There is no discrimination or preference between them; all are Allah's creations.

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

The climax of Hajj is marked by offering a sacrifice, an obligation in the way of Allah, 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 Allah, 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 meaning the 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 their 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 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 are very crowded on that day.

Friends, neighbors and relatives often visit each other during 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 sacrificng animals.

The government, has announced Oct. 14 as a whole day of holiday instead of a half day. Feast of Sacrifice ends Friday, Oct. 18. In addition to that, when two weekends are added, before and after the festival, Turkey will have a 9-day holiday between Oct. 12 to 20. All the shops in the alley will be closed on the first day of the festival, Tuesday, Oct. 15, but most of them will be open for the rest of the holiday.

Bayraminiz Kutlu Olsun (Buy-rahm-ihn-is Koot-lou all-soon) or Iyi Bayramlar (ee buy-rahm-luhr) mean "I wish you a happy holiday" and are the phrases you can use to acknowledge your Muslim friends' sacrifice festival.