Have pen, will travel. Sending letters.
A letter from Turkey. In which are portrayed ritual and atmosphere in the time of a high Islamic holiday.
Turkey, October 2013
guess what – I’m in the Orient! Again. And it’s the most important religious holiday in the Muslim world, people are celebrating these days: the Feast of the Sacrifice, Eid al-Adha or Kurban Bayramı as it is called over here in Turkey, where I am staying at the moment in the city of Şanlıurfa in southeastern Anatolia. It’s a family holiday, people are coming together, visiting relatives, sporting their best suits. Imagine, public life is disrupted for almost a whole week. If you would like to compare it to any of our holidays, think of Christmas and you get the picture.
On the vigil of the holiday the whole town goes hustle and bustle. People are swarming, shoving and rushing wherever they go. Buying presents, sweets or holiday finery as if there would be no tomorrow. It’s worse than any Christmas shopping you could imagine, trust me – I went to the bazaar yesterday. Sheep ar dragged around, transported in cars, small trucks or even motorcycles (in a side car, go figure). Excitement and fuss everywhere. At every corner large knives ar sold or re-sharpened or re-sharpened knifes are sold. It’s pretty obvious: something big is foreshadowing.
And then, the next morning all this bustling activity suddenly vanishes like a phantom. The streets are empty, everyone seems gone. And they are indeed – attending the holiday prayers at the mosque, which are obligatory. And then, well, then the private part starts. The messy one. The sacrifice. Just to put it into context once more, without assuming to judge cultural traditions (you know me good enough to be sure I wouldn’t): The feast is being celebrated to honour the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his young first-born son Ismail to God before he intervened and accepted a lamb instead (well, you do remember your Sunday school, do you).
Every head of the household – well, those who could afford it – has the duty to sacrifice their best animals (mostly sheep, but also a cow or goat or ram, even a camel would be appropriate) as a symbol of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son. This happens either in the family’s courtyard, in small side streets or other suitable places in the neighbourhood. But there are also large abbatoirs, where a great number of animals are gathered and the paterfamilias may either do his holy duty by himself or seek the help of a professional slaughterman. Let me tell you, I visited one of these public places this morning. The whole procedure is, why highly interestingly from an ethnographic point of view, definitely not something for your average vacation excursion if you are rather sensitive.
The whole place smells of blood, sweat, and sheep droppings. A bloody mess covers the floor, bowel are scattered around rather inattentive. It’s a man’s world strictly; the women are charily watching the event from the edges. The butchers are doing their trade efficiently and skillful; fathers are taking their young sons to the scene, teaching them their future duty, gently but insistent. A quick cut through the throat and it’s almost over; under the monotonous chants of the necessary ritual prayers the animal, pushed down, is bleeding to death. Thereafter the meat is parted and later shared with the family or those who could not afford an own sacrifice.
The feast goes on for days, imagine – for days! -, celebrated in the bosom of the family. Streets and alleyways are silent and deserted, only the abattoir refuse gives witness of the rituals demands. Leaving yet another feast for the stray cats of Urfa.
The muezzin is just calling as I write this and the holidays are coming to an end. You know, this means I’m also returning to business over here. Anyway, hope you found this little insight into the festivities over here interesting. Something we don’t see every day at home, do we. Enjoy the autumn over there, will you.