“Bayraminiz kutlu olsun!” is the greeting everyone gives each other on the day of Kurban Bayrami (in Arabic: Eid Al-Adha). It is the most important holiday in Islam, and lasts approximately 3 days, being the equivalent to Christmas Break in the US. It celebrates the prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael (Isaac in the Judeo-Christian tradition), in accordance with God’s demands. However, God intervenes at the last minute, saving Ishmael, replacing him with a ram which is then sacrificed in the name of God. This is considered to be the point where monotheism begins as a practiced faith and religion. A celebratory event for us humans, a horrible event for the poor little lambs that turn into kebaps. Its body is divided in three parts: the first part of the family, the second for visiting relatives and friends, and the third part to the poor and underprivileged. Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, it is rather a beautiful tradition which brings together family, friends, and your fellow neighbors who may be struggling with financial hardships this time of year.
The religiosity of Islam differs in all of its communities, and here I was in Turkey submerged in the mix. Now married into a Turkish family (myself a non-Muslim), I didn’t know what to expect when taking part in the festivities. It was an opportunity to spiritually connect with 1.5 billion people in a completely different part of the world, thus I decided to go with the flow and be open to any experiences that came my way.
Before sunrise, the men get up and make abdest (Arabic: wudu), the cleaning ritual before prayer. This was my first step. I got up and headed to the washroom to “cleanse” myself, washing my hands, face, mouth, head, ears, and feet, while being mentally focused on prayer. The feeling of washing away old habits and preparing for a new spiritual experience is a great feeling. Made me a bit nervous actually, but that was my inner conscious telling me something new was on the horizon. I then quickly dressed and joined the men in the walk to the local mosque (camii). As I approached, my eyes were set on the minarets hovering over the multitudes of men parading in, ready to make their first namaz (prayer) of the day. I took off my shoes and stepped inside, following the line of attendees parading in. Alongside family and community members, I sat down on the large sprawled out carpet of the mosque, facing toward the mihrab. Looking around, I was amazed that so many men had awoken to be a part of this prayer. The humbleness towards God was an amazing feeling that filled me with emotion that stirred my soul.
After prayers were done, everyone set off to perform the highlight of the holiday; sacrificing the lamb (sometimes goat or cow depending on your taste). The families purchase their livestock at the butcher, where it is then sacrificed halal (a prayer is said before the animal’s life is taken). It is said to be the least painful way for an animal to be slaughtered, however, I am not sure how someone would know that unless it was done to them…ouch.
The lamb is then brought home, where it is divided up and cooked in different ways. Having grown up in a restaurant, as well as being a Greek-lamb-eating connoisseur myself, I enjoyed this aspect of the celebration. Food preparation is a great way of bonding with family, and we wasted no time to laughing together as we diced up different foods and ingredients.
The next 3 days are then spent eating together with the family, being thankful for all that God has offered you and your family. Judging from the enormous hospitality, delicious food, and joyous festivties, I know I had a lot to be thankful for. After explaining to my family about Greek Easter and our sacrificial lamb dinner, they now all await to take part in those festivities with me next spring!
Bayramaniz kutlu olsun to everyone, and may we go forward with open minds and hearts, welcoming new experiences in our lives that bring us closer to one another.