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Bayram, the Feast of Sacrifice ... Happy Holiday!!!

Every year, about 3.5 million Muslims travel from all over the world to Mecca to perform the pilgrimage called Hajj, which is the fifth pillar of Islam. Hajj is obligaory at least once in a lifetime for every Muslim, male or female, in fairly good health, for those who are 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.

During this time , the Muslim world gets ready to celebrate the Edu-I-Adha, or Festival of Sacrifice, which falls on the 10th day of the last month of the Islamic calendar. Eid (short for Edu-I-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 the Hajj and feed the poor. It is done by Muslims whether they went to Mecca or not. According to Muslims, the tradition is based on an event where Abraham was ordered to sacrifice one of his two sons. According to the Muslims, this son was Ishmael, while according to the Old Testament, it was Isaac. As Abraham was about to sacrifice his own son in obedience to God, God provided a ram to offer in substitution. The offering of the sacrifice has become an annual celebration to commemorate the occasion and thank God for his favors.

Called Kurban Bayram in Turkish, it occurs at varying times during the years, since it goes by the Muslim lunar calendar rather than the solar calendar. This causes the dates of all Muslim festivals and observances to change by ten or eleven days every year. During Kurban Bayram, most government offices are closed, and a holiday will be declared, sometimes lasting a week or more depending on where the holiday falls in relation to weekends. Sometimes it can mean a nine-day holiday!

On the first day of the festival, thousands of sheep, goats, and calves will be slaughtered by Turks celebrating Kurban Bayram. The animal should be at least one year old and healthy. you can see sheep sacrificed in all kinds of places: the garden, driveway, back yard, streets and even on balconies. This is especially true during the first day of the festival. You can also see animals sacrificed on the second and third day of the festival.

The government put a ban on killing animals in public places, such as playgrounds and parks, and every year the news shows reports of people seriously cutting themselves while trying to sacrifice animals. Warnings and advisories are given to have the animal sacrificed by a professional butcher, in a designated area. Both are provided by the municipalities to reduce mishaps and health problems. Unfortunately many don't heed the advice.

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 (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 is turned to face Mecca. Verses are recited from the Koran, 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. The skin of the animal is donated, and the income obtained from the skins are shared with various social welfare organizations.

Another tradition practiced is visiting the graves of deceased family members. That is mostly done one day prior to the festival. Therefore, the cemetaries 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 (door keepers or apartment superintendents) are also tipped during the festival.

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