Monday, October 31, 2011

Kurban Bayram - 5th - 9th November

One of the major religious festivals in the Islamic calendar is the Kurban Bayram (the Feast of the Sacrifice). It follows that period of the year during which many practising Muslims will have made their haj (pilgrimage) to Mecca in confirmation of their faith. 

The origins of this festival lie in the Old Testament of the Bible where Abraham was subjected to a test and told by God to sacrifice Isaac his only son. As proof of his religious commitment, Abraham was prepared to slaughter his son but at the last moment an angel of the Lord called from heaven and a ram was sacrificed instead (Genesis chapter 22, verse 11).

This year the Kurban Bayram occurs in November and commences in the afternoon of November 5th with the Arife prayers (the preparation) and continues for four days until the evening of November 9th. During this period Muslim families who can afford to will buy a good quality sheep or goat and sacrifice it in commemoration of Ibrahim who was spared by Allah from sacrificing his son Ishmail. The meat from the sacrificed animal will be shared equally among family, friends and the local poor. Those who do not have access to a sacrificial animal, or the means to buy one may alternatively give charitable alms instead. These are traditions that have been maintained throughout the Muslim world with slight variations from country to country.  

It is now the accepted practise that the ritual slaughter of the animals must be carried out in a humane manner and in strict accordance with the code of conduct regarding animal welfare where such laws are in place. However there will undoubtedly be rural communities consisting of farming people that will not feel the constraints of such laws and they may well gather in a large field that has been blessed for the purpose by the local Imam and the sacrifice will be carried out as it has been done for hundreds of years. Such a gathering may well see many sacrifices carried out at the same time and this deeply religious festival will be overseen by one or more Imams who will bless the area, and all those taking part.

The Turkish Republic of North Cyprus will celebrate this festival in accordance with the Islamic rite but being a secular state there will be more emphasis on the charitable aspect of the four days ensuring that nobody gets left out and also spending time with relations and friends. There will be much feasting and giving of presents, especially to the young, and in many ways for Muslims this is a festival akin to the Christian celebration of Christmas. 

This is not a festival in which Muslims claim exclusivity and families will happily welcome members of other faiths into their homes to share the food from their tables. In fact there are many Muslims who enjoy the festivities of Christmas and for them any occasion to eat and be happy is a chance to share and enjoy all there is to offer in North Cyprus.

The Koran to a large extent follows the teachings of the Old Testament and the Jewish equivalent of this feast is Rosh Hashana when the story of Abraham will be read in the synagogues and a ram’s horn used as a trumpet to remind the congregation that God allowed Abraham to sacrifice the ram instead of his son Isaac.

Written by Lavinia Neville Smith

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