Who knew that we would be in Istanbul for one of the very important holidays of the Muslim calendar, Kurban Bayram! By Thursday, campus attendance was a bit sparse as some students (and faculty) had taken off early, but everyone had big smiles on their faces. People greeted each other with “İyi Bayramlar!” When I tried to say this to the secretary in the chem office, she first looked quite confused, and then broke out in a huge smile.
By late afternoon, students streamed out of the buildings and onto the buses, metros, and to the airports. Many had rolling suitcases. They were probably heading somewhere south to spend time with their family. Here is a glimpse of the central Taksim metro station on Thursday.
I even received a Happy Bayram e-mail from the Rector of the University (see below)!
What is Bayram? I am told that the word “bayram” fundamentally means celebration. It commemorates the iconic sacrifice described in the Old Testament (and the Koran): that amazing moment when Abraham, obedient to God’s command, is just about to sacrifice his only son Isaac. As Abraham raises his hand, God intervenes, Isaac is saved, and a ram, conveniently found tangled up in a nearby bush, is sacrificed instead.
It is a holy day to give thanks to Allah, as the believers shown below.
It is also a day to celebrate. On Saturday of this week, thousands of people in Istanbul, and millions of Muslims around the world world, began their celebration by sacrificing an animal to commemorate Abraham’s faith in God, and God’s ultimate providence. A week ago Saturday, we began to see makeshift pens with dozens of sheep in markets and just outside the city. There was a hand printed sign up sheet next to the cash register – put your name down to reserve an animal. These photos (not ours) give you a flavor for what was happening all around us:
On Friday, we also began to see rusted old farm trucks, each with a cow tethered (and often blindfolded) in the open bed. These humble trucks cruised down the city streets headed, no doubt, towards the wealthier neighborhoods of Bebek and Emirgan. Once sacrificed, the animal is butchered and the meat shared with family, friends, neighbors, and some is given to the poor.
We were told by our neighbor – not a Turk – that the “killing fields” closest to us were an awful thing to see on Saturday morning, with the animals’ cries shrill and haunting. He believes that the barbaric killing of these animals was unnecessary and cruel. Fortunately, in Istanbul proper, laws exist that forbid the slaughtering of the animals on public streets. Professionals are supposed to humanely slaughter the animals, but in many families, this has been a tradition that is carried out by the elder male or venerable uncle. It’s hard to know what to think about this massive animal sacrifice and I am fearful of being hypocritical. In the US, we slaughter 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving. Is it any better when the killing happens out of sight and out of mind?
On the brighter side, it really does feel like Christmas. Our friends are spending time with family and taking some time off. Stores were closed, traffic was almost non-existent, and even our vendors, who had trudged up and down our neighborhood streets selling fresh Simit (bread) and fruit every day since we arrived were gone.
However, you can count on some things wherever you go. Even an event this faith and family oriented gets commercialized. Newspapers, billboards, TV all urged us to celebrate the holidays, and especially great would be if we bought STUFF to help get in the celebratory mood. INDIRIM! (SALES) were everywhere.
So as I close out this post, I do want to take time to wish you a happy week, whether it be Bayram or just another day. Take time to be with people you love. İyi Bayramlar!