Eid al-Adha

Late last month, Muslims across the world, celebrated Abraham's willingness to obey God's command that he sacrifice his son in a holiday called Eid al-Adha. 

And even though this was my second Eid in a Muslim country,Turkey, I was not sure what to expect. 

Stretching over a few days, the Holiday was sandwiched in between bank holidays too, thus making it difficult, if you were not aware, to know the actual day of the Eid. 

Furthermore, even more uncertainty was compounded by these days surrounding the Holiday as to whether they carried any customs that could be witnessed or should be maintained. 

Nonetheless, I was, despite these questions, determined to experience this Eid. 

Early to Rise

Waking before sunrise, usually to the sound of the Ezan, I did my usual morning routine of peering through my curtains, an action that would ensure an almost heavenly view of the mountain range surrounding the city. 

Looking up to the sky, I noticed some very unusual movement at the corner (bottom) of my eye. Unusual because, this time carries with it absolutely no human movement. 

Instead, this morning, what I saw were men of all ages, but most noticeably, teenaged boys and young men in their 20's, walking in droves to the Mosque at the end of my street. Fathers also with their young sons could be seen together as they made their way down as well. 

If not for the hour, the sight was also startling to me because of the disciplined, focused approach these men had as they walked to the mosque. Like most young men of today, there is usually a laissez-faire pattern to their walk on any given day. However, this morning, their determined mode of walk and the numbers of men almost made me think that something might be wrong, even though I knew about the holiday.

I know that it sounds simple, but I was mesmerised watching them and seeing them quickened a sense of anticipation for the rest of the day. 

On a very personal note though, I believe that their effect on me was in large measure due to the fact that it brought back serious memories of my childhood- Christian childhood. 

Growing up, I often spent weekends and summers with my granmother, whose neighbourhood had a Church at the top (pardon my Caribbean colloquialisms) of our street. 

Early on Sunday mornings, at day break I would watch from her patio, many of the people from our neighbourhood and adjoining ones, walk briskly through the minty fresh morning air to the Church. 

I can't describe the feeling that I had when I watched this repeated activity on every Sunday, but I certainly felt something beyond the mundane. 

And it is this same feeling, I suppose that I had watching these men on their way to mosque for prayers. 

Location, Location, Location

To commemorate Abraham's obedience and God's command that Abraham kill an animal instead, Muslims slaughter an animal and give away about two thirds of its meat keeping a third for themselves. In recent years the custom of slaughtering an animal just about anywhere you could find space, was outlawed; thereby regulating specific places for slaughter to happen in public. 

Having enquired for weeks about where I could go to see the Sacrifice, I was told time and time again of a location quite far from where I was staying.

Holding on to a last straw and staying true to that voice of intuition, I decided to call around that morning in hopes that there was somewhere closer.

"Look outside your window, Petra," informed my Director. "There is a farm below and I am sure in about 30 minutes you will be able to see a sacrifice."

The Sacrifice

Grateful that I didn't have to trek across the city to see the slaughter, my interest in recording this moment was instantaneously piqued; however, with religious customs I am always hesitant not knowing if to do so, record, would be offensive and wrong. 

The site of the farm added to my hesitation as well because as I began to see the family gather around outside, they were barely visible- blocked by a huge tree strategically placed many many years ago to ensure the privacy of the old hand built home that housed the patriarch of the family. 

The view outside my window: The beautiful hand built stone house and the area where the slaughter would take place, covered by a large tree

The view outside my window: The beautiful hand built stone house and the area where the slaughter would take place, covered by a large tree

During my investigations about the Sacrifice I had asked about filming and everyone had said, "I don't know." 

Watching was certainly ok, but filming was ....

 

The family including many children waited in the cool area covered by the tree. I realised that they were waiting for the return of the patriarch of the family from the mosque. 

On his return, the usual Turkish handshake, which is always cheek to cheek ensued. After formalities were over, the cow to be sacrificed was carried into the area. Ropes and other parphenelia that would be needed for and during the slaughter were compiled. 

The children who stretched in ages from teenager to toddler stood around watching the activity of the older men. I didn't see women but they could have been there.

Ropes were tied around the cow on either side and its head was covered. 

Not much of a signal was given to indicate the start of the slaughter. However,I knew something was about to happen when the men, including the teenagers, in separate lines, walked on either side of the cow and held the ropes. 

With one quick 'blow' the cow jumped and fell, the toddlers ran away and the men holding on to the ropes dug their heels in the ground to balance themselves against the wrestling cow, pulling the ropes towards them. 

Not one to like watching slaughter, I was grateful that this one was quick and efficient. I was surprised at the lack of noise from the cow. This must have been surprise for the toddlers too, who after a minute or two peeked around the corner of the home to see what was happening and if it was safe to come out of hiding. 

Their fears were 'layed' to rest, as the cow was now on the ground, silent with the exception of the occasional twitch, to which the children would, again, run behind the home. 

Two Hours Later

Two hours later, I saw what I believe are the entrails of the cow left behind.

Two hours later, I saw what I believe are the entrails of the cow left behind.

The slaughter was followed by the butchering of the cow and some two hours later you could see evidence that the sacrifice was fully complete. 

Perched in a wheelbarrow, I saw what I perceived to be the entrails of the cow: stomach and intestines. 

Obviously the cow had been or was being cut up to be dispersed in thirds to family, friends and the poor. 

One year before...

I only knew that there were was a major bank holiday and that places of business and restaurants would be closed. I also knew that it was a time of great charity and to receive such an act was also one of Islam's ultimates as well. 

As I have already stated, my initial experience in Turkey was lukewarm because of my perceived and obvious difference, and so I was still at that moment conscious of my difference, feeling very much like an outsider. 

All this changed though when my doorbell rang and one third of meat was humbly offered to me.