Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | November 9, 2010

molly’s cafe: kurban bayram in turkey

next week is kurban bayram, the feast of the sacrifice or eid ul adha.  this holiday comes after the major time that muslims make the haj, the pilgrimage to mecca.  because it is based on a lunar calendar, this bayram, like ramazan, moves ahead about 10 days a year.  this religious holiday is based on the story of how abraham, in being obedient to god’s will, was prepared to sacrifice his son ishmael, but instead god gave him a ram to sacrifice.

one thing i think is very interesting is that this story spans the religions of the jews, the christians, and the muslims, yet it seems to be only the muslims that still do the sacrifice. in fact, when a family ‘cuts’ a ram or a steer, they are expected to give at least 10% of the meat to poor people.

in the past in istanbul and elsewhere, the first day of the bayram was a very bloody one.  the streets literally ran with blood in some neighbourhoods.  however, the istanbul city council has forbidden the cutting of animals on the streets and instead has designated areas for people to do it.  in addition, only certain people can do the cutting; the man says a prayer and then cuts the animal’s throat. the others then go to work and deal with the carcass.

a few years ago i was home cleaning on that day and looked across to the courtyard on the other side of the street and noticed that they had just cut a steer.  for hours they worked on it. i expected it to be much bloodier, but they opened up the skin to use as a sort of tarp and then cut up the many kilos of meat.  in turkey people do not hang the meat for a few days as they do in north america, so many people actually do feast that evening on fresh lamb, mutton, or beef.

these days it is  rather expensive to buy an animal to sacrifice.  a ram is going for about 450 lira this year and a steer is probably about 2 to 3ooo lira or more.  at the same time, for the past few years, there has been the opportunity to spend the same amount of money directly on charity.  certainly most middle class turks wouldn’t be caught dead (so to speak) cutting an animal themselves.

here are some of the photos i took from my flat those several years ago.

cutting open the skin for a tarp

getting serious

finishing up a few hours later








this year people have a very long holiday.  the bayram starts on a tuesday, so the monday has been given off for schools and many companies. so, this friday evening many people will be heading out of town, often to the villages their families come from.  on the following sunday, the stream will return.  the kurban bayram is very popular this year, with so many days off!  and of course the weather will turn from the balmy 22 degrees of this week to rain next week.

to my friends in turkey and to muslims in other countries, have a good bayram!


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