This day commemorates the story in both the Bible and the Koran, when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. In the Bible, its Isaac whom Abraham is supposed to sacrifice. But in the Muslim version, its Abraham's first son, Ishmael. The founder of Islam, Mohammad, was an Arab of course, and Arabs claim to be decedents of Ishmael, which makes them sort of cousins of the Jews I suppose.
Anyway, God commanded Abraham to kill his son, but at the last minute, God said he didn't have to, and a sheep appeared nearby, which Abraham offered to God instead. In the Bible version, Isaac is said to have had a stutter, quite possibly because of this very traumatic event in his young life. It is a very strange story in many respects. Poor Isaac. Or Ishmael.
So, the custom on this day is for families to buy a sheep, goat or cow and have the animal sacrificed. Because its rather expensive, a few families might cover the costs together and share the animal, or if you are particularly rich, you can afford to buy your own animal. You can then kill the animal yourself, by slitting its throat in the 'hallal' way, or you can have a butcher do it for you. The animal is then butchered and you are then supposed to give most or all of the meat to the poor; perhaps homeless people, or poor people in your neighborhood, or even institutions who will use it for the benefit of the needy.
Near the college where I teach, there have been big tarp tents set up for the past week. Inside are tons of cows, all waiting for today. In Istanbul, being a very large city, there are certain areas designated by the government for sacrificing animals, but I think in some traditional neighborhoods, people ignore the law and sacrifice their animals in their back garden or out in front of their house or apartment. It is sort of strange to think that animal sacrifice is still something that a number of cultures and religions sacrifice. In Christianity, animal sacrifice is something that happened in ancient times, and it seems like a very distant practice.
Actually, I was on the bus leaving school with a couple of my fellow teachers, and we saw all the cows in their tents. One of the teachers commented that sacrificing them is a very outdated practice and really unnecessary. However, one of the other teachers pointed out that really its not much different than having animals killed commercially for food. And at least if you kill your own animal, you have to connect that yummy steak or burger your eating came from a once living animal. I think their are many people who are squeamish about animals being killed, but have no qualms at all about eating them. I don't think that everyone should be vegetarian or anything, but I think that people should be realistic about the connection between enjoying eating meat and the treatment of animals. Another thing I would say in defense of Kurban Bayram or any other animal sacrifice, is that it is a way to redistribute wealth in society. Rich people pay for the animal and then give it to the poor, who might not usually be able to afford the luxury of meat. And I would guess that just about every culture had animal sacrifice at one point in their history. It acted as a way to alleviate the guilt and uncleanliness of killing another living creature by sacrificing it to a god.
Okay, well, anyway, those are my thoughts on Kurban Bayram. Enough of my rambling.
Oh, and for all of you Americans reading this, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!