Monday, November 15, 2010

Pleasing Allah

Charlotte McPherson  

Muslims around the world will be offering a sacrifice to Allah during the Feast of the Sacrifice holiday. It is important for non-Muslims, like myself, to understand the Feast of the Sacrifice, or Eid al-Adha (in Turkish, Kurban Bayramı).
During this time Muslims are making the pilgrimage to the Kaaba in Mecca. It is impossible to understand the significance of Kurban Bayramı without placing it in the context of the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Recently, a young lady who was a guest of mine heard the call to prayer for the first time in her life while visiting İstanbul. I appreciated how she asked what that sound in the early morning was, rather than what the noise was. You quickly get used to hearing the call to prayer in Turkey and other Muslim countries.

This same guest noticed men wearing white clothes wrapped around them in the airport, and this prompted more questions. If you are unfamiliar with Islamic practices, then this is intended to help you understand the significance of the coming days.

Here are a few points about the Feast of the Sacrifice:

It is the most important festival in Islam, followed by Eid al-Fitr, or Şeker Bayramı, which marks the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan.

Kurban Bayramı, or Eid al-Adha, is the Islamic festival that coincides with the end of the annual pilgrimage in Mecca and is marked by sacrificing an animal such as a sheep, goat, camel or cattle.

Kurban Bayramı begins on the 10th day of the month of Dhu al-Hijja (Zilhicce in Turkish) in the Muslim calendar and continues for four days.

The purpose is to identify with Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice everything, including his son, to Allah, and to celebrate God’s deliverance of Abraham by providing a sheep as a substitute.

The five pillar of Islam are:

* Worship Allah, accept Muhammad as Allah’s prophet and believe in the Quran.

* Pray the Islamic ritual prayer at the five prescribed times per day.

* Pay zakat (charity). Every person is required to give 2.5 percent of the income he earns.

* Fast between the first and fourth prayers during the month of Ramadan.

* Make a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Let’s look at the fifth pillar, Hajj, or “pilgrimage,” which is closely associated with the Feast of the Sacrifice. The pilgrimage is seen as a time of universal gathering of individual, diverse Muslims in one area, where they may intermingle as citizens of the world, sharing their experiences and benefitting from each other’s opinions.

Kenneth Frank and Adil Özdemir, authors of “Visible Islam in Modern Turkey,” explain the significance of the religious practice: The rituals of the pilgrimage center around re-enacting important episodes from the lives of Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael.

It begins with “tawaf,” circumambulating the Kaaba seven times. The Kaaba is said to have been rebuilt by Abraham and consecrated to Allah as a center of pilgrimage. Pilgrims pray for the cleansing of their sins and often try to kiss or touch the Black Stone that is lodged into one corner of the Kaaba.

Pilgrims then perform a ceremonial running back and forth between two hills in a re-enactment of Hagar’s desperate search for water for her son Ishmael after she was shunned by Sarah, Abraham’s wife. The Well of Zamzam is said to have appeared under Ishmael’s feet to save them from death. Pilgrims drink this water during this ceremony.

Then the actual “pilgrimage” takes place as pilgrims make the trip to Arafat to gather in tents for prayer and conversation from noon until sunset. Prayers are said to be especially effective during this time.

After spending the night under the stars at Muzdalifa, pilgrims proceed to Mina where the ritual “stoning of Satan” occurs. Pilgrims throw seven rocks at large stone pillars said to represent Satan. This ceremony re-enacts Abraham’s stern rejection of Satan’s temptation to refuse to obey God’s command to sacrifice Ishmael.

This ritual is followed by the offering of an animal sacrifice by each pilgrim, identifying with Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ishmael and God’s provision of a sheep as a reward for Abraham’s complete faithfulness in Allah.

For those who are not able to perform pilgrimage in Mecca during Eid al-Adha, their celebration includes visits to family members, beginning with parents and then extended family, friends and neighbors, and the graves of relatives are also visited during this time. Since many businesses are closed during these days, families often take the opportunity to go on vacation or to visit out-of-town family members.

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey, 2005.” Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email:

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