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Eid al-Adha / Kurban bayram: How we experienced in Indonesia and Tajikistan the Feast of the Sacrifice

With this year’s Ramadan that just started yesterday, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the three Ramadans that we lived during our long trip, the first in Turkey, the second in Cambodia —where we barely noticed it, as only 2% of the population follows Islam— and the third between Emirates and Oman. And although I have hundreds of notes on our experiences in these four countries living this important Islamic tradition, today I am not going to write about it but another important holiday that Muslims have.

If I start by telling you the name of Eid al-Adha, I don’t know if it will ring a bell. If I keep on going saying to you the name of Kurban Bayram, I don’t know if that’s going to help you either. What I do know and I can assure you is that if you don’t know it at all and you find it one day in the streets, it will surely leave you quite perplexed. Moreover depending on the country in which you live it!

 

 

    What is Eid al-Adha / Kurban Bayram?

In case you have not heard about it before, this holiday, also called the Feast of the Sacrifice, consists of sacrificing an animal following the halal guidelines and then cooking it, eating it and sharing it with your family, your friends and the neediest people of your town.

Eid al-Adha is the second most important holiday for Muslims and takes place on the tenth day of the month of Zil-Hajj, that is to say, 70 days after Eid al-Fitr, which is the festival that definitively breaks the fast and puts an end to the month of Ramadan.

The table with appetizers of the family that hosted us in Tajikistan.

 

With this feast, Muslims remember the submission to Allah that Abraham demonstrated, as he was about to sacrifice his firstborn son following God’s will and when he was about to do so, Allah stopped him and let him sacrifice a lamb instead of his son.

As Islam is so widespread throughout the world, this holiday is followed and called in very different ways. The most common name is Eid al-Adha, which is used in most Arabic-speaking countries, while Kurban Bayram (or Qurban Bayramı) is more commonly used in Turkey and Central Asian countries. In its hundreds of ways of being called, it always means “the greatest feast” or “the feast of sacrifice”.

 

    Our first experience in Indonesia

Although it may not seem so, Indonesia is a country with a Muslim majority and is, in fact, the country with the most Islam followers in the world, with over 200 million Muslims.

Imagine our surprise when on September 12, 2016, just a normal day for us, we were on the outskirts of Jakarta and found the entire population out there in the streets. Streets, by the way, all dyed red.

Women in the mosque waiting to start praying.

 

People were happy and the children were playing and jumping from one place to another. We didn’t understand much of what was happening until we saw that there were several lambs and cows tied up in the streets and suddenly we understood where all the blood was coming from. It was the blood those animals shed when they died with their throats cut off. We didn’t know this holiday at all, so imagine our face when we saw that real bloodbath!

Once the animal was dead, each family cooked it and shared it with their relatives, neighbors and people with fewer resources.

The celebration, as we could see, lasted all morning and noon and then the families went to the mosque or to their homes to continue the holiday, either praying or spending it quietly with their loved ones.

People spending the afternoon in the well known Fatahillah Square.

 

The truth is that we were a little bewildered because no one had explained much of the subject to us. We were just a few days away from returning from the second part of the trip and as with so many other things, we wrote down a few notes in our notebook and kept on going. Where we really ended up understanding more about this holiday was the second time we experienced it, which was a year later in Tajikistan.

 

    Our experience in Tajikistan

In Tajikistan we experienced it in a very different way, as we spent the whole day with the same family.

A few days earlier when we were in Haf Kul, we met a Kazakh girl who was travelling with a local boy for work. We got along well and when it was time to say goodbye, they told us that in a few days it would be the great Kurban Bayram. By name we had no idea what it might be but they told us that it was a very special day and that since we were already going to be in Dushanbe, they invited us to spend it at the local boy’s house.

By telling us the word sacrifice, we quickly connected the experience with the one lived in Indonesia and we were very excited to be able to see this feast again, now getting to know it a little already and being able to live it as a family. We were also very motivated to see the same holiday happening in a country so different and in fact far away from Indonesia.

The table with the starters minutes before we sat down to eat!

 

In the early morning, children under the age of 8 knock on doors and when the doors open, they say ‘Idinav mubarak’, which means happy holidays. For the occasion, they must wear their best and cleanest clothes. Once they have congratulated their neighbors, the women of the house usually give them sweets and chocolates and the men give them little money. That’s why it’s common during that day to see men with wads of bills in their pockets.

1 SOM banknotes ready to be distributed to children congratulating Eid al-Adha.

 

Once the morning is over, it is time for the sacrifice. We were told that this had in fact changed a lot in the last year, because before and as we had seen in Indonesia, the animal could be slaughtered anywhere in the city. However, a new law prohibited it and would allow it only in authorized sites, claiming to seek better hygiene for slaughter.


 

The moment you have the meat at home, the feast begins to be prepared and when everything is ready and you have to serve the dishes, the children of the house will do it. To celebrate this day in style, all kinds of food are served, starting with appetizers such as fruits, pastries, peanuts, biscuits, samsa and all kinds of vegetables. Then different meat preparations are served, all accompanied by tea, obviously. Finally, several types of cakes are served and the sweets and appetizers that were first served are still eaten.

Normally you eat in two different rooms: one with the women of the family and the other with the men. In our case, although Eugenia and Darya were women, being foreigners and guests, they were with us in the men’s room.


 

In addition, while eating the doors of the house are open to anyone who wants to enter, so it is common for neighbors and friends of the family to pass through. When someone arrives, the man of the house will serve them tea and the children will bring them some food to accompany it.

Although it is true that the feast’s idea is to give it to the most underprivileged people, this will not happen until the end of the day, which with so much food that has been prepared, much of it is left over. That’s when they’re going to give it to the people who need it most, if they haven’t already entered their home during the day.

Selfie with Darya and two of the brothers of the house.

 

We have to say that perhaps the day we lived was not entirely representative of what this festivity is like in Tajikistan or Central Asia in general, since the family that took us in was quite wealthy. Without going any further, we were told that a lamb in good condition can cost them between $200 and $1,000 for the occasion, so it is not very affordable. And that’s why so many other families do it with any other type of meat that is much cheaper.

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