Kurban Bajram is the Balkans’ name for the celebration of Eid al-Kabir (which means “the big celebration”) and it is the most important holiday in Islam. This holiday takes place every year at the end of Hajj. It’s on the 10th of the month of Dhu al-Hijja, the last of the Islamic calendar, after Waqfat Arafat, or the descent of Mount Arafat.
This celebration represents a submission to Allah. In fact, this celebration commemorates Ibrahim’s (Abraham) obedience to Allah, symbolized with the episode when he accepts to sacrifice his own son Ismael, by God’s command, in order to show his love and faith. At the last moment Allah sends a ram through the archangel Gabriel to replace the child as a sacrificial offering. In memory of Ibrahim’s total submission to God, Muslim families sacrifice a ram or a sheep, but sometimes other animals such as cows or goats. They are slayed lying on the left flank with their head facing Mecca (in Saudi Arabia), after a prayer and an Eid/Bajram sermon.
Eid al-Kabir is called Tabaski in Senegal and other countries in West Africa (Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso). In Turkey, it’s called Kurban Bayrami and in the Balkan countries it’s called Kurban Bajram. The celebration is the same around the world but there are several cultural differences regarding the food, clothes, etc.
The celebration lasts for 3 days. The first day is the most important because men go to the mosque and pray. Afterwards they go to sacrifice a ram or sheep. They cut the animal on 3 parts: the first is given to poor people so they can have food on this great day, the second is for friends and neighbours and the third is for the person who offers the sacrifice and his family. After this, they go to the cemetery to visit the deceased ancestors and close family members and to say a prayer in their name.
The celebration takes place in the home of the oldest person in the family and people also go to other people’s houses to wish them good luck, happiness, health, etc. But nowadays the formalities for the holiday are changing. The price of sheep is also constantly increasing: Macedonia - between 100 € and 200 €, France - between 100 € and 300 € and Senegal: between 100 € and 1500 €. We also must add the price of food, clothes, gifts etc. The price is relative and not so important because the price of sheep doesn’t play a role in these events.
It’s also the time to make the Zakaat (the Third Pillar of Islam) or giving money to the poor people or to the mosque which gives to the poor people, which is 2,5% of your wealth every year on this date. The result is evident with the economy during this period increasing. There’s a circulation of millions and millions of euros all around the world for a good cause: sharing. People only see the slaughter of sheep but they don’t see all you need behind this celebration. It’s more than a celebration and killing sheep; it’s a moment of unity, sharing, solidarity, love and submission to God.
Depending where you live, the celebration is seen differently. For example, in France, which is a secular country, religion is separated from the government. Only the Christian holidays are public. In other cases, people take a day off. That’s the case for Muslims during this period. The legislation for the slaughter of sheep is strict. Slaughtering must be carried out in designated slaughterhouses and not illegally. The celebration is not really recognized but it’s tolerated.
In Senegal and Macedonia, the celebration is part of the society. People from different religions celebrate together the diverse celebrations and it’s a time for sharing between communities. This is a time when all tensions disappear and everybody learns from each other. It’s a moment of joy and love. Husein, an Albanian seller, summed up the nature of this holiday: “Every Friday prayer (al jumu’ah) represents the celebration of Bajram for me”.
I asked my interviewees to describe this event with one word; the most frequent words were: harmony, faith, reunion, sharing, openness. I simply choose “Islam” because it summarizes or rather includes all of these words. After all, the literal meaning of the word “Islam” is “submission in peace” and I think that the very essence of this holiday is merged in all these words. This is my final word for a celebration that is largely misunderstood.
Written by Awa Badji.
The article was published in January issue of VOICES magazine.