Modern existence of old religious tradition.hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none; color:#000000;}.hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink:hover { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; color:#990000;}ISTANBUL - Tradition has been losing out to modern life - as more and more legal restrictions have been applied towhere and how a sacrifice can be carried out.

No flocks on the streets, slaughtering only at designated places. Moreover, today people are more interested in their vacations or the idea of sleeping in late for four days or figuring out how to extend their time off to nine days if the holiday happens to cover weekdays
Every year during the Sacrifice Holiday the butcher on the corner is asked to carry out the sacrifice of an animal, almost always a ram or sheep but sometimes something larger like a bull, and he has willingly done so.
This year however, he has decided that he won’t accept any requests. When asked why not, he simply said he was too tired and needed to rest.
If he accepted, he wouldn’t have any holiday or rest time. The rumor is that he’s having a little difficulty financially because of the economic climate in Turkey - he doesn’t just provide the meat for the neighborhood, he also sells his meat to restaurants around town because he has such a good reputation for the best meat around. Just keeping up, getting up at three in the morning, keeping his shop open 14 hours have taken their toll over the years.

For centuries, the neighborhood butcher has been responsible for killing the sacrificial animal. It wasn’t at all surprising to hear sheep or bulls sounding off in a nearby garden. The family would purchase an animal of the size wanted and then try to fatten it up.
Dogs were intimidated, cats curious. Then on one of the four days of the holiday, preferably the first day, the butcher would come and someone who could recite the prayers for the occasion. The butcher would also cut the animal into the number of pieces that were laid down by Islam. The animal could only be shared by the immediate family and had to have been paid for with cash. The air would be filled with the marvelous smell of cooking meat.

The skin would be given to any number of people driving by with trucks, some from charitable organizations, others out for their own pocket; the contents of the intestines would be buried deep so dogs and cats couldn’t get at them. People who didn’t have gardens might carry out the whole ceremony along the side of a highway or some other public area and just leave the unwanted remains there.

Times, they are a’changing
But times are changing. Tradition had it that you would put on your new clothes and go to the mosque to pray in the morning. Well, actually the men used to go to the mosque to pray, while the women stayed at home to prepare food. When you returned home, you would sit down to a substantial meal. Today people are more interested in their vacations or the idea of sleeping in late for four days or figuring out how to extend their time off to nine days if the holiday happens to cover weekdays.

Tradition has been losing out in other ways too, as more and more legal restrictions have been applied on where and how a sacrifice can be carried out. Shepherds can no longer bring their flocks around the streets. The municipality has designated places where the animals can be sold.

Additionally a case has been made on the need to have sanitary conditions and therefore having the slaughter carried out at a slaughterhouse rather than by someone coming to your home. The Diyanet (Religious Affairs Presidency) has also made a strong case for donating the animal skin to it so that it can used as revenue for charitable work.

Sacrificing animals goes so far back in human history that its beginnings are now unknown. The basis for the Sacrifice Holiday among Jews, Christians and Muslims is the story of Abraham and his attempted sacrifice of his son Isaac. Among Muslims, their names are Ibrahim and Ishmael respectively. Abraham is thought to have lived around the year 2000 B.C. and it is known from cuneiform tablets that Abram was a name found among the Babylonians at approximately the same time. Abram, as he was called at the beginning, was a pastoral nomad and migrated from somewhere in today’s Iraq to Canaan, an area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. At one point because of drought, it is known that he and his people went to Egypt to avoid its effects.

Abram was promised by God that he would have a son and would be the progenitor of a great nation; however, he hadn’t had a child by the time he reached 86. His wife Sarai was also very old by modern day standards - she was 90 - and both had long given up hope of children in spite of God’s promise.

So Sarai encouraged Abram to sleep with her servant, Hagar, and she bore Abram a son named Ishmael. Sarai apparently became so jealous that she drove the woman and son away into the desert where she was rescued. Her son became the founder of the Bedouins.

Sarah and Abraham
But Sarai in the end did bear Abram a son who was named Isaac. God also announced that henceforth their names would be Sarah (princess) and Abraham (father of nations). One day God asked him, to test his faith, to sacrifice what was dearest to him and that was Isaac. So Abraham took the boy and set out to sacrifice him. But as Abraham was about to slit the boy’s throat, an angel appeared and pointed out that there was a ram caught in a nearby bush; it was to be sacrificed instead. And it was. The lesson to be learned is trust in God and accept what he deals out to you even though it may be the worst thing you can think of.

The story of the Jewish and Christian Abraham is not that of a prophet in the sense of someone who interprets the divine will and preaches, although he is considered such in Islam. He is revered as the father of the Jewish nation by Jews and Christians as well, but as someone who followed what God told him to do. There is no evidence of his transmitting God’s word to others although he believed in a monotheistic God.

Islam however describes Ibrahim as one of the early prophets with Adam being the first and Mohammed the last. Within this, other prophets include Noah, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus and others. The Prophet Mohammed is said to be a descendant of Ibrahim.

The story differs from that of the Jewish and Christian Old Testament in that Ibrahim and his wife could not have children and he actually marries the servant girl, Hajira. Their son’s name is Ismail, and it is this son that Ibrahim is commanded to sacrifice, not Isaac.

Ibrahim is credited with having rebuilt a sanctuary at Mecca around the Ka’aba, the large cubic structure that determines the direction in which Muslims should pray. It is supposed to have originally been built by Adem, the first human being. It was a center of pilgrimage from early on but dedicated to many gods rather than one. Once Ibrahim converted to the belief in one god, he is supposed to have dedicated the sanctuary to that god, Allah, and gotten rid of the idols that had been worshipped there before.

Pilgrimage to Mecca
At the time of the Prophet Mohammed, his tribe controlled the sanctuary and it had again become a sanctuary for many gods. It would have been natural for the Prophet to focus on it as the central point for Islam. Converting those around him to Islam, he eventually returned to Mecca from Medina to where he had fled on what is called a pilgrimage. And this became the pilgrimage that is to be undertaken by all Muslims at least once in their life time.

Whoever controlled Mecca and Medina in later years was considered the head of the Muslim world and an important symbol of this was who sent the pilgrimage caravan to Mecca and was responsible for supplying the embroidered cloth that covered the Ka’aba. For many years this was the responsibility of the Ummayid rulers, then the Abbasids, Fatimids and finally the Mamlukes of Egypt but when Sultan Selim I conquered that country in 1517, the duty of providing the caravans and the Ka’aba covering fell to the Ottomans. Hence the sultan took over the title of caliph, a word that signified the person who followed in the shoes of the Prophet Mohammed.

Today Muslims go from all over the world to pray at the Ka'aba and to confirm their faith through a number of ceremonial acts. The number of pilgrims allowed to come on the journey is limited by the Saudi Arabian government to ensure the safety and security of the participants but with three million people expected this year it is clear that this is a tremendous responsibility.

The Muslims who were unable to go to Mecca perform the same prayers, an act of unity that includes the whole of the Muslim community around the world.