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Muslims celebrate the Festival of Sacrifice

It's going to be a big animal this year. Dursun Selvi, with seven other men from his mosque community, wants to have a calf slaughtered for the Festival of Sacrifice., "My share of the cost will be 200 euros”, says the man from the Rhineland. The head of the Mimar-Sinan mosque in Brühl-Wesseling has appointed a Muslim butcher to deal with the orders. On the first day of the Festival of Sacrifice, Dursun Selvi will offer the celebratory prayer in the mosque and then take home his share of the sacrificed animal. The Selvi family will keep a third of the meat for their own use, the remainder will be distributed amongst friends, acquaintances and neighbours.

On Sunday, 6 November 2011, the Festival of Sacrifice will begin for Muslims throughout the world. The festival is fixed according to the lunar calendar and moves forward by 11 days every year. It has its origins in the Old Testament and it recalls the moment when the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) passed a divine trial and was no longer required to sacrifice his son Ismail. "This four-day festival is also a symbol of the common roots of the monotheistic religions," explains Bülent Uçar, Professor of Religious Pedagogy at the University of Osnabrück. 

Donations for victims of natural catastrophes

Dursun Selvi and many others from his mosque congregation have donated funds in the past year for the victims of the flooding disaster in Pakistan. And sometimes this pensioner has also given money to the Ditib Association, which makes an appeal for donations every year at the time of the Festival of Sacrifice. From the donations from Germany, sacrificed animals are slaughtered in Turkey and the meat is distributed to families in need.   

Is it obligatory for Muslims to sacrifice an animal? There is no clear answer to this question, explains Professor Uçar. "It is considered to be recommended - sunna -in most schools of law; the Hanafi see it however as "wadschib", as a religious requirement. "And even if the details are disputed, it is accepted that every Muslim who has the financial means should sacrifice an animal." 

This religious ritual is also observed very differently amongst Muslims in Germany. Some Muslim families adhere to the obligation whereas others do not wish to "let unnecessary blood flow". For example, Kadriye Pamuk sends money to family members in need. Over time she has developed "a pragmatic attitude" to the Festival of Sacrifice. "There is no shortage of meat here, and I leave it to my relatives to decide what to do with the money I send them," says this Turkish lady, who has been living in Germany since 1972.

Presents for a kiss on the hand  

The 59-year-old lady enjoys remembering the festivals of her childhood, when she used to start getting excited many days in advance and could not wait to wear her new clothes.
 For she only had new clothes on festival days. And she looked forward to other presents too, such as sweets and money that she received from adults if she congratulated them on the Festival of Sacrifice by kissing their hands. Now she is a grandmother and has several grandchildren who could kiss her hand. But they do not live nearby.

Mr and Mrs Pamuk live near Stuttgart, their 35-year-old daughter lives near Frankfurt with her husband and two sons aged five and six. If the Festival of Sacrifice falls on a working day, then the Pamuk household receives visits only from friends and acquaintances in the vicinity. Kadriye Pamuk has prepared meals in advance ― as she does every year. This year, she will serve her guests stuffed vine leaves. And because the first day of the Festival of Sacrifice luckily falls on a Sunday this year, the grandchildren will also be there. "The nicest thing about the festival is being together with the family," says this grandmother, happily.

Sacrifices as an act of religious devotion

The Festival of Sacrifice is "not based on the distribution of meat," according to Professor Uçar. The slaughter itself is an act of religious devotion. If Muslims live in a country whose laws do not allow this, then it is permissible "to fight for one’s rights on the grounds of religious freedom," explains Uçar.  In Germany, slaughtering an animal in accordance with religious rites, for example, is only permitted with a special permit. This is why Muslims in Germany more frequently make donations - perhaps to the needy in Somalia or countries affected by natural disasters.

The Festival of Sacrifice has altered over time. Previously, when times were hard, it was only the religious ritual of slaughtering and distributing an animal that made it possible for the poor to eat meat. Today, by contrast, the festival offers many people above all the welcome opportunity to meet up with family, friends and acquaintances. Uçar sees this as an example of where religion can develop into culture. But, says the Islamic studies scholar, we should also realise that many people, who are otherwise "not usually at all religiously observant take the command of sacrifice very seriously indeed."

Canan Topçu, 02.11.11 

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