How to Gift Wrap a Sheep – Eid Al Adha – Gurban Bayram

Today is Eid Al Adha, the second of the two major Muslim holidays.  It occurs at the end of the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).  One of the rituals is to sacrifice an animal, usually a sheep or a goat, and use the meat to feed 7 poor families.  This is in commemoration of the Prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) willingness to sacrifice his own son when commanded to do so by Allah/God.  As you can see, many of the stories of the Christian Old Testament are shared with Islam.

At the time we lived in Baku in the late 90’s they were gradually beginning to celebrate the Islamic traditions after a long period of Soviet control when religious traditions were discouraged.  In Azerbaijan they call this holiday Gurban Bayram.  I’ve been looking through my old photo albums and came across this photo and an accompanying letter I sent to family back home.  I thought I’d share it with you.

“This morning, on the way to school, we saw lots of sheep being herded about.  Outside the American Embassy two guys were manhandling one like a wheelbarrow – each was holding one back leg.  After I’d done a bit of shopping downtown, I walked back home and saw a white Volga parked outside the entrance to our stairway surrounded by a crowd of about 15 people.  I think it was the family of the Police Chief who lives on the fourth floor.  When I looked inside the open trunk there was a huge ram with a big red ribbon on its head and red paper “petals” stuck all over it.  A gift-wrapped sheep! 

They were happy for me to take this photo, but language difficulties made it impossible for me to enquire what was going on, so when I got upstairs I peeked over the balcony to watch.  Two men who had delivered the sheep lifted it out of the car and offered it a drink of water.  Then they made it look in a mirror before cutting its throat right over the flower bed next to where we park our car.  They caught some of the blood in a small bowl and went round putting a dab of it on everyone’s forehead.  The spectators then went inside while the two men proceeded to skin and butcher the animal inside Chiefy’s garage. 

All there is now is a large pool of dried blood in the flower bed and a leg of lamb hanging in the doorway of the garage, which I guess is all that’s left.  Interesting, even if to us it seems rather gruesome.  And no, we’re not having lamb chops for dinner tonight!”

Eid Mubarak!

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3 thoughts on “How to Gift Wrap a Sheep – Eid Al Adha – Gurban Bayram

  1. This is very interesting. We got a new geography book the other day, and I and my son were reading it. I had never realized that so many of the ex-soviet states have a long tradition of Islam. And they’re very different culturally and ethnically from the Russians (of course, Russia is quite diverse itself). The Soviet Union was just a huge blue thing on the map until I was in 6th grade or so. And I’ve always just lumped them all together in my mind, even though I should know better. 🙂

  2. I didn’t either until I lived there. I remember my husband phoning me from the office to tell me he’d been offered the job – it was a big promotion for him and the money was fabulous. I said “yes, let’s do it!” then hung up the phone and went hunting for the atlas, as I had no idea where I’d just said I’d go to, lol!

    Even now Russia is a HUGE country and very ethnically diverse.

  3. Oh my goodness. I have finally had a few hours to spend on your blog. I remember seeing this same thing in Iran many years ago. It was a sheep then too. With the red pieces of paper. Someone sprinkled something out of a glass halal vitamin vial on it. I have never been able to describe this memory. Until now! thank you so much!!! 🙂 It makes me happy! (But sad for the sheep. Oh well, good will and peace among friends and family is a good cause. I can go with that.) All I can say to the writer of this is: be happy you’ve never been on a wild boar hunt in Iran. It’s brutal and they CAN’T eat the meat. It’s a unique experience, seeing the religious glee displayed in killing a “forbidden” animal.

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