Last year I wrote a post, Kierkegaard and Eid Mubarek, about Eid-Al-Adha, here called Kurban Bairam. It is a holiday celebrating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, which is a true test of faith, also called Feast of Sacrifice. Animals are typically sacrificed to represent God’s literal Deus Ex Machina, which at the last minute replaced Abraham’s son with a ram.
I realized the other day that I have lived in three different Asian regions: the Far East, the Middle East and now Central Asia. Each with its own flavor.
Kazakhstan, in Central Asia, has Eastern borders with Mongolia and China, and a Western border that partially rests on the Caspian Sea, which is shared with a few countries, including Iran.
The Silk Road brought Islam here in the 8th century. It was the most important commodity route of the ancient world, responsible for a vast cultural diffusion; sharing, spreading and modifying languages, clothing, technologies, religions and foods, long before the internet.
Islam arrived here when Baghdad, Damascus and Cordoba flourished as centers of learning and tolerance. Yes tolerance. While Europe was mired in the Dark Ages, science, philosophy, math and art were thriving in the Muslim world.
As Islam spread in Kazakhstan, it incorporated Tengrism, the country’s shamanistic animism and ancestor worship, seen in cultures of the Far East. Islam here has not changed much since that Golden Era and considers itself very moderate and modern.
It is a majority Muslim country, but very secular, with a tolerant attitude towards other religions. To help keep the peace, proselytizing is not allowed, unless you are here on a missionary VISA.
Kazakhstan is a country with multiple ethnic groups and religions, peacefully coexisting. This has made it the most prosperous and stable Stan ‘of the post-Soviet era ‘Stans’.
On the Ancient Silk road, it now sits between two powerful neighbors, Russia and China, while cultivating a close relationship with the West, in order to bring about its capitalist revolution.
I’m finding this place is both a mix ancient and modern influences, and yet wholly unique. It possibly hosts the crash site of Noah’s Ark, has an Islamic holy site in Turkistan, boasts a navel of the world rock, loved by the New Age, which was probably part of Tengrism. There are petroglyphs that denote sun worship, mausoleums dedicated to great Khans, and Scythian burial mounds full of treasure. To top of this sacred blend, Kazakhstan’s President had the Pyramid of Peace and Reconciliation built, as a gathering place for leaders of the world’s major religions to come together.
Every night, I hear the call to prayer, which reminds me of Dubai, but every day at work, it reminds me of Korea. There are few holidays; for local teachers school is 6 sometimes 7, days a week, working late is the norm and taking sick leave is very frowned upon.
For Eid, Kurban Bairam, we only had only one day off. In Dubai, I had a whole week. My fellow local teachers said we only had one day off because this is not a Muslim country, unlike the Gulf Coast countries. I’m more inclined to think this is a Korean style, Asian trait, where sacrifice to work is valued more than leisure.
But maybe limiting this holiday to one day is just its secular, moderate modern, nature.
To not give favor to one group, to keep the peace, we must work.