BY LEYLA YVONNE ERGIL
ISTANBUL APR 07, 2022 –
The Blue Mosque, on the eve of the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in Istanbul, Turkey, April 1, 2022. (AFP Photo)
The holy month of Ramadan is upon us and will continue through the start of May. For Muslims, this month is the most sacred time of the year as many will take part in the monthly dawn-to-sunset fast.
On April 1, the world’s grandest simultaneous fast commenced as the Muslim world entered the month of Ramadan. Thus, from April 1 until May 1, most Muslims will be taking part in the “oruç,” which is the name of the month-long practice of fasting from dawn to sunset. This means that once the sun rises, participating Muslims will refrain from consuming food, liquids and other vices such as smoking cigarettes until a special prayer ceremony at sunset, which is followed by iftar, the name given to the meal consumed to break the fast. Sahur is the name of the first meal of the day, which in this case is also the last meal had before the daylong fast. Sahur takes place before dawn and so those fasting will have to wake up early if they want to eat a sustaining meal before sunrise. Most Muslims stick to a strict regime of consuming just these two meals a day, sahur and iftar, and understandably there are many traditions embedded in both of these meals and the products consumed.
Traditionally, both of these meals are a grand affair, with a huge spread of different dishes shared between families, friends, neighbors and members of the community. Many municipalities, towns, villages and even businesses will host iftar dinners for members of the community, and sahur becomes a sacred time for family and those sharing abodes to come together and eat a nutritious and rejuvenating meal.
What is eaten during the month of fasting?
It is nearly a doctrine at iftar to break the daylong fast with a date followed by a glass of water, as it is part of the guidelines put forth by the Prophet Muhammad himself. Following the ceremonial breaking of the fast with dates comes a bowl of light soup accompanied by this month’s specially prepared Ramadan pide. This beloved round, soft flatbread, which is often sprinkled with nigella or sesame seeds, is pretty much only available during the fasting month of Ramadan. Many bread shops will have customers lining up close to sunset to purchase a still-steaming pide freshly baked in a wood-burning oven. This pide is then eaten with a variety of tomato and water-based vegetable and bean dishes, fresh salads and yogurt accompanied by a grilled, stewed or roasted hearty protein. Güllaç is the name of the traditional dessert prepared during Ramadan. This milky dessert prepared with paper-thin sheets of phyllo contains rose water, walnuts, pomegranates, corn starch and wheat flour.
The sahur meal can be envisioned as a sort of elaborate Turkish breakfast. Equipped with a balanced spread of proteins, such as eggs and sausages, it often includes a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers, an array of cheeses and butter accompanied by bowls of tahini, honey, molasses, preserves and even compotes, which consist of stewed fruits.
Be ready to hear drums, rockets
One of the most startling aspects for foreigners unfamiliar with some of the customs surrounding Ramadan is the symbolic shooting off of rockets. Thus, don’t be surprised if come sunset you hear a big “bang.” Similarly, there are neighborhood drummers that wander the streets banging on their drums to wake people up for sahur. So, you may hear drumming and people walking up and down the streets, but don’t be alarmed. It is also customary for these drummers to be offered gratuities for their services come the end of the month.
Time of gratitude, compassion and kindness
For Muslims, Ramadan is a precious time in which self-contemplation and virtues such as gratitude, compassion, kindness and charity take the forefront. Taking part in the fast is one of the five pillars of Islam along with the Islamic creed, prayer, charity to the poor and the pilgrimage to Mecca for those who are able. Zakat and fitre, both involving donating alms to the needy, are an integral part of Ramadan and applies to those who have the means to do so. The purpose of this practice is to ensure those that are economically challenged have the ability to celebrate the Ramadan Bayram, also known as the Feast of Sweets, in Turkish Şeker Bayramı and in Arabic Eid al-Fitr, which is a celebratory holiday that concludes the monthlong fast. This year, the Ramadan Bayram will take place from May 2 to May 4 as the first of the two longest Islamic and national holidays observed in Turkey.
Based on the lunar Islamic calendar, the dates of the month of Ramadan vary every year. While this year it is for the duration of April, next year Ramadan will be held from Wednesday, March 22 to April 21. This year those fasting from dawn to dusk are luckier than in past years as the weather conditions will be milder, versus when the month falls during the summer season. Still, those that are observing may be out of sorts and light-headed, which is something that is important to take into consideration during this time. Think twice before you demand fast service and keep in mind anyone you interact with here in Turkey may be presently engaging in the fast. Some restaurants even shut down for the duration of this holy month so as not to tempt others or be tempted themselves to break it. And so, as for the observers themselves who each year use this month as a chance to regain their health, reaffirm their mindset and engage in good practices, it is a great time for anyone in Turkey to also be grateful for all that they have and share compassion and kindness with others.
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