Today is the start of Ramadan. Ramadan (Ramazan) is the holy month of Islam. In this period the holy book Kuran was sent to Muhammed. And in Kuran, those who are not sick or travelling are ordered to honor and fast during these 30 days. “Why do I need to know these details about Ramadan?” might be your question at this point. Because it affects and changes the daily life in Muslim countries like Turkey. If you plan to visit Istanbul during the Ramadan do read on.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar calendar, which lasts 29 to 30 days. Because of the lunar calendar, the start of Ramazan moves backwards by about eleven days each year. People, and certainly non-Muslims, associate this holy month purely with fasting. But Ramadan is more than that. It is intended to bring Muslims closer to God and teach them about patience, spirituality, and humility. Hence the fasting, to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate and encourage actions of generosity and charity.
Fasting is the religious duty of all Moslims and it means not letting anything pass or even touch the lips. Starting from the twilight before sun rise (the first call to prayer) until the twilight after sunset, no food, drink, tobacco smoke, chewing gum or any other thing that involves the mouth is allowed. During this period of the day people should also refrain from sexual intercourse.
Some people are exempt from fasting: children until the age of puberty, pregnant women, women during the period of their menstruation, women nursing their newborns, travellers, the elderly and people that are chronically, mentally or physically ill.
After sunset, with the forth call to prayer, the imam will give the go-ahead to break the fast (iftar). You can also notice green lights appear on the minarets. You’ll see people patiently waiting for the sign to start this ceremonial meal. This light meal, consisting of freshly-baked flat pide bread, pickled vegetables, olives and other easily-prepared edibles is often enjoyed in group with family members and/or friends. More elaborate dinners are normally held later in the evening or night, but some people just go for it right from the start.
How Ramadan may affect your stay in Istanbul?
During the daylight hours, it’s polite to refrain from eating, drinking (and even smoking) on the streets or on public terraces. Instead, try to do it inside establishments such as restaurants and cafés. Restaurants are less busy at lunch, but the (fasting) staff understands you’re a non-Muslim and will be happy to serve you. Also, some establishments that normally serve alcoholic beverages may refrain from doing so during Ramadan. Swimming areas will be less crowded since fasting people are not allowed to swim.
After sunset, slow-paced Istanbul gets back into full swing with a carnival like atmosphere. Feastive colored lights are switched on, and mosques are illuminated. Restaurants will be packed with locals to break the fast. Most restaurants offer special Ramazan menus or banquets. Tourists and non-Muslims are welcome to join the festivities.
Mosques may become crowded again after the last prayer because of Teravih namazı, a non-obligatory yet very frequently performed prayer during the Ramadan. It can be performed alone at home or with the community.
The one annoyance you may face as a tourist are the drummers that go from street to street in the middle of the night, banging their big drums. They want to wake up sleepers so they can prepare Sahur, the big morning meal before the fast begins again at sunrise. Earplugs and/or closing windows are the only escape from this.
Ramazan is followed by the Sugar Feast (Şeker Bayramı).