In order to explore a society blended with different cultures, it is necessary to examine the Islamic point of view as the majority's religion, which influences traditions. There are five main holy nights in Islam – Mawlid, Ragaib, Isra and Mi'raj, Night of Bara'at, and Laylat al-Qadr. Those holy nights on the Islamic calendar are called “Kandil” (candle) in Turkey since candles are lit on the minarets of the mosques to announce these holy nights to the public with one of the Ottoman Sultans, Selim II's order during 16th century. In addition, since the Islamic calendar is calculated with the revolution of the moon around the earth, the dates of the holy nights change every year.
In Turkish culture, holy nights have a unique purpose compared to other Muslim societies. They include calling close relatives and friends to celebrate their holy night, beside praying for being forgiven and reading the Quran with their beads. Furthermore, most Muslims cook halva, holy night bagel or they buy at least seven packets of pasta, granulated sugar, rice, or seven loafs of bread to share with their neighbors. Let's take a closer look at those holy nights and their importance for Muslims.
Mawlid: the word ”Mawlid” means the birth time in Arabic; therefore, Mawlid is the day for celebration of the Prophet Mohammad's (Muslim's prophet) birth. Until it had been celebrated approximately 350 years in Egypt by the Fatımid Empire, there was no such kind of celebration in Islamic culture. The date of the holiday changes depending on denominational differences, so the Sunni people celebrate on the 12th night of the Rabi' al-awwal Month while Shiites celebrate on the 17th night of the Rabi' al-awwal Month, according to the Islamic calendar.
Ragaib: “Ragaib” means to incline in Arabic and actually it has not been given a place, but Muslims have started to celebrate it over the years so it has become one of the holy nights. They believe that if they pray enough that night, they can go to heaven and their sins are forgiven. It is celebrated on the first Thursday of Rajab Month according to the Islamic calendar.
Isra and Mi'raj: The word “Mi'raj” means the stairs and ascension in Arabic, and Muslims believe that Mohammad traveled to heaven to have a conversation upon God's request. The trip that is expressed in Surat al-Isra and Surat an-Najm has two parts; first he traveled from Masjid al-Haram to Al-Aqsa Mosque (the first kibla* for Muslims in Jerusalem) then he traveled to heaven to see God. This night is the symbol of redemption and circumcision, five times salath has become necessary for Muslims. It is celebrated on the 27th of Rajab Month, according to the Islamic calendar. As mentioned previously, Muslims pray for forgiveness and good wishes, and some of them fast that day. Some believe that wine, honey and milk are brought for him and he chooses milk among them. Thus, in Anatolia most people drink milk or prepare desserts with milk and share it with their neighbors. Also, it is called “Milk Night” in Konya for the same reason.
Night of Bara'at: The word “Bara'at” in Arabic means the night of innocence and freedom. According to Muslim belief, God freed his sinful servants who were destined for Hell. A person's life in the coming year, his sustenance, and whether or not they will have the opportunity to perform Hajj (pilgrimage) shall be decided on this night. The names of the souls of all those who are born and of all those who are to depart from this world are determined. One's actions are done and then sustenance is sent down. It is celebrated on the middle night of the Sha'ban Month, according to the Islamic calendar. Muslims pray more than usual during that night to change their destiny
Laylat al-Qadr: The meaning of the day is the night of decree, of value or destiny. According to Islamic belief, the Quran was revealed to Mohammad for the first time. The Quran was completed verse by verse in 23 years of revelation to Mohammad by Gabriel, the angel. It is one of the odd nights of the last ten days of Ramadan and is one of the most important and valuable days for Muslims. They believe that the blessings and mercy of God are abundant, sins are forgiven, prayers are accepted and the annual decree is revealed to the angels who also descend to earth on this night. Most Turkish Muslims complete reading the Quran (reading all of the pages of the Quran is called “hatim” in Turkish) by this night each year and pray that their sins are forgiven.
After all this religious information, I would like you to explore these holy nights from a different perspective – the food perspective! On all the holy nights, you can see holy night bagel (little ring-shaped dough covered with sesame seeds) in Patisseries for just holy night days. Some Turks make it in their home and share it with their neighbors. Here is the recipe for holy night bagel:
*125 gr butter
*1 tea glass of oil
*2 table spoon vinegar
*1 table spoon mahaleb
*1 table spoon granulated sugar
*1 dessert spoon salt
*1 packet baking powder
* 3-4 glasses of flour
Preparation: leave the eggs and butter at room temperature and separate the egg whites and yolk. Put the flour in a deep bowl and make a hole in the middle of it. Add the egg yolk, butter and other ingredients. Then knead the dough and add flour little by little until it become soft enough. Take a piece of dough the size of a walnut and roll it into the shape of a ring. Put a greaseproof paper on the tray and put down the holy night bagels you prepared. Then apply the egg whites that you separated before with the help of a brush. Lastly, sprinkle sesame seeds and put them in the oven at a temperature of 190 degrees C. Bake them until they are brown. Your holy night bagels are then ready to eat and share! Happy holy nights!
Senior student in Boğaziçi University, little big foodie, and mounted archery sporter. But actually just a human being ;)
Photo Credits: Khalid Almasoud