A carnival-like atmosphere will arise in Istanbul with the coming of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month. Turks call this blessed month “the sultan of months”, and it begins on May 27th this year. Devout Muslims are required to fast from sunrise until sunset. In Istanbul, the fast began today at 3.36 a.m. local time and will end at 8.33 p.m. local time. In other words, Muslims in Istanbul will be fasting for around 17 hours each day.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Lunar calendar and it is known as the month of fasting. As one of the 5 pillars of Islam, Ramadan is a month for Muslims to exercise self-control, purify the mind, body, and spirit, and to bring faithful closeness to Allah (God). During the fast Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking, sexual contact as well as swearing or speaking ill of others. Refusal to do so will result in the fast being inadmissible.
Fasting begins at dawn coinciding with the first call to prayer and ends at dusk during the fourth call to prayer. During this time all the minarets of Istanbul will be glowing green to signify the time to break your fast. Individuals who are not required to fast during Ramadan include: travellers, children who haven’t reached puberty, the elderly and people that are chronically, mentally or physically ill as well as women who are menstruating, pregnant, breast-feeding or have recently had a baby.
“The sultan of months” creates a unique atmosphere in Istanbul. The normal routines and rhythms of life in this enormous city change profoundly because Ramadan changes people’s eating habits, working practices and praying schedules. You’ll be surprised to see a city of 18 million people turn into a ghost town during iftar (the time to break your fast). However, soon after sunset the city gets back into full swing and is filled with a carnival-like atmosphere that includes entertainment, music, laughter, joy and it usually runs late into the night.
Following the obligatory night prayer known as Isha, pious residents of Istanbul usually fill mosques all over the city to perform “Tarawih” prayers. Tarawih prayers are an extra set of prayers specific to the month of Ramadan. According to the practices of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), these prayers are performed every night during the holy month of Ramadan and are meant to fulfil the complete recitation of the holy Quran, which was known to be revealed in its totality during this blessed month. Although Tarawih prayers are not compulsory, many devout followers perform them anyway.
The historic Blue Mosque and the Eyüp Sultan Mosque are the two most symbolic spaces for these prayers during Ramadan in Istanbul. The mosque’s squares also host exhibitions and fairs that include: marbling art, glass art, calligraphy, rose pudding and baklava during the holy month. You can also witness street festivals and displays such as clown and shadow puppet shows for locals and children.
As camaraderie and gracious hospitality become foremost qualities of Ramadan in İstanbul, all local municipalities will organize iftar meals to serve thousands of people free meals to break their fasts with. It is mostly for the poor and disadvantaged individuals, but it can also be for those who would like to eat together with their Muslim brothers and sisters.
Dating back to traditions during the Ottoman era, throughout this holy month Ramadan drummers will once again be in the streets of Istanbul with traditional Ottoman outfits such as fez hats to wake people up before dawn so that they have enough time to eat a large meal before the day-long fast.
Bakeries all across the city are also ready for a special Ramadan tradition – “pide”, a special type of bread popular during the month of Ramadan. This bread is a must for iftar and pre-dawn meals. Also, the head of the Turkish Bakers Federation, Halil İbrahim Balcı, stated that the pide’s price will remain the same as the previous year 6 Turkish Lira for a kilogram.
This year the holy month of Ramadan ends on Saturday, June 24th. Ramadan is followed immediately by Ramadan Feast also known as Şeker Bayramı (Candy Festival), which is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide that marks the end of Ramadan. Outside of Turkey this worldwide celebrated holiday is known by another name, Eid al-Fitr (festival of breaking of the fast). Celebrations however remain the same and during this holiday families and friends gather together and celebrate with sweets amongst other things. Thus creating the carnival-like atmosphere once again.
Born and raised in Istanbul where I’m a medical student at YeditepeUniversity.