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Ramazan in Turkey


Ken Grubb
  • What is Ramazan? Is it the same as Ramadan? Why do men walk through the streets at three o'clock in the morning, waking everybody up? Learn about Ramazan, the month of fasting in Turkey and the Muslim world, and the traditions surrounding this holiday.

A waiter at a restaurant waits for fasting customers to begin the iftar meal.

A restaurateur awaits a crowd of hungry diners for the evening's İftar meal, which breaks the fast during Ramazan.

During certain times of the year, many Turks do not eat or drink during the daytime. They are fasting during the holy month of Ramazan (Turkish for "Ramadan"). This is when Muslims worldwide commemorate the revelation of the Koran to Mohammed.

Ramazan is considered to be the "sultan" of the eleven months since that is the month in which Mohammed started to receive the Koran. It's the month of great spiritual and material blessings that Muslims all over the world look forward to. The religion of Islam is based on five principles:

  1. Belief in one God and Mohammed as his prophet.
  2. Prayer, five times daily.
  3. Giving alms to the poor and needy.
  4. Fasting during the month of Ramazan and
  5. Pilgrimage to Mecca and other holy sites in Saudi Arabia at least once in one's lifetime.

Ramazan is the ninth month on the Islamic lunar calendar. The months on the lunar calendar begin and end with the sighting of the new moon. Because of this, from year-to-year, Ramazan rotates throughout the four seasons and through every month of the solar calendar.

Every Muslim is supposed to observe the fast of Ramazan. Children, pregnant women, sick people, travelers and soldiers at war are exempted from fasting. The fast starts daily from before sunrise and lasts to the moment the sun sets.

During the daylight hours, one is to abstain from food, drink and intimacy between husband and wife. After sunset, Muslims are permitted to break the fast for the day, starting with the İftar (eef-tahr) meal. However, one is not supposed to over eat, over drink, or over indulge in any self-gratifying activities as this can take away from the spirit of the fast.

The Ramazan fast is regarded not just an abstention from food, but as a ritual for the benefit of the total person physically, spiritually, and mentally, as well as for God's pleasure. While fasting, Muslims are to be conscious of the need to appreciate and respect both man and outer world as a creation of the Almighty God. Those fasting are also to get a better understanding for the needy ones who cannot find food to eat. Things to be avoided during the fast are the tendency to be spiritually idle or morally absentminded, and the tendency to miss daily prayers.

The time one would spend watching television, listening to music or playing sports should be spent in prayer, contemplation and religious study. Muslims should read one thirtieth of the Koran each day so as to complete the reading over this 30-day fasting period. The time spent in devotion to God will help keep one in tune with the inner spirit of the fast.

Traditional Ramazan drummers wake faithful Muslims to begin their fasting.

Traditional Ramazan drummers wake the faithful so they can eat before beginning the fast.

Conduct During Ramazan

If you aren't observing the Ramazan fast, there is still etiquette you should practice as a foreigner in Turkey.

Don't eat or drink anything in public during fasting hours in the month of Ramazan, or in front of someone who is fasting. Obviously, this is impolite. Many restaurants in Turkey serve food for those who are not observing the fast, so it's okay if you eat in one of them. If you smoke, you should do so out of sight if you can.

Driving

Avoid driving during Ramazan. If you must drive, be even more cautious than you usually are. During the afternoons, those fasting will have low blood-sugar levels and a lower level of alertness. The lack of food, and nicotine in the case of regular smokers, can cause more aggressive behavior than usual. Şeker Bayram, (sheh-kehr by-rahm), or the "sugar holiday," occurs the week after Ramazan, and most Turks visit family. This causes the roads to be congested, and a lot of traffic accidents. Avoid driving during Şeker Bayram as well.

Ramazan as a Boy's Name

Ramazan is a popular name for Turkish men. Baby boys born during the month of Ramazan are usually named Ramazan.

The Ramazan Drummers

Drummers have been a part of Turkish traditional culture year round, but especially during the month of Ramazan. Turks who intend to fast for the day need to wake up before the start of the fast and eat the Sahur (sah-her), a hearty breakfast to help make it through the day. And even though most anybody can afford an alarm clock, traditional Ramazan drummers still stroll the streets, beating a large drum, to wake the cook of the household so she (it is practically always a she) can make breakfast and wake the other family members so they can eat. The drumming starts at around 3:00 AM. Some drummers sing while beating their drums.

Every district in most every city and town has a drummer. At the end of the fasting month, on the first day of Bayram, also called the Sugar Festival, the drummers do their drumming during the day, knocking on every door in their district. That's when the believers tip the drummers for the service they have provided during the fasting month.

Istanbul alone has about 1,000 Ramazan drummers, and there is a big rivalry among them. They try to sing the best songs and wake the people at the most appropriate time. In order to be able to do that, some drummers work as a two-man team riding on a motorcycle. While one of them drives the motorcycle, the other rides in the back seat beating the drum.

When the fast ends in the evening, just after dark, a cannon is fired in most cities and towns to let everyone know it is time to break the fast. At around this time, everyone rushes to a restaurant where they will have the İftar meal, breaking their fast. During this time you may see people with knife and fork in hand, poised over their meal, waiting to hear the cannon go off. When it does, they begin eating heartily.

Another way of knowing the fasting time is over is by looking at the minarets on a cami (jah-mee), or mosque. In the evening, minarets are illuminated when the fast is broken and kept lit until the fast begins again the next morning.

A video depicting and explaining the tradition of the Ramazan drummers.

If you're wondering what the drummers sing while they drum, here's an example of one drummer's song as he walks through town to collect his tip the day after Ramazan ends:

I got out into the street with the name of God
Giving greetings to the right and the left
Oh my stately gentle folk
Blessed times are upon us.
Your drummer has come to the door
He gives greeting to everyone
Don't be upset my dears
He's come to collect his tip.
This month is called Sultan month
Sweet with cream and honey is eaten.
It's been a custom for all time
That a tip is given to the drummer.

After the Iftar meal, Turks enjoy the evening at a fair in a local park in Turkey.

A Ramazan carnival in Antalya, Turkey.

Ramazan Evening Festivities

If you're not a Muslim and you get tired of being awaken by drummers at zero-dark-thirty every day, know that Ramazan also has fun side. Municipalities and private organizations both put on special public İftar dinners, in which anyone can participate, although some are invitation-only. If you are invited to one, it is an honor that should not be declined. Those who don't attend these special dinners often go to the grounds of a mosque or a park, and have a picnic.

Additionally, every large city and most towns have an evening celebration, which is much like a county fair. There you can enjoy excellent food, concerts, exhibitions, and carnival rides. You don't have to participate in the day's fast to come and enjoy the evening's events, so be sure to find out what's happening during Ramazan in your city or town, then go out and have some fun!


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Ken,

Excellent & well-written article!  I was in Turkey for the beginning of Ramazan this year.  It's always something to see the great effort that the faithful put in for the month of fasting & personal/self reflection. 

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