Rabat – Spending the month of Ramadan in Istanbul is always a unique pleasure. The minarets of mosques located on both sides of the Bosphorus are adorned with mahya*. The lights of mahya render this blessed city even more mesmerizing. The mahyas strung between the two minarets of some mosques read either the names of God or some short sections from our Prophet’s words or some statements such as, “Welcome Ramadan.” Especially the illuminated silhouette of the six minarets of the Blue Mosque [Sultan Ahmed Mosque] during the iftar times greatly intensify the spiritual feelings that dominate this holy city.
Together with the month of Ramadan, the city is blessed with even more abundance. Stores selling dried fruits, food for breakfast or desserts attract even more than usual attention in this month, for olives, cheese, pastries and desserts are the essential provisions of iftar meals. Each family buys the best foods they can afford for the iftar invitations. In almost all Istanbul’s neighborhoods, the beautiful smell of freshly-baked pide – a flatbread peculiar to Ramadan- coming from bakeries have people lining up in front of them. The beautiful friendships established while waiting on these lines and conversations made are a joy unique to Ramadan.
While the sky begins to slightly darken, people who exercise their willpower to abstain from food and drinks during the day for God’s approval start to gather around dinner tables and await the evening adhan [call for the prayer]. Meanwhile the eyes observe the lights on the mosques’ mihrabs: When the iftar time begins, the lights are turned on.
In Islamic communities, it is a tradition to break the fast with olive or date palm, and of course, water. The iftar tables that resemble the tables of great feasts make people give thanks to God for all the provisions He endows.
It is customary to go on a visit during the iftars. Before the iftar begins, the oldest person at the table makes the iftar prayer, then everyone starts to eat his meal. The essential foods available on the iftar tables are breakfast food, soups and the desserts customary to Ramadan such as gullac. Such food enlivens the palate.
A person who visits Istanbul for the first time in Ramadan feels excited upon hearing the boom during the iftar time. This tradition, which first started in 1821 during the Ottoman Era by firing the cannon located in the Anatolian Fortress, is still being implemented in our day. The cannon and the adhan simultaneously herald the time of iftar.
Keeping such traditions alive is a beauty that makes people feel the spirituality of the Ramadan with a deeper profundity.
The soul of solidarity that this blessed month reminds us of manifests itself in the best form with the huge Ramadan tents put up during the iftars and sahurs. In these tents, put up especially in the main squares of Istanbul, thousands of needy people socialize with one another while breaking their fasts.
After the iftars, the spaces established in the big squares become the scene of entertainments that are part of Ramadan. The entertainments of the Ottoman times are re-enacted and they bring back beautiful memories. Hacivat and Karagoz, the lead characters of the traditional Turkish shadow play, canto, light comedy, and shows of rope dancers and magicians revive the old Ramadan festivities. The month of Ramadan is almost a month of feasting for Muslims. Each night of Ramadan is a distinct celebration, a different beauty.
In the beautiful spiritual atmosphere that it brings, Ramadan, known as the sultan of the eleven months, reminds us of many profound issues that many people forget during the year: Indeed, this spirituality has a great impact, even on those who do not fast, or even non-Muslims. All these customs unique to Ramadan reinforce the sense of spiritual exuberance and become instrumental in making people attain a profound spiritual depth.
* Ramadan Mosque Illuminations
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