Written 4 October 2007:
This diary started life as a piece I wrote for Altinkum’s local newspaper, Voices, about Ramazan. I remember when I first came here [ed’s note: in 2006], I didn’t really “get” it as a concept – possibly because most of the people around me didn’t really DO Ramazan. My boss at the time restricted himself to only coffee and cigarettes during daylight hours, but seeing as that’s what his main forms of sustenance were anyway, it wasn’t exactly a massive hardship, I imagine! So remembering that, I thought it might be interesting for non-Muslims in Turkey to hear more about Ramazan, seeing as it has such a big impact on the lives of those taking part. And to best understand it myself, it made sense to give it a try, and document my efforts…
First though, the original article, written September 2007:
Ramazan – Fasting & Feasting
This morning, Muslims all over the world woke up, showered, brushed their teeth, got dressed and set off for work or school like they do every day. But with one crucial difference. Today, and every day until Friday 12th October, our neighbours are fasting.
As visitors or residents in a tourist area, you may not immediately notice any difference between Ramazan and any other time of year – cafes and restaurants will still serve food, bars will serve alcohol – but for those observing the fast (and those close to them) this is an important and challenging time.
All healthy adults are encouraged to join in the fast (“oruç”) by taking nothing into the body during daylight hours. No food, no drink, no cigarettes, no coffee, not even a sip of water, from the time the first call to prayer signifies sunrise, to the time the fourth signifies sunset. Every morning, drummers come round the neighbourhoods to wake fasters in time to eat before daybreak – so light sleepers should find some earplugs if they don’t want to join in!
The fast is supposed to be an opportunity to fast the mind as well as the body – jealousy, anger, dishonesty and other vices are all out, while generosity, patience and thoughtfulness of those less fortunate are in.
In reality the fast can have some interesting side effects – certainly, taking extra care on the roads, around heavy machinery, and serious nicotine addicts is strongly recommended! The fast is extremely challenging, even for those who have done it since late childhood, so try to be considerate of your neighbours when you light up a cigarette, crack open a cold beer or tuck into a sandwich: at least til sundown, try to keep those things to restaurants, cafes, bars and your own home.
Of course, as well as the daytime fasting, Ramazan’s also a time to share good fortune with friends, family and neighbours and you may be invited to join Muslim friends as they sit down in the evening to break their fasts. Expect a table laden with different types of food: soups, main courses, side dishes and dessert, and expect to leave with a very full stomach! But out of respect for your hosts, don’t tuck in until everyone else has had some water and the head of the table has started eating, and keep your glass of wine away from the table until after the meal.
The timetable for Ramazan changes in line with the movement of the earth around the sun. At this time of year, as winter approaches, the sun rises later and sets earlier making each day of fasting slightly shorter. Ramazan falls approximately 11 days earlier each year so in 2008 it will start around the 1st September, meaning longer days – and of course once it falls before the summer solstice, each day of fasting will actually be LONGER than the day before! [ed again: by the time of posting on this blog, 2011, Ramazan covered the whole month of August – just imagine no water all day in 40+ C temperatures!]