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August 02, 2012, Thursday

Ramadan relationships and food

Special holidays are the time when we like to spend the day with our relatives and close friends. For me, it’s “Christmas time,” and for my Muslim friends, it’s the month of Ramadan.

I have received a few questions about Ramadan from foreigners and will attempt to answer these below.

These days with modern technology it is easy to make lots of friends. For instance, you can have many friends such as childhood friends, college friends, neighborhood friends, work-related friends and international friends. Some of these friends you may never have met, and others you may not have seen in years. It’s possible social networks like Facebook and Linked-In brought you together. It’s important to not confuse breadth of friendship with depth of friendship.

If you have spent any time in Turkish culture, you will have observed that loyalty in Turkish culture is crucial. It is the most basic social structure of family and friendship. As I have traveled around the Middle East, I have noticed that friendship is formed for many positive reasons: one of them being the expectation of mutual help. For example, if a favor is done for someone, the person, and generally, the family will be obliged to remember it. You’ll probably be invited round at Ramadan for a fast-breaking meal (iftar). Also, businesses and organizations may host an iftar at a restaurant for important contacts. It is an honor to be invited, and one should never refuse.

If it is your first time attending an iftar, let me explain to you what it involves. Do not eat much before you go because the iftar is usually a huge meal. You may expect there to be little interest in food during a month of fasting, but the reverse is true! Women take great pride in preparing their very best cuisine. You’ll be served dishes that are usually not seen the rest of the year. I’ll just share a few of my favorite dishes at this time:

Ramadan pide, a special bread, is at the top of my list. You’ll see lines of people waiting outside the bakery before iftar to purchase some loaves. It’s rare to see anyone just buy one!

Güllaç is a Ramadan dessert and is one of my weaknesses. It is one of those dishes I will never try to make as it just would not be the same, but I love eating it. It consists of very thin, large layers of dough put in milk and rose water. It is served with pomegranate seeds and walnuts. I read on Wikipedia that the legend is that the extra layers of thin dough were prepared with a prayer as it was believed that without the prayer it would be impossible to separate the phyllo dough.

A delicious dish I have only eaten at Ramadan is İslim Kebabı, eggplant wrapped meatballs. You never seem to come across it on a menu in most restaurants. If I am wrong, post a comment and tell me where!

You will usually see a beautiful display of a variety of nuts, olives and dried fruit such as apricots, dates and raisins and more.

As you travel around İstanbul, you will see tents set up in the major squares in the city. These are iftar tents that during the month will serve hundreds of thousands of people who have kept the fast and not made it to their home or respective place for iftar. The municipality has set these tents up to bring people together in the evening.

Expats who are new to this part of the world have been asking me questions about Ramadan and why the tents are in the squares and why Muslims fast for a month. From what I have read and understand about Islam, it seems to me that Ramadan is a month where Muslims strive to be closer to God. The verse my Muslims friends usually quote is: “O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed upon you as it has been prescribed upon those before you, so that you may attain taqwa.”(Quran 2:183) This refers to having a fearfulness that acts as a shield or barrier to help an individual from disobeying God. Evidently, the more a person has attained this state, the stronger their faith. I invite our Muslim Today’s Zaman readers to elaborate since I am not a Muslim.

Ramadan is a blessed month for Muslims. You’ll see signs in Turkish on buildings and banners draped over main roads which read something to this effect: May your Ramadan be blessed!

One thing is certain about special holidays: You can bet most are with their closest friends and family.

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: [email protected]

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