Ramadan falls at a different time each year. When living in another culture where the majority follows a different religion, you need to be aware of their special religious holidays and practices.
Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and penitence, fell in July when I first came to Turkey years ago. I had read many books and been told by a few people who had visited Turkey during Ramadan that the majority of Turks kept the fast. “Keeping the fast” means no smoking, no food or water from dawn to sundown. After the breaking of the fast, religious readings are held. These are conducted by religious scholars, whether they are men or women, in segregated congregations. During the month of Ramadan there is an additional prayer where Muslims listen to the recitation of the entire Quran. These prayers are held in mosques every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Quran is recited.
I remember the first time I was in Turkey when it was Ramadan. The days were long and hot, and the streets were not very crowded during the daytime since people preferred to stay inside more. For Muslims, they were long days of abstinence. However, the nights were festive-like with people visiting, socializing and drinking lots of tea.
As the lunar calendar, by which the Islamic feasts are calculated, moves forward through the seasons, Ramadan falls at a different time each year.
Many of our American Today’s Zaman readers have asked me about the beginning of Ramadan, and about the fasting. According to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), here are the details about when the first day of Ramadan begins in America: The astronomical new moon is on July 20, 2012 (Friday) at 4:24 a.m. Universal Time (UT) (7:24 a.m. Makkah time). Sunset at Makkah on July 19 is at 7:05 p.m., while moonset is at 7:11 p.m. The moon is born before sunset in Makkah and moonset is after sunset. Therefore, the first day of Ramadan is Friday, July 20. The first (terawih) prayer will be on Thursday night.
The ISNA website provides a Ramadan glossary. Here are a few of the key words:
Adhan/Azan: Muslim call to prayer
Eid al-Fitr: the festival at the end of Ramadan
Fajr: the dawn prayer that marks the starting of the fast for the day
Iftar: the time when Muslims break their fast as the sun begins to set; coincides with the Maghrib prayer
Laylat al-Qadr: the Night of Power, falls in the last 10 days of Ramadan. It is the night in which the first verse of the Quran was revealed
Maghrib: the sunset prayer that marks the ending of the fast for the day
Masjid: mosque, Muslim place of worship
Ramadan: the holy month of fasting
Sadaqah: charitable giving (not obligatory, like zakat)
Sehri/suhoor: the pre-dawn meal
Terawih: evening prayer held only in the month of Ramadan where 1/30 of the Quran is read daily until completion at the end of the month
In the past, the news of a new moon sighting and that Ramadan had begun spread quickly by radio, taxi and horseback throughout the countryside, but today in our high-tech urban life people see the news on lighted billboards, television screens and smartphones.
If it is your first time experiencing living in a Muslim country, be ready for some noise. I will never forget how I was startled awake during my first Ramadan here by the thunderous noise of drum beats outside my bedroom window. There were even some rifle shots and loud knocking on the neighbors’ doors. Nowadays, rifle shots are not so common in urban areas, but your neighbors may be waking early to have their pre-dawn meal. The tradition of drummers continues; however, it is gradually being outlawed in some cities around Turkey. For centuries it has been a tradition to play drums early in the morning to wake people for their meals before the day’s fast begins. As more and more people have alarm clocks, the drummers are not appreciated as much as they used to be.
Wondering about how Muslims know when to eat? You can read my article published on Sept. 14, 2007 in Today’s Zaman titled “İftar: Breaking the fast (not breakfast!)” to learn about iftar, the time to break the fast.
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]