The Ramadan feast is not a time for doing what we couldn't do during Ramadan. The rules of abstaining from eating and drinking during daytime during the month of Ramadan make way for rules of restraint. The Ramadan feast is not a time for excessive eating. Yet, it may turn into one if you are a Mediterranean Muslim. Muslims in and around the Mediterranean in general and Turks in particular love to host guests, and for us hosting means plying people with food. Feast times are times to visit family, friends, neighbors, the ill, the elderly and scholars. Visiting somebody is almost conditional on eating something. Feast times are sharing times and we like to share our tastes.
In Turkey and Syria the main delicacy to be shared during the Ramadan feast is baklava. Baklava is a multilayered flaky pastry with walnuts or pistachios and soaked in sugary syrup. It is customary to prepare baklava for the Ramadan feast and offer baklava to almost everyone who visits. I won't put all the blame for my extra weight on Ramadan baklavas -- certainly members of our fat-cat movement Mesut and Osman have their shares also -- but the baklavas of my late mother are not totally innocent either.
The Ramadan feast starts with a feast prayer, early in the morning at the neighborhood mosque. In Turkey only men attend the feast prayer, while women prepare breakfast. Many people prefer not to eat or drink anything before this breakfast. Men go to the mosque wearing new clothes and shiny shoes. The prayer is colored with extra declarations of the greatness of Allah. During the prayer Muslims accompany every movement with an Allahu akbar -- God is great. During Ramazan Bayramı prayers the number of movements and Allahu akbars increases. After the prayer the imam then delivers a sermon that is cut with similar declarations from the entire congregation. Having learned to wait at the dinner table of the Sultan of Creation and having passed through the training provided by Ramadan, these declarations resemble a collective thanksgiving.
After the sermon the congregation forms a circle in the mosque's yard and everybody greets everybody with a handshake, and in case of relatives, with a warm hug. Youngsters kiss the hands of their fathers and grandfathers. Students show the same respect to their teachers. If there are people on bad terms among the congregation the imam oversees their reconciliation. Thus the Ramadan feast is a time of making peace and socializing in the community.
If there are any elderly and ill in the community who couldn't attend the prayer it is customary to pay them a visit before breakfast. Usually the imam organizes groups of three to five people to make those visits in the name of the whole congregation.
Then come the domestic wishes of a merry holiday: Children kiss countless hands and receive pocket money in return and fathers present gifts to their family members and declare their surprise plans for the feast days. These plans usually include visiting family elders and other relatives, going to the movie theater and eating their first lunch in a month out somewhere special.
More often than not the Ramadan feast also means relatives visiting from abroad -- in my childhood, abroad meant Germany -- who often come home for the holiday. Their arrival adds an extra something to the holiday. Children of the same age re-establish their friendships and mothers start endless chats about what happened last year in the village, city and the country.
A time for visiting and remembering
This is the last of my Ramadan Notes series for this year. Many notes recorded here were personal and were not meant to be taken as examples. Islam is both a science that needs to be studied and a life that needs to be experienced. I wanted to share this second aspect of Islam and Ramadan with my readers. I cannot share the taste of baklava with all of you, but I can share the lyrics of a most famous Azeri feast song with wishes of the best Ramadan Feast:
“The feast comes to my home, to our country,
A song comes to my tongue, to our tongues,
My heart smiles, my country smiles,
A handsome boy plays the guitar, he plays the saz,
All around us are roses and flowers,
The colors are rosy and flowery,
My heart smiles, my country smiles,
A handsome boy plays the guitar, he plays the instrument…”