Sunset in the Aegean at Ladies Beach in Kusadasi ... practising Muslims are expected to fast from sunrise to sunset each day during Ramadan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
I am staying in Kuşadasi this week, and once again find myself in Turkey during the month of Ramadan, which began last Wednesday.
This is my second year in Turkey during Ramadan, or Ramazan as it is known in Turkey, although I have also been in Egypt and in Pakistan during this month, and this is a very spiritual time to be in .a country with a predominantly Muslim population.
Kuşadasi is a tourist town,and the surface no-one seems to be affected – the cafés, bars and restaurants are open, and life goes on as normal.
But during Ramadan, practising Muslims are taught that they should not eat, drink, or have sexual relations between dawn and sunset. And so I realise it must tough on the cooks and waiters in hotels, restauraunts and bars as they cook and serve food and watch the tourists eating and drinking troughout the day.
One tradition in many places in Turkey – but not around the hotels above Ladies’ Beach outside Kuşadasi – is the “Ramazan Drummer,” a “human alarm clock” who starts to stroll and beat his drum in the streets around 3 a.m to wake up those who are fasting so that they can rise and prepare the Sahur, the morning meal before sunrise.
The fast of Ramadan is broken each evening with Itfar, which is a celebration and a sharing with the community. In the evening, a cannon booms out to anounce the end of the fast and the beginning of darkness.
Ramadan bread on sale as sunset draws in in Kusadasi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)
Stewed fruits are indispensable foods a both iftar dinners and sahur breakfasts; stuffed bagels are associated with sahur, while Turkish bread is preferred at the evening meal.
But before the evening meal, the fast is traditionally broken with olives and water firstly, with the main meal following later. It is unhealthy to fill empty stomachs with heavy foods, and – in any case – for centuries the olive has been considered a holy food by every religious tradition in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Once the sun goes down, many restaurants become busy with local people who come out to eat with their family members. Or people rush home to be with their families to enjoy the Iftar, or the breaking of the fast.
Many young people use these evenings to meet and visit their friends, and there is often a party atmosphere … although most of this passes unnoticed by the many young Turks in Kusadasi working until well into the night in the hotels, tourist shops and bars, and the young tourists who know little about the spiritual values of fasting and tolerance.
Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin