Imagine going an entire day without eating or drinking anything. Now imagine going an entire month without eating during each day. Finally, imagine that you are doing all this in the midst of summer, with scorching temperatures and the longest days of the year. This is exactly what Muslims around the world do each year during the month long celebration of Ramadan.
Now that you have an idea of what people feel like during Ramadan, perhaps you'd also enjoy a brief background. Ramadan is a religious holiday for Muslims, which this year lasts from July 9th to August 7th. The dates of the holiday vary per year based on the Islamic calendar, which is based on a lunar calendar and the rotation of the moon. During the month of Ramadan, people choose to hold uruch, which means they hold a strict fast in which the may not eat or drink anything including water while the sun is shining. The purpose of fasting, just as for Christians, is to practice self-control and cleanse the body and mind while furthering their relationship with God. Fasting helps Muslims with their spiritual devotion as well as in developing a feeling of kinship with other Muslims.
Since Turkey has very little religious diversity: 99.8% of the country is Muslim, with a tiny minority of Jewish and Christian peoples, it feels like the entire country participates in this celebration.
At 8:43pm in Bursa, everything stops. In a city of 1.7 million people, for about a half an hour, the streets are vacant. The storefronts are abandoned. The people are silent. Here in Bursa, nearly everyone waits in anticipation for 8:43, the exact time when the sun goes down and they can end their daylong fast. In the center of the city, at the exact moment of sunset, canons are fired, and people feel joy and relief.
The fast ends with an evening meal called iftar. Iftar is a time for family and food, and there is a multitude of both. The meal is more like a feast, with several courses which includes soup, salad, a main course, and the special Ramadan pide bread-flat soft and really tasty. Even though I haven't fasted, I really love joining them for the feast. The last few nights I have been out visiting with family and friends until around 2 a.m.!
Tonight's iftar meal just ended, and I'm looking forward to continuing the tradition of iftar for the rest of Ramadan. Each night, we huddle around a table placed on the tiny balcony apartment. As soon as the clock changes and we hear the evening call to prayer (which is an announcement made by all the mosques), my family immediately downs their water glasses as I watch in awe. As we sit elbow to elbow, enjoying the assortment of food, my family and I have conversations in fragments of English and Turkish. There is just something so special about 5 family members huddled around a small table enjoying a meal together. And that's how I'm starting to feel- like family.