Today I am featuring a special blog post by Taskeen from Muslimah By Design about ramadan in Istanbul. Taskeen believes in living with intention and purpose to fulfill our ultimate goal of attaining Paradise. She is passionate about mindfulness and living life fully (food, travel, islam being her favourite topics!) She blogs about ways to enhance her faith, life, travels, parenting, health, body and mind, and cooking!
Alhamdulillah, I’ve had the privilege of spending Ramadan during the last three years in Istanbul, Turkey each with its own unique experience (the last being most memorable as it was at the height of the pandemic where we were in a full lockdown, with two kids under four home Subhanallah!)
Originally from South Africa, I’ve been living in Istanbul since 2016, with my husband and two kids after moving here from the UK. There’s a special atmosphere during Ramadan in Istanbul – but the extent to which you feel it – especially as an expat – depends largely on where you live and how much effort you put in to fully experiencing the special elements of Ramadan that exist in this vibrant city.
For example, because the month isn’t observed strictly by everyone it could even feel like business as usual in some areas especially where we live on the European side. In this way it’s similar to the UK where if you wanted to share in the collective spirit of the month, you would go to the local masjid (except here with a language difference it’s slightly trickier to truly integrate!). And as most of us Muslim expats don’t have family here, you would need to act yourself to create a distinguishable atmosphere at home, or invite other expats over to share the blessings of the month with you, which is what we have done too.
However, in neighbourhoods on the Asian side, such as Uskudar you’re more likely to feel the Ramadan buzz with people heading to the masjids at the end of the day to open their fast and pray, stores coming alive during the evening and restaurants filled with people enjoying the special iftaar menu (all pre-pandemic of course).
The highlight of Ramadan for me in Istanbul has to be the open air iftaar picnics we’ve had the pleasure of enjoying with our friends. It is a tradition in Istanbul for families during the weekend to gather for iftaar outside in the courtyards of the large historic masjids like Suleymaniye and The Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet. You need to arrive early to find a spot on the lawn to put down your picnic mat and goodies – and some even bring tables, chairs and have a pot of cay (tea) brewing in time for iftaar. At Maghrib, with the adhan being recited out loud, everyone opens their fast together with their family or group of friends outside under the night sky, before heading inside to pray salaah. It’s an absolutely beautiful and enjoyable way to partake in the blessed meal of iftaar. Sometimes there is also a formal programme with talks by speakers, nasheeds and other presentations. Another awesome event I enjoyed was the night ‘Ramadan Market’ in Sultanahmet, which is a collection of little huts selling Eid gifts, Ramadan speciality dishes like ‘Şerbet’ (rose water drink), ‘güllaç’ (creamy layered pastry dessert with pistachio) and other goods from local artisans. It’s really a lot of fun to browse through after dinner, and I will miss it again this year given the present lockdown conditions.
Another very interesting event in Istanbul, is the free mass iftaar offered by the municipality at certain local masjids outside in the courtyard (pre-pandemic of course!) Dates and a simple meal are provided for all as well as special ‘Ramazan pide’ (Turkish flatbread with a lot of barakah!) and water. We attended one year and it was a great learning experience for me being an “outsider” at a community gathering for a change – as coming from back home in South Africa with a really strong Muslim community, I took it for granted that I would always “belong” and I wonder whether I was open and welcoming to anyone new joining me at a regular gathering- or was I too wrapped up catching up with my cousins and friends to notice? This time, in Istanbul it was on me to try to connect with others, who were there with their own family and people they knew forever, – and it was made slightly trickier given language differences! Either way it was so gratifying to share the Ramadan spirit with other local Turkish Muslims in this way, Allhamdulillah.
This year, I am not sure what the plans are but for certain I will aim to create a Ramadan feeling at home Insha Allah, with some simple décor and activities to involve the children in as well. Cooking wise, I miss having samoosas like we do back home, but there will be plenty ’borek’(flakey Turkish pastry) and ‘sütlaç’, (baked rice pudding) on the menu for us Insha Allah!
Hayirli Ramazan! Wishing you all a blessed, good Ramadan, Insha Allah. Aameen.