The Experience of Ramadan in Turkey

Ramadan, also known as Ramazan in Turkish, is a month of spiritual reflection, self-improvement, and heightened devotion and worship. Spending the holy month of Ramadan in Turkey would undeniably be a memorable experience. You can learn about the local culture, appreciate the Islamic traditions and festivities, and taste authentic Turkish cuisine during Ramadan in Turkey.

What Happens in Turkey During Ramadan?

The spiritual atmosphere of Ramadan is like no other. Ramadan is celebrated and lived with great enthusiasm in Turkey every year. The spiritual atmosphere of the city gives peace to its visitors with the reflection of sharing, love, and tolerance. Cities shine with the illumination of mosques, and lively festivities with a variety of activities, fairs, exhibitions, and shopping.

For different causes, societal developments have had a significant impact on Ramadan celebrations and iftar feasts. Only memories of a few people of a certain age live on, yet many customs, from iftar gatherings to festivities remain constant.

Iftar Invitations

Iftar is a spiritual sharing that extends well beyond food. Iftar brings together families, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, the affluent, and the underprivileged throughout the month.

Traditionally, iftar invitations in Turkey start with inviting the older relatives, then other relatives, close neighbors, and in rural areas in particular such important members of society as the village headman, teacher, imam, watchman, and shepherds. Invitations were also sent to widows, orphans, those who had no living relatives, and the destitute.

It’s a telling sign of Islam’s tolerance since iftar invites may be extended to rich and poor, even non-Muslims, regardless of whether they’re fasting or not.

Ottoman-Style Iftar 

Iftar dinners, which preserve the remnants of the spectacular iftars of the past and convey a bittersweet delight of nostalgia, continue to be a touristic and cultural event in hotels in major cities throughout Ramadan.

To recreate the atmosphere of the ancient Ramadan nights, such hotels particularly decorate their dining halls and choose the meals and drinks for these evenings, known as “İftar Sofrası” (Iftar table) from Ottoman Turkish cuisine. The guests are served by waiters in traditional costumes. After the meal ends, a fasıl ensemble performs strains of Islamic mystic music. At this point, coffee or tea is served, and the ensemble continues its program with religious music.

Additionally, perhaps not as extravagant but almost every Turkish restaurant in Turkey prepares special menus for the iftar meal.

Collective Iftar Meals

Local municipalities in many Turkish cities host large-scale iftar feasts for the entire community to gather and enjoy the evening feast altogether. Everyone is welcome to join, and foreigners and non-muslims are frequently invited to these special feasts to learn more about Muslim culture.

Tarawih Prayer

The enthusiasm for the Ramadan tarawih prayers (teravih in Turkish)  can be felt in all the mosques as they get crowded after iftar, especially in Istanbul. Now as of 2022, the magnificent Hagia Sophia opened its doors to the first tarawih prayers after 88 years!

Ramadan Themed Festivities

A variety of fairs and cultural events are organized in major cities throughout Turkey during Ramadan, such as book fairs, exhibitions, poetry nights, traditional art events, calligraphers’ events, whirling dervishes performances, Sufi music, and religious talks that liven the spirit of this holy month. 

How Different is Ramadan in Turkey?

Turkey is home to unique traditions that belong to Ramadan such as firing cannonballs at sunset, drummers waking people up for sahur, glowing texts in the sky, folklore shows, gifts of silver and gold coins, and Ramadan-specific foods and beverages.

Cannonball Launching

The cannon firing’s importance is to alert people to the start of iftar so that they can break their fast. This customary cannon fire is launched when the call to Maghrib prayer is issued, indicating that it is time for iftar.

Ramadan Drummers

Throughout Ramadan in Turkey, the sound of drums may wake you up before daylight. Before smartphones and advanced alarms, traditional drummers roamed the city streets banging on their drums to wake people up in time for sahur. These drummers may still be seen and heard in many areas today, and they are generally rewarded with gifts, money, or food from those who value their efforts.

Mahya Art

Mahya masters welcome the adored month of Ramadan by illuminating the minarets of mosques in Istanbul and around Turkey with glowing messages of faith that appear as if they were written in the sky. People gather in mosque gardens after the tarawih prayer to view the mahyas. Mahya is about the sense of faith and the spirit of brotherhood shared during the month of Ramadan, in addition to being visual art. 

Hacivat and Karagöz Show

The Hacivat and Karagöz show is a puppet show regarded as a memorable and humorous Ramadan experience for children. Hacivat and Karagöz are two significant fictional characters of Ottoman theater history. Particularly during the month of Ramadan, this show becomes a must-see and its characters are loved by the Turkish people.

Diş Kirası

Rooting from an old tradition of the Ottoman times, after the iftar meal, wealthy hosts may give gold or silver coins in pouches to guests in need. During the Ottoman days, the sultan would give his guests red silk pouches containing gold or silver coins, known as “diş kirası”. Gifting these pouches was a way for the host to express gratitude to the guests for accepting the invitation, as it is believed that feeding people during Ramadan will be rewarded immensely by God. 

Ramadan-Specific Dishes and Beverages

Ramadan is not only associated with fasting, but also with the distinct tastes that garnish iftar feasts. Special Turkish foods prepared for Ramadan’s iftar tables include pide bread, güllaç dessert, and refreshing sherbets.

  • Pide: Pide is a must for breaking fast. This puffy and circular bread is made from white flour and topped with sesame and nigella seeds. Although it’s consumed all year long, Pide bread demand soars during the holy month and especially right before Iftar, you will find very long queues in front of bakeries during rush hour. Waiting in line at local bakeries to pick up this high-in-demand bread piping hot out of the oven just in time for the fast-breaking meal has always been a solid tradition surrounding Ramadan.
  • Güllaç: is a dessert that is commonly prepared during the month of Ramadan and is usually served to guests. Consisting of thin sheets of dried cornstarch, flour, and water, güllaç is then soaked in milk and rose water, layered with walnuts, and decorated with pomegranate seeds. Güllaç is the most popular dessert in Ramadan since it is light and easy to digest.
  • Sherbet: is what Turks look for to quench their thirst in Ramadan. Inherited from the Ottoman era, Sherbets are created with different fruit pressings, nutritious herbs, and spices. This beverage is ideal for replenishing the water, minerals, and energy lost during the day’s fast.

Is it Good to Visit Turkey in Ramadan?

If you’re thinking of visiting Turkey during this holy month and wondering how Ramadan affects the city life, then here are several things to know:

Tourist attractions in Turkey have lesser crowds during Ramadan, so that may be an advantage if you want to tour the country.

Museums and other tourist attractions will remain open however, working hours could change.

Some offices and businesses may have shorter working hours, so it is advisable to check opening and closing times in advance.

Shopping centers and supermarkets open and close at normal hours.

Restaurants in bigger cities tend to be open all day for people’s needs and for those who do not fast. Non-Muslims are not expected to fast, so there is no shame in eating and drinking during daylight, though it’s polite to be considerate of others. 

Public transportation in Turkey remains the same during Ramadan. You may only face heavy traffic just before sunset as people are in a rush to reach iftar on time.