Ramadan traditions in the Ottoman era

Published 25.06.2016 00:18
Updated 25.06.2016 00:21

Turkey is getting ready to bid farewell to Ramadan, the "sultan of the 11 months," as the traditions that make up the Ottoman legacy for Ramadan seem to fade away one by one. Even though the preservation of some of these traditions is an ongoing effort in Turkey, it is a well-known that Ramadan has a completely different spirit today than was present in the Ottoman Era. During those times, Ramadan was considered the month of unity, understanding and help. Cultural activities such as shadow plays, dervish performances, mahya illuminations, tooth rentals, especially good behavior towards people of other backgrounds and many other Ottoman traditions made the Ramadan the Sultan of the other months.

Mahya Illuminations

Lights strung between minarets with message of welcome and farewell to Ramadan are one of the most symbolic features of the holy month. Mahya culture first started from the minarets of the Sultanahmet Mosque under the reign of Sultan Ahmet I and it turned into such a fascinating welcome and farewell that it quickly became a custom. Since there was no electricity in those days, there was one man called "Mahyacı" to connect the message from one minaret to the other with ropes, ladders, olive oil lamps and hooks. Mahya illuminations today are among the biggest reminders of Ramadan with many other Islamic messages given from the minarets to Muslims.

Shadow play and Dervish performances The shadow play called Hacivat and Karagöz as well as Dervish performances were the most entertaining activities during Ramadan in the Ottoman Era. In those times, people did not sleep from iftar time until the sahur meal before dawn and these two activities kept people both awake and entertained at the same time. Hacivat and Karagöz are two characters that hold amusing dialogues with each other and make people laugh. Even though the date of its birth is not unknown, the shadow play is believed to have come to Anatolia from Egypt after the Ottoman conquest there. Whirling dervishes, a unique Mawlavi culture symbolizing an ecstatic trance to reach God, were among the activities that people went to watch between the time of iftar and sahur.

Tooth rental Nearly forgotten today, tooth rental culture in Ottoman times was one of the most thoughtful traditions to show unity and solidarity during the holy month. Tooth rental is a gift given to guests who were invited to iftar or sahur meals by host. Money, a gold coin or similar items were given to guests since they has accepted the host's invitation and let him to acquire merits in God's sight and also to show gratitude.

Iftar tables open to all During Ottoman times, iftar tables were open to all people with no discrimination of religion, ethnicity or socio-economic rank. Everyone extended invitations to society and the doors were opened by wealthy people to everyone. All could arrive with no prior notification and those who came were seen as guests of God. People from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, such as Greeks, Armenians and Jews were deemed valuable guests and they faced no discrimination as the real message of Ramadan was unity, tolerance, brotherhood.

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