Traveling to Turkey in Ramadan

by Abdullah Hakim

in Places,Tips

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As Ramadan gets closer every year to summer, you might wonder if traveling to a Muslim country is a good idea or not. Many people are wondering, “Is it safe?”, “How will Ramadan affect my travel plans to Turkey?” and “Will I be expected to fast all day long as well?” Read on, you may be surprised!

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is a month long Islamic celebration, which involves Muslims worldwide refraining from letting anything pass their lips from sunrise to sunset. This means no eating, drinking or even smoking during daylight hours. Then, in the half hour before sunset, restaurants fill up, blankets are spread in the parks and loaded with food. Upon hearing the call to prayer or a cannon fire, Muslims break their fast with a meal called Iftar.

Ramadan in Turkey

Luckily, compared to Arab countries, Turkey is much less rigid in its rules during Ramadan (and for the rest of the year for that matter!) Unlike some Arab countries, you will not be penalized or jailed for drinking water in a public place.

Tourists in Istanbul and along the west coast cities of Kusadasi, Marmaris and Bodrum may not even notice Ramadan, you’ll see many people (tourists and locals), eating and drinking during the day. Muslims who choose not to fast will not consume in public, but almost all will refrain from alcohol for the entire month.

Visitors traveling around the more conservative areas of central Anatolia, such as Cappadocia and Konya, will notice shorter restaurant hours, folks fasting and big family meals at sunset. Alcohol may not be available, (especially in Konya) during the month.

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Eating, Drinking, Smoking and you

As tourists, you won’t be expected to fast. In some of the more conservative areas hotel kitchens will serve meals during the day, but you might have to enjoy your meals indoors, away from the general public.

Smoking next to a fasting person would be quite frowned upon.

Whether you have fasted all day or not, it’s almost certain you’ll be invited to Iftar, the sunset meal that breaks the days fast. Turks love to share this meal of heaping plates of food, some which is prepared only during Ramadan. Joining a family for Iftar is a great experience, just make sure you don’t dig in until the appropriate time!

Visiting Mosques

This is a really busy time in and around mosques. The whole country casts their eyes towards the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet and the celebrations held there, (a TV channel broadcasts live from the Hippodrome for the whole month). The Eyup Sultan Mosque in Istanbul is busy with activity the whole month. Avoid Fridays and evenings at all mosques–morning and afternoon are best.

The Beat of a Different Drummer

In the wee hours of the morning you may hear the beating of drums up and down the street. This is to wake the faithful for one last meal before sunrise. Some people hate the drums and feel an alarm clock is sufficient. Others love the drums and uphold them as a symbol of Ramadan tradition. The city of Edirne chooses its drummers based on drumming skill, and the drummer wears a uniform to preserve the tradition.

On the Road

Muslims are not expected to fast while traveling, so when the bus makes a rest stop food and drink will be available and you don’t have to feel shy about eating or drinking in public. As some people avoid traveling during Ramadan, you may see the hotels and beaches become less crowded.

The last week however becomes a traveling frenzy as people return home for the big Eid feast. At this time it’s best to avoid the roads, there are a lot of accidents over these three days due to increased traffic.

Special Celebrations = Food!

There’s a lot of colour and activity at night during Ramadan, particularly around the Blue Mosque in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul. Traditional sweets and special dishes will appear at cafes and restaurants. Make sure you try the Gulach, a delicate dessert made with rosewater and walnuts, and the special wheels of “Ramadan bread” prepared with black sesame seeds.

But is it safe to visit Turkey during Ramadan?

Visiting Turkey during Ramadan is like visiting a Christian country at Christmas. Visitors are usually surprised and at times overwhelmed but the generosity and hospitality of the Turks. Generally, visitors traveling Turkey during Ramadan do not regret their decision; they see a slice of Muslim life they would have missed otherwise.

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