Turkey prepares for subdued Ramadan in lockdown

By Ilya U. Topper and Dogan Tiliç

Istanbul, Apr 23 (efe-epa).- Ramadan in Turkey starts on Friday as much more than a month of fasting and prayer but this year it will be celebrated behind closed doors.

The religious festival usually boasts plentiful social, political and cultural events that this year have been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A number of debates have been launched about how to uphold social distancing measures while still celebrating the Islamic holiday.

The biggest has been sparked by the banning of thousands of drummers who normally wake residents before dawn so that the community can eat and drink before the sun rises and the day’s fasting begins.

Musicians go door to door to receive a tip or threats from neighbours who want to continue sleeping, a custom that authorities have cancelled this year.

Turkey’s mosques have been closed to all community events from 16 March, which will include the nocturnal prayers or tarawih held during Ramadan.Sadettin Özkan, imam of an Ankara mosque, tells Efe: “Tarawih was an important cultural event, beyond prayer.

“The whole neighbourhood came to the mosque, mothers, fathers and children together.”

He adds sadly: “Ramadan used to close the gap between Muslims.

“I fear that this year, as believers cannot meet in the mosque, that social distance will remain.”

Iftar, the meal eaten when the fast is broken at sunset, usually brings the community together at public tables.

The feast has become a social, political and even a public relations event with political parties and community institutions often filling squares with tents to serve free dinners, in keeping with the custom of charitable giving during Ramadan.

With these gatherings banned this year people have turned to technology to carry out acts of charity.

Tunç Soyer, mayor of Izmir city, tells Efe on the phone: “We have developed a technology iftar: with one click on the municipal website you can donate 20 liras (about 3 euros), a sum that we complete from the city council to send a package of two dinners to someone in need, on behalf of the donor.”

Travel between Turkey’s 31 provinces has also been banned, meaning families living in different areas cannot come together for the celebrations.

There are normally huge numbers of people travelling on the country’s motorways at this time of year, which also causes a high number of traffic accidents.

Although Turkey’s containment measures do not have an end date, many hope they will be able to relax the restrictions before Ramadan ends this year on May 24.

Turkish airlines has flown to 59 countries to bring home 25,000 citizens who wanted to spend Ramadan as a family.

They will all have to undergo a 14-day quarantine but will at least be able to reunite with their loved ones for the final celebrations.

The pandemic has not only suspended the religious acts of Ramadan but also the cultural life that non-believers enjoyed during the numerous events normally held by communities during the holy month.

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