Yesterday the new intern at G.F., Burak, and I went exploring around İstanbul. First we took a walk down İstiklal Street in Taksim, and from there we went to Eyüp.
Eyüp is on the Golden Horn. It is one of the older districts of İstanbul; it still withholds traditional values. It is a very religious area, and there were almost no women without headscarves.
We walked around the district. It was a very charismatic community; the buildings were colorful and had interesting architecture. We waited for İftar - Burak is observing the fast - and then we had dinner at one of the restaurants there. The restaurant put food on the table 5 min before the iftar began because as soon as the evening prayers start people engorge themselves. I know that fasting must be hard. It is HOT here, and going all day without water would kill me. There was a couple at a table near us that were taking pictures holding a water bottle making sad faces.
I have learned a lot about the Islamic faith and community from my stay in Turkey:
1. It is like Christianity in the sense that there are religious crazies, there are people that occasionally practice, and there are people that could care less. From my experience, there isn't an abundance of any of the categories. For example, in my office there are only 4 people fasting (that's out of 25). There are at least 5 other people that don't even practice the faith. The rest I either don't know, or they sometimes practice.
2. Just because you are a Muslim doesn't mean you wear a headscarf. It is a choice. One of my American friends also explained to me that the way the scarf is tied has political significance. I'm not exactly about the truth of this, but it is possible.
3. Praying 5 times a day is a lot for most people. This is no different for Turks. People stronger with their faith might take a moment to be silent and pray during the prayers, but most don't go to Mosque at that time. Nor does life "stop"; people who aren't praying go on with what they're doing.
4. Ramadan (this has it's own subcategories!):
a). This is the time that Muslims reflect on how poor people live. Poor people cannot afford the luxuries of eating all of the time, drinking, smoking, chewing gum, etc. Thus, Muslims also give up these things between sunrise and sunset.
b). It lasts about 30 days (this year is 29).
c). This is the last month of the Islamic calendar, and there is a big festival at the end that lasts 3 days (?) to signify the new year.
d). Every year Ramadan shifts 10 days closer to January. Next year Ramadan will start in July.
e). The fasting period is the hardest in the summer because the days are longer. This year the days are about 16 hrs.
f). The nights are the best part! There are fairs/festivals every night of Ramadan. There's food, live music, and other sorts of entertainment.
g). The morning meal before the fast is sahur. The evening meal after the fast is iftar.
i). Just because you are a Muslim doesn't mean you fast. It is, of course, a choice, but it is strongly encouraged.
k). Pregnant women don't fast. There are pregnant women in my office that would normally fast, but it is not healthy (but back in the day it didn't matter). Young children don't fast either. Girls start when they are 12ish, boys when they are 14ish
*This is information given to me from people around my office. This could very well be different for other Muslims. I am not saying that all of this is true for EVERY Muslim. It is simply what I have gathered!
I have pictures but my blog isn't registering that there are pictures. ARRGGG!!!! I will try to post them later.