Tuesday marks the start of Ramadan, or Ramazan in Turkish, for most of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims.
This holiest of months is when the Ku’ran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammed. Each year, Muslims go through their own spiritual reawakening.
For the next thirty days, all healthy Muslims will fast during daylight hours, which means not eating or drinking anything from sunrise to sunset.
They will use this time for quiet introspection: to reflect on their lives and consider ways to become a better human being, and to rekindle their relationship with God.
During this month of abstinence, they will practice patience and seek to break with break bad or sinful habits.
They will instead read the Ku’ran, praying, and aim to become more compassionate through acts of charity and kindness.
T-VINE asked two British Turks, Havva Baskal and Mustafa Kureyşi, when they consciously became practising Muslims, what Ramazan means to them, and how they plan to experience this holy month in Covid conditions. Havva and Mustafa also offer tips to those fasting for the first time.
Havva Baskal is the co-founder of Sultanesque, artisan jewellers inspired by Ottoman motifs.
I’m 34 years old and it’s quite difficult to define exactly when it was that I became a ‘practicing Muslim’ as it was a gradual process.
I first started praying when I was approximately 22 years old, which started as a ‘prayer a day’, to eventually the full five.
I remember when I first started praying five prayers a day, I was in my first job after graduating from university and feared that I’d lose my job if I requested to pray at the allocated times during working hours, so I’d pray all five accumulated prayers at home after work.
After some time, once I gathered the courage, I made the request and to my surprise the company director was supportive and offered the board room as a prayer space when empty. It wasn’t ideal, but I appreciated the solution.
Fast forward to other places I’ve worked at since, and some employers have provided a prayer room and even a prayer mat for practising employees. It’s quite liberating.
I first started fasting when I was 11 years old, though it wasn’t mandatory at that age I used to observe voluntary fasts because I loved breaking my fast with the rest of my family and the spiritual feeling it gave me.
I have vivid memories tuning in to London Turkish Radio at sunset and listening to the fast breaking dua [prayer] before tucking into steamy lentil soup and crusty çörek [seeded Cypriot bread] bought from Yasar Halim earlier that day.
I must’ve gotten used to fasting over the years due to starting young, so I don’t find fasting too difficult, I can naturally go without eating until noon, when my stomach starts to rumble.
However, my husband has always struggled with fasting and he’d say that it’s the most difficult part of the Islamic practices for him. Though masAllah, he perseveres and observes the full monthly fast every year.
For anyone planning to fast for the first time I’d advise that they begin to minimise the amount of caffeine and sugar they consume gradually in the run up to the day they’ll be fasting, and to drink plenty of water to remain hydrated. This will prepare the body and reduce the likelihood of getting withdrawal symptoms, such as a headache.
I’d also suggest that they eat a very nutritious sahur [pre-dawn] meal before sunrise, containing low GI [Glycemic Index] foods which will keep them feeling fuller for longer.
Ramazan is my favourite time of the year. It’s a time for spiritual reflection and rejuvenation, self-improvement and growth as well as heightened devotion and worship. It’s a time to connect on a deeper level with Allah through prayer, fasting and charity. Ramazan reminds us to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice and empathy to those that are less fortunate.
It’s also such an overwhelmingly comforting feeling knowing that I’m observing the holy month of Ramazan in unity with Muslims all over the world.
The night prayers are my favourite; the inner peace and level of calm I feel when waking up for these special prayers during Ramazan is unmatched.
Last Ramazan was spent under lockdown conditions and it was tough not being able to gather with family to break fasts and attend the mosque for Teravi [Tarawih] prayers together. It’s these experiences that add a special layer of inner peace, happiness and contentment during the holy month.
This year will be similar, so we will make an active effort to build a dedicated prayer space at home for Teravi prayers. As for fast breaking meals, it’ll be another year without my mother’s delicious food, though I’m sure we’ll be visiting her doorstep for fresh börek[pastries] pick-up pre iftar!
Mustafa Kureyşi is the chair of Cezire Association, a British Turkish Cypriot cultural organisation formed in 2008 that is dedicated to researching and raising awareness of Turkish Islamic heritage on the island of Cyprus.
I’m 35 years old and was fortunate having been raised from a young age with Islam being central to home life.
Though I wouldn’t label myself with terms such as ‘practising’, being taught the fundamentals of the religion from a young age made it easier for me to know my religion and to choose to implement it in my life more so growing up.
There was no one transitional point, it is an ongoing process with my aim being to constantly improve.
During Ramazan, Turks in Cyprus and Anatolia traditionally would ask if one is fasting: “Niyetlisin?” [Do you have the intent?], and if one is fasting the response will be, “niyetliyim” [I have intention].
Intention is an essential point to remember; we intend to fast to gain the pleasure of our Creator (Allah). Without such intent, we will not gain spiritual nourishment, only hunger.
This would be my humble reminder for those intending to fast for the first time. Intention will give us the focus and drive to accomplish what may seem to be a difficult task.
When I did my military service in North Cyprus, Ramazan was in the middle of summer, yet I believe Allah made it easy for me and the others fasting. If we put our mind to a task with pure intent, we will find that we are much stronger than we would have expected.
After a few days, your stomach will shrink and it will get easier. You will notice that without food your system will be cleansed and without the distraction of lunch, you will have a lot more time in the day to focus on other tasks.
The meaning of Ramazan for me is fundamentally fulfilling what God has prescribed for me as a Muslim – one who submits to God.
Other than the fundamental reasoning, Ramazan is also a blessed time where one aims to worship and remember God more regularly than on other months. It’s a month to work on developing self-discipline, gathering with family and friends to break our fast, iftar, and a time for giving charity and to remember those unfortunate enough to regularly live in a state of hunger.
Ramazan under the coronavirus restrictions has meant limited community interactions, such as worship at mosques and mixing with family and friends.
Though last year it did bring many surprises. It meant I could spend an increased amount of time with my family, which has been a positive outcome of the lockdown.
At a community level, I noticed that Turkish Cypriots were uniting on social platforms, and interest in Islam and their heritage increased.
There were more requests for my association, Cezire Derneği [Cezire Association] to appear online and on television, so awareness about the association and our work rose to an all-time high during lockdown. As a result, 2020 was our most active year to date!