ASLI SAĞLAM ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Nearly two weeks into the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and in the crowded city of Istanbul most municipalities have set up tents or opened municipal buildings for fast-breaking iftar dinners, just as in previous years. Yet it seems that this year some are less popular.
Because this year’s Ramadan takes place in summer – the first time in 30 years that it has coincided with high summer – the longer days of summer mean longer hours of fasting. Although fasting will last longer, the queues in front of the municipal tents have been shorter than in previous years.
One municipality-sponsored iftar is in Taksim, the center of Istanbul. Yet despite its central location, it is difficult to find the building. This year the municipality is holding the dinner at the old Beyoğlu marriage office in Gezi Park, but with no promotional information, people are having a hard time finding it.
Those who do find it stand in the queue nearly an hour before they distribute food. At first some women hesitate to get in line because it’s all men. Yet some invite the women to the line, telling them that in fact they have priority.
"I have come here for the first time in my life," Mithat Şalcı told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “Once upon a time I used to give iftars to people. Now I am one of the people who wait for food,” said the 51 year old. When asked if he was fasting, a friend of his, standing next to him, laughed. "That’s something between God and me," Şalcı said.
Sometimes there is not enough food to feed more than 200 people. Most of the time the menu in Taksim consists of soup, rice and vegetables accompanied with bread.
Once people grab the plastic trays they find themselves a place to sit in the park and break their fasts. It’s not only Turkish Muslims who wait to get some food from the iftar tents. An Iraqi family who was traveling in Turkey also took their trays and sat behind a parked car to eat the dry beans and rice. The daughter said the food is nice and the mother expressed her thankfulness.
The crowd in Taksim mostly consisted of young people. There were the first timers and frequenters. Orhan, who tucked the food in his mouth in five spoons, said he was unemployed for a long time. He said he fasted all through Ramadan each year and comes to Taksim to get food.
There are two guards in Taksim’s old Beyoğlu marriage office. Most of the time they guard the doors to prevent fights and people invading the small place. There are people who don’t fast but come to take food, according to one of the guards, who are normally commissioned for the park. One guard said this Ramadan Taksim is really quiet. The shopkeepers selling traditional products in Taksim complained a lot about the smaller amount of visitors. According to them, it was a lack of advertisement. Ayfer Kayatuzu, who brought products from the Black Sea region, said they don’t even see tourists there even though they are right in the center of Taksim.
While the usually bustling area seemed like it was deserted, Sultanahmet was witnessing its most crowded days this year. After many Muslims break their fast, they jump right in to the entertainment that takes place on each street of the area. The crowd, unlike the one in Taksim, is a mixture of each nationality.
A French family, who arrived in Istanbul the day Ramadan started, was sitting on a sidewalk, tired and surprised by the crowd they were in the middle of. “We knew our trip here was coinciding with Ramadan but we actually don’t know anything about Ramadan,” the father said, and added that it was quite surprising that Muslims celebrate something that is affiliated to religion this joyously.
There are 20 times more guards in Sultanahmet than in Taksim. One of the guards, who did not want to give his name, said he had been working in Sultanahmet during Ramadan for more than 10 years and had never faced a security problem. While people who break their fasts in Taksim are asked to throw their plastic trays in the garbage, there are 50 garbage collectors hired to clean the area. District Officer İdris Gençoğlu, who monitors the iftar employees, said they always receive thanks.
Two friends from the Netherlands, visiting Turkey for the first time, said they had never witnessed Muslims in their country celebrating Ramadan so vigorously. “We enjoy it so much,” said Sabine Chu. Janita Van Eyden agreed, nodding her head. The two girls, both 22, who are traveling alone, feel safe, even though it’s their first time in such a crowd in a foreign country.