Istanbul gears up for Ramadan

( ) Updated: 2012-07-20 10:03:03

A carnival atmosphere starts prevailing in Istanbul as Muslims' holy month of Ramadan is drawing near.

About 3,000 mosques in Istanbul are decorated with colorful lights for night illumination. Restaurants are busy preparing their Ramadan menus and street booths are ready to join the Ramadan night celebration with sales of traditional Turkish food such as dry fruit, kebabs and sweets.

Over 98 percent of Turkey's total population of 74 million are Muslims. Turkey's biggest city Istanbul, with more than 10 million Muslims, is getting ready for Ramadan.

Ramadan, Muslims' annual month of fasting, is going to start from July 20 this year. During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from food and drink from dawn to dust, which is a very important religious practice in Islam.

Istanbul's food markets eye more sales recently since people start shopping for food to prepare "iftar" (fast-breaking meal) and "sahur" (pre-dawn meal).

According to the official statement of Turkish Tradesmen and Artisans Confederation, during Ramadan Turkey's food business will expect an nearly-30-percent increase and around 4 billion extra Turkish Liras (about 2.2 billion U.S. dollars) will flow into food markets.

Turkish Deputy Health Minister Mustafa Ozturk suggested people keep their normal eating habit and adopt balanced diet with more vegetables and fruits during Ramadan.

Ozturk advised people not to break their fast with intensive eating and drinking. It is better to start iftar with soup and then wait half an hour before the main course.

Tuba Saka, a computer engineer, told Xinhua that she felt that Istanbul in Ramadan was especially beautiful. She would go to iftar parties with friends and share the happiness of breaking fast.

Ugur Celik, a graduate student from Istanbul's Fatih University, said his willpower could be strengthened and he felt psychologically stronger during Ramadan.

"Also, I would experience the hunger and thirst that the poor feel. Fasting Muslims became more compassionate for the people in need and usually donate money to the charity during Ramadan," Celik said.

Recent years have seen Turkey's religious trend growing stronger since the ruling Justice and Development Party comes to power, and many fear that Turkey is on the verge of abandoning its secular past set up by the founder and first president of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a devout Muslim graduated from an Islamic school, has carried out a series of policies to restore Turkey's Islamic root.

Last month, Turkey's Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning approved the construction of a large mosque on Camlica hill, one of the most popular tourism sites in Istanbul.

Despite strong opposition by the Chamber of Urban Planners, an Istanbul court determined that a new mosque should be constructed in Taksim Square, Turkey's most famous district considered as center of modern Istanbul.

Following Erdogan's comments on restricting abortion, the Ministry of Health is working on a new bill, according to which Turkish women who conduct late abortions beyond 10 weeks will be liable to a prison sentence of up to three years.

In Turkey's latest education reforms, the position of religious schools in the education system is strengthened. Elective courses of Quran and the life of Prophet Muhammad are made available in middle schools and high schools.

Erdogan once openly expressed his intention to "raise religious generation" in Turkey.

No matter if Erdogan's government is meddling religion with politics intentionally, Ramadan is becoming increasingly popular during the reign of the ruling party.

During Ramadan, Istanbul municipalities will organize mass iftar meals and street festivals such as clown and shadow puppet shows for locals. Mosques in Istanbul are ready to hold Tarawih, congregational night prayers performed by Muslims during Ramadan.

Moreover, Ramadan drummers, who used to wake people up for the pre-dawn meal by drumming during the Ottoman times, will once again be in the streets of Istanbul with traditional Ottoman outfits such as fez hats.

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