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Non-Muslims attempt Ramadan fast in Turkey

Thousands of non-Muslims in Turkey are adapting to a new way of life this week as the month-long period of Ramadan begins.

Source : World Bulletin / 03 Jul 2014

It is during this time of the year – according to the Islamic lunar calendar – that many Muslims across the world welcome the arrival of Ramadan fasting; for the many foreigners living in Turkey it is a time of adjusting to a new way of life.

Ramadan is the most important time of the year for Muslims as the revelation of the Holy Quran to the Prophet Muhammad happened during this month.

The significance of this holy month is felt by most Muslims all around the world and even non-Muslims, some of whom have tried fasting to deepen their understanding of this important tradition.

"Ramadan to me signifies spirituality, empathy, discipline, sharing and family happiness," says Felister Gesare Orangi, a 23-year-old student from Kenya.

Having spent three years in Turkey, she previously fasted for around two weeks during Ramadan. She said she was honored to be invited for evening meals by the families of friends and for the iftar – fast breaking – dinners specially arranged by her university for its international students.

"For me, Ramadan is important for three reasons: inner strength; empathy; and reflection. Having to fast for more than 14 hours strengthens you to be disciplined in the face of temptations; it cultivates your empathy – especially for those who do not have as much as you do – and therefore makes us more 

humane and builds your spirituality through the reflection that this is inevitable whenever there is scarcity,"
Felister says.

Izabela Piekarczyk from Poland, who lived for over two years in Turkey, says she participated in two Ramadan periods.

"Living in Turkey and being interested in Islam made my try to fast as the Muslims do – just for a couple of days, though. I have to admit that the first day was the hardest," she says.

"I think the body is not prepared for 14 hours of fasting. I had to work and it was so hot outside. I will never forget the short nap where I dreamed of food for the first time in my life. But I loved the evening ezan [call to prayer] and iftars shared together with my friends."

She says she loved going to Sultan Ahmet square in Istanbul to see happy families sharing their iftar.

Eating fast and heavily after long hours of hunger, however, may turn those pleasant family meals into bad memories says dietitian Ahmet Gurapaydin who describe how it is common to have one meal (known as sahoor), just before sunrise and another (iftar), directly after sunset.

"It is better if you break your fast with a glass of water, which is followed by eating a type of fruit like dates or figs," the dietician says, adding: "Never skip the sahoor meal and avoid the fatty food in the way that you avoid the sins during Ramadan."

He said people should consume more high-protein and low-fat food during this month to be more resistant to hunger.

Many people believe that fasting is beneficial to the health and provides a break in the cycle of rigid habits or overindulgences.

Macedonian student Natasa Petkovska, 27, who is doing an MA in Turkey, believes that the effects of any fasting are extremely beneficial for the psyche from a nutritional aspect. "Maybe the only downside of the Ramadan fast is the nightly binge eating," she adds.

This will be her first fasting experience - except for the time when she tried fasting for the Great Lent, an Orthodox Christian observance - and she says she is eager to attend some special Ramadan organizations with friends.

"Ramadan is a pleasant time for me, because I have been attending a number of nice iftar meals organised by my Turkish Muslim friends, though I have never tried fasting," says Spanish citizen Christian Pablo Martin Asuero, director of the Cervantes Institute in Istanbul, who has spent nine years in Istanbul.

"I respect it as a religious practice, and I completely understand how people can be motivated to stay hungry even during long, hot summer days. It makes them feel an empathy with those who lead a poor life and helps them build 'bridges' between Allah and themselves."

He says the only disadvantage of Ramadan is finding a cab during iftar hours. "Taxi drivers are extremely angry as they cannot smoke for long hours, and we have no choice but to adjust to this new way of life during the month," he adds laughing. 



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