Fasting from 3am and why it puzzles me in Diyarbakir

It’s around 1.30 in the morning, just after I lay down on my balcony bed, when the Ramadan drummer passes down my street. I don’t fast since I am not religious, but I don’t mind the noise, not even when it wakes me up. On the contrary, I would almost say it’s kind of soothing, and the drummer in my Diyarbakir neighbourhood bangs his drum with a solid, good rhythm, so I just listen and then fall asleep again. But I can’t help but wonder: why is Sahur around three, when the sun only rises some two hours later? Just because the state decided it that way?

Drummer at unspecified time of day so not sure if this is a Ramazan drummer or not.
Drummer at unspecified time of day so not sure if this is a Ramazan drummer or not.

Like I said: I myself am not at all religious. My parents are Catholics, but they stopped going to church long ago – around the same time their three daughters, teenagers at the time, saw no point in going anymore, after being brought up by those very same parents teaching them to always ask questions. But it’s helpful in my life in Turkey that my parents are Catholics. I am asked so often what my religion is, and I so often don’t feel like engaging in  any discussion about having no religion, that ‘I was brought up as a Catholic’ is a practical answer with which I don’t tell any lie.

Sometimes I do tell people that I’m not religious, and if they insist – ‘How can you live without religion?’ – I prefer to put myself in the ‘humanist’ category. Which seems more acceptable where I live now, Diyarbakir, than where I lived before, in Üsküdar, or in other regions in Turkey that I have visited. Which is interesting, because in general I would say in this region people seem to be more religious than in Istanbul.
A Turkish friend from Istanbul, coming from a religious family, who lived in Diyarbakir for some time, once described the difference to me like this: ‘Muslim Kurds are Muslims in the way they are Kurds: it’s part of their natural being, they know both being Islamic and being Kurdish can’t be taken away from them. That’s why they don’t feel the need to make religion political, as Turks often do, and it explains why Kurds seem more open to being not religious. It doesn’t affect them or their beliefs.’

Sunrise and sunset

I’m not sure if that is true (and I’d like to hear your thoughts about it!) but I found it a rather beautiful view that seemed to make sense of my experiences. And if it’s true, does it also explain why religious Kurds don’t seem to question their faith as they are supposed to practice it in Turkey? Because that is basically the question that I can’t seem to find an answer to, and that haunts me again since I heard the Ramadan drummer.

My social circle in Diyarbakir is rather diverse, and I also have some religious friends. They pray five times a day, they fast, don’t drink alcohol, the women cover their heads. Most of them vote HDP – a majority of them also before the last elections – and I know them as open-minded, smart, educated and critical people. So I brought it up this Ramadan: why is Sahur at three, and not right before sunrise? Doesn’t Quran say that you have to fast between sunrise and sunset?

I must admit that I was a little bit disappointed that eventually the answer was: ‘Diyanet has decided it this way’, Diyanet being the state directorate for religious affairs. For me, this naturally marked the end of the conversation. Well, either that or the beginning of a new set of questions from me, but the talk of that evening had been rather intense already (as always here in Diyarbakir, with whomever I talk) so I decided to leave it at that.

Personal matter

What would I have wanted to ask? How can it be that as an ethnically conscious Kurd who supports the struggle for freedom and questions the state on many levels, you take the rules of Diyanet for granted? Don’t you see Diyanet as part of the state’s way of forcing people into one identity? Or am I jumping to conclusions and are you questioning the state’s interpretation of your religion, and if so, on which topics? How can you be obedient to Diyanet and at the same time say you are in favour of full freedom of all religions in Turkey? Why is the abolishment of Diyanet a difficult matter for you (as became apparent earlier in the conversation that evening)? Diyanet is not needed to be able to believe in God, is it? Isn’t religion, and especially Islam, a very personal matter between God and you? Why do you let Diyanet get in between?

Next time I talk to my religious friends, I’m sure we will discuss these topics. As always, it will be a conversation with genuine curiosity about each other’s views and real exchange, in which I learn a lot – and get fresh questions to ponder about while the Ramadan drummer passes by.

2 thoughts on “Fasting from 3am and why it puzzles me in Diyarbakir”

  1. is understand that sahur is necessary as a commitment to the fast, so it needs to be done and in plenty of time before first light if its going to involve a family meal type thing. imsak – the time when there is first light (not the dawn when the sun shows) – is something like 3 to 3.30 in turkey now. so getting up around 1.30 to 2 gives about an hour and a half for the whole thing. there’s no rule about having to get up with the drum, its just custom. I remember being told that the drum is not usual in the muslim or arab world, that it is specifically turkish (so maybe ottoman and pre-diyanet, though maybe still state, but I really am speculating here). I think diyanet determines the official imsak time in turkey, like it does other prayer times, and iftar. in villages, there is no drum, or not usually/necessarily. so there’s an urban/rural aspect to this also. one old village tradition I am told is to put a black and a whit thread to the window – if you can see the difference clearly, there is light, so the fast is on. not sure how that works when there is a moon, but I guess experience is necessary for this skill!

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  2. It is not Diyanet that determines when the fajr (arrival of dawn, start of fasting) is, it just calculates that time. There are also numerous web pages calculating prayer times in Islam and these calculations are based on Qur’an, the sayings of the Prophet (hadith) (peace be upon him) and finally scholarly works following Qur’an and hadith. I agree with the person above (Andy). However, there is a mathematical and astronomical basis for all prayer times. The fajr time is basically when the sun is at 18 degrees below the horizon. And this time was approximately between 3 and 4 am from the Eastern parts of Turkey towards the West for Ramadan 2015.

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