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Ramadan a time for contemplation, Turkish religious official says

ISTANBUL - Daily News with wires | 8/10/2010 12:00:00 AM |

Fasting during Ramadan is not just about abstaining from food or drink, but about refocusing on spiritual things, a Turkish religious official has said.

Fasting during Ramadan is not just about abstaining from food or drink during the daylight hours, but about refocusing on spiritual things amid the demands of modern life, a Turkish religious official has said.

In a message published Tuesday, Ali Bardakoğlu, the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, called for more contemplation during the holy month, which starts Wednesday and ends Sept. 8 this year.

“Modern life does not let us spare one moment of time for ourselves,” Bardakoğlu told daily Hürriyet in an interview, saying that Allah grants Muslims the opportunity to reduce worldly affairs to a minimum during Ramadan. “Fasting is a symbolic thing. Distancing one’s self from eating, drinking or sexual activity is actually the beginning of reducing our relations with the world.”

All three things, along with smoking and swearing, are prohibited to observant Muslims during Ramadan between the hours of sunrise and sunset.

The president of the Religious Affairs Directorate had three suggestions for Muslims as they observe Ramadan this year, the first of which was to think about why they are fasting. Bardakoğlu’s second suggestion was to spend time learning more about Islam by reading the Quran, which he said is meant for everyone. “The age [we are living in] is the age of information; we should have healthy information on religion,” he said. “Religion is nobody’s property; it is nobody’s monopoly. The mosque is nobody’s monopoly. These are our common denominators.”

In a third suggestion related to sharing, Bardakoğlu said the act of fasting includes understanding the problems of the needy. “Fasting is [about] sharing the opportunities and the lack of them. While fasting, one should understand the situation of those who lack,” he said.

When asked about the spiritual contributions of Ramadan to Muslims, Bardakoğlu said: “When religion is mentioned, when Islam is mentioned, we should think about all moral and humane qualities together. Helping the poor is worship. However, if you are helping the poor in a way so that they would be obligated to you, it is better to not to help.”

Sharing should go along with decency, or not be done at all, he added. “Ramadan should make us nicer,” Bardakoğlu said. “Ramadan should drive us to being nice in our spiritual life, to [be a] gentleman, [a] lady.”

[HH] Festivities to be held in Beyazıt this year

As part of the call to share with the needy, various municipalities in Istanbul offer free food at “iftar tents” for people to break their fast for the day. Such tents are set up in the Bakırköy, Beykoz, Beyoğlu, Eyüp, Fatih, Kadıköy, Kartal, Küçükçekmece, Sarıyer and Şişli districts, among other locations.

The traditional Ramadan festivities at Sultanahmet Square will, however, be moved this year to Beyazıt Square, an arrangement Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş said would continue in subsequent years as part of an effort to distribute the festivities to other neighborhoods in the city. He said the municipality has other ideas for Sultanahmet that would better suit the area’s historical heritage.

The “Ramadan Istanbul” festivities at Beyazıt Square, which will include the annual book fair, aim to attract both locals and tourists, Topbaş said, adding that other festivities would be held this year in Beyoğlu, Eyüp, Fatih and Üsküdar.

“I am inviting the whole Islamic world to Istanbul, to this city that is an important location for faith tourism and where every street smells of history,” the mayor said. “Let them come and experience this; Ramadan in Istanbul is something else.”

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