The Iftar Table and Invitations
The observation of the fast took on a societal function for Muslim Turkish society during the month of Ramadan, in the form of invitations to iftar, the breaking of the fast. Throughout the month, it brought together relatives, kin, neighbors, friends, countrymen, colleagues, the rich and the poor.
Examples of iftar invitations: First to be invited were the older relatives, invited by the younger ones, then other relatives, close neighbors, and in rural areas in particular such important members of society as the village headman, teacher, imam, watchman and shepherds. Invitations were also sent to widows, orphans, those who had no living relatives, and the destitute.
In recent years we see the well-to-do providing iftar meals for friends and relatives, coworkers and civil servants with whom they work, salesmen, those staying in old people’s homes and homes for the indigent, etc.
Throughout Ramadan we also see our President and Prime Minister giving protocol dinners in their palaces and residences for ambassadors and representatives of other Muslim countries who are in Turkey; presidents, ministers and representatives of political parties; and upper-level administrators.
It is interesting indication of the tolerance of Islam that that iftar invitations may be extended irrespective of whether one is fasting or not, to rich and poor, and in the case of some of our foundations abroad, even to non-Muslims.
Contrary to the iftar meal, the sahur meal is eaten in narrower circles, composed of family members and relatives/kin who have spent the night. However in some regions we also see that the night watchmen and Ramadan drummers (who walk the streets playing a large bass drum to wake the people up for sahur) share the sahur meal with the men of the family.
The Iftar Meal in the Past
As in yesteryear, the fast of Ramadan is the observance held in highest importance by Muslim Turkish people. However in the past there were certain more magnificent aspects to it, and it will be helpful to document some of these national and religious values as related in written texts as well as by our older people who experienced them.
In the early 1900s, Ali Bey, who was also the minister of Balıkhane, described in detail the old iftar meals in his book titled “Istanbul Life in the 13th Century after the Flight.”
The main difference between feasts given for iftar on Ramadan evenings from those given at other times was that in addition to the invitations extended to each other by the people and the attention to the variety and quality of the food, they gave great importance to the arrangement of the foods on the trays, down to the minutest detail. The various condiments such as preserves, cheeses, caviar, olives, sucuk and pastırma were put on small plates and placed at the center of the sini. Various seasonal fruits and salads were arranged in an orderly manner around the edge of the tray, in special plates for this purpose. The table was completed with cups of holy zemzem water from Mecca and dates from Medina. On small dishes were lemons, cut in half and tied in tulle with colored silk thread or ribbons so that the seeds would not fall into the food; but also as an added decoration to the table.
Servants held drinking water in covered glasses with saucers from Saxony.