RAMADAN UNDER THE SHADOW OF COVID-19 IN TURKEY
Almost six months have passed since the first case of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) was recorded in Wuhan city of China in December 2019. The Coronavirus disease is seen as the most harmful pandemic in the last century affecting almost every single person in every corner of the world. Turkey has said “hello” to the holy month of Ramadan amid Coronavirus days.
Coronavirus pandemic having symptoms such as high fever and shortness of breath can be fatal if not treated. The pandemic which has spread all over the world in a few months caused the death of nearly 300.000 people since December 2019. 1
The COVID-19 cases worldwide exceeded 2 million people globally, with USA having the worst cases. Coronavirus has had a major impact on Italy, France and United Kingdom as the worst hit countries in Europe. COVID-19 has spread to 185 countries according to the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University data. The virus causes not only physical problems but also psychological problems as well. According to UN statements, the pandemic paves the way for the emergence of mental problems.
Ramadan in Turkey Amid Coronavirus
In Turkey, the first Coronavirus case was officially declared on March 10 by the Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca. The first person died from COVID-19 on March 15. By the last week of April, Turkey has started to witness the decrease in the number of infected people. It is known that, Turkey has managed to keep the Coronavirus pandemic at bay while neighboring countries such as Iran have reported confirmed cases every day.
Turkey has taken successful steps in fighting COVID-19 since the first day of confirmed cases. The government has pursued effective policies in helping the citizens in a number of ways like distributing free masks to everyone and establishing Vefa Social Support Groups for helping citizens over 65 and those in need, particularly those who are lonely or who suffer from chronic ailment. Apart from that, the Interior Ministry has been imposing curfews from time to time to make the infection rate fall down.
Amid Coronavirus days, Turkey began Ramadan fasting on April 23. The state officials have undertaken some particular precautions to fight the pandemic throughout the holy month of Ramadan as well. As known, Friday prayers were cancelled due to pandemic restrictions before the beginning of Ramadan. With the beginning of Ramadan, Interior Ministry had taken further measures. According to these measures, iftar tents where people gather for iftar – fast breaking – are not allowed. In addition, the selling time of pide – traditional bread generally consumed during Ramadan – will be terminated two hours before iftar time to prevent crowds from gathering in front of bakeries.
Since the Ottoman times, drummers would wake up people in the holy month of Ramadan, however due to pandemic, such customs have been suspended this year. Another impact of pandemic on Ramadan customs is seen in mosque lights known as “mahya”. This year, the messages seen in mosque lights are different. In this Ramadan, the mahyas say “Stay responsible and stay healthy.” and “Stay home, stay healthy”2
The Directorate of Religious Affairs stated that COVID-19 is not an obstacle for fasting however fast-breaking gatherings should not be made with relatives, or friends violating social distancing rules. The head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs Professor Ali Erbaş stated the following concerning the suspension of the prayers with the community in masjids:
“We are in sorrow. All through Ramadan, we will be away from our mosques and masjids and we definitely will miss them. With this yearning, if we turn our house into a masjid, and if we establish prayers in our homes, sometimes alone, sometimes with our spouse, with our child, with the tears of our tarawih prayers not to be established, the Almighty Allah (swt) will grant us the reward we will receive in the mosque, Inshallah.”3
On the other hand, it is known that in Turkey there are many followers of religious orders. Cübbeli Ahmet Hodja, one of the leading figures of a religious order (İsmailağa religious order) in Turkey declared his own views regarding Ramadan fasting and Coronavirus pandemic. According to Cübbeli Ahmet, the fetwa about not fasting should be made by the doctors. Cübbeli Ahmet has argued that they issue general fetwas and personal fetwas they make about health issues would not be appropriate.4
To put it in a nutshell, Turkey has been taking effective measures since the outbreak of Coronavirus and the number of infected people has lately begun to fall down due to various steps such as lockdown practices and the prohibition of gatherings in places such as cafes. The normalization steps like the opening of shopping malls and hairdresser salons have newly been taken. Notwithstanding this, the social distancing rules such as the closure of masjids are still being adopted. Although people are not allowed to pray with community in masjids, the rate of fasting people is believed to be similar to that of the previous years as both health experts and religious scholars recommend fasting.
1 BBC, “Virus Causing Global Mental Distress, says UN”, available at https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-52657494 (Reached on 14.05.2020)
2 IPA News, “Turkish mosque lights tell people to stay home during Ramadan” available at https://ipa.news/2020/04/28/turkish-mosque-lights-tell-the-faithful-to-stay-home-during-ramadan/ (Reached on 14.05.2020)
3 “The religious officials of ours guide all financially and morally in this challenge against Covid-19” available at https://www.diyanet.gov.tr/en-US/Institutional/Detail/29486/the-religious-officials-of-ours-guide-all-financially-and-morally-in-this-challenge-against-covid-19 (Reached on 14.05.2020)
4 “The Ramadan explanation from Cübbeli Ahmet Hodja in the Aftermath of Coronavirus Cases…” available at https://www.yeniakit.com.tr/haber/cubbeli-ahmet-hocadan-koronavirus-vakalari-sonrasi-ramazan-ayi-aciklamasi-oruc-tutulmamasi-yonundeki-fetva-1126967.html (Reached on 14.05.2020)
Begum Burak is an Istanbul-based independent researcher. In 2015, Ms. Burak got her PhD degree. The main areas of her academic interest include Turkish Politics, Civil-Military Relations in Turkey, Theories of International Relations, Secularism Discussions in Turkey, Discourse Analysis Methodology, Media-Politics Relations and Political Culture.