With its own unique spiritual air, enthusiasm, and excitement—its communal prayers and its Iftaar and Suhoor meals to which friends family are invited—Ramadan has always been a very special month, as it still is today. Muslims spend a month in an atmosphere of spiritual union and unity and by the end of this blessed month they experience the spiritual abundance of the Night of Power (Lailatul-Qadr) and together enjoy the festivities and peace of ‘Eed al-Fitr that follows.
In Ottoman Times Preparations for Ramadan Began Three Months Ahead of it.
The first thing that comes to mind for Turks when Ramadan in former times, especially in the Ottoman period, is mentioned is, of course, the joyful spirit of oneness, love, respect, and friendship. People today are longing for the feelings of union and brotherhood of those times, the unconditional and disinterested love, friendship, and sincerity of speech.
They all want a new age in which people love one another, in which there is a predominant conception of deep love and respect among people, in which everyone greets everyone else very politely on the streets, whether they know one another or not, in which there is no need for people to lock their doors, and in which peace, security and solidarity reign.
It is an acknowledged fact that there was much more friendship in the Ramadans of the past. There is no doubt that Ottoman Ramadan traditions contain a great many virtues that people need today and can learn from. Indeed, the spirit of love and friendship peculiar to those times were naturally reflected in Ramadan, with a "holiday" spirit spreading everywhere. All Muslims benefit from the spiritual richness of this blessed month and improve on their already good moral values, and embrace their faith even tighter.
The excitement of Ramadan began making itself felt three months before-hand during the blessed three months (shuru selase). The streets, masjids, and minarets were lit up and an air of eager anticipation dominated over the city. Homes, Mosques, streets, and roads were specially cleaned, and everywhere readied for the true spirit of Ramadan.
Lights Strung Between the Minarets Were the Finest Decorations During Ramadan in Istanbul
Under normal conditions, the Old City Istanbul, which lived by day, then would also begin living by night with the coming of the month of Ramadan, and that would lead to a complete change in the appearance of this lovely city. As still happens today, lanterns were strung between the minarets of those Mosques with double minarets, and the dark nights of the city in those days were brightly illuminated.
Lanterns were first strung between the minarets of the Sultanahmet Mosque during the reign of Sultan Ahmet I, and were so popular that the custom quickly spread, with lanterns soon being hung between the minarets of all those mosques in Istanbul that had two.
The most frequent message on the lights was "Welcome to the Month of Ramadan." At the end of Ramadan, the writing was generally altered to "Al-Firaak" (Farewell). Pictures were sometimes hung from the lamps rather than inscriptions.
Of course, the lanterns in those days were different than those of today. Today they are electric lamps. The lanterns of that time burned oil. Although today's lights are pleasing to the heart and eye, the lanterns in those days that so lit up the darkness had an extraordinary effect on and caused huge excitement in people.
People engaged in friendly conversation all through the night in the streets illuminated by those rare lights, after which they would meet up in gardens or on the balconies of their houses, wherein they would remember Allah Almighty until it is time for the Suhoor (pre-dawn) meal and give thanks to Allah for all His blessings.
The Old Iftar Meals Were Open to All
Everyone extended invitations to everyone else during Ramadan then. People would even arrive without any warning, and anybody arriving at the door would be admitted as a guest of Allah Almighty.
Those who played host to the most guests regarded themselves as the most fortunate. Wealthy people would keep open house for the whole month, and people would walk in to dine with no need for an invitation. Nobody would ask who they were or where they were from; everyone was admitted at once.
People would eat in peace, and after Iftaar everyone would perform the Ramadan prayers together. In the same way that people performed the evening Ramadan prayer together, they would also pray together in the Mosques after Suhoor.
Just like today, there was great activity in the markets and shops during Ramadan in those days, and people would fill their baskets to the best of their means. The wealthy would be delighted to help the poor, and would secretly have the poor people in the neighborhood identified and then meet their needs, without hurting their feelings in any way.
Mansions and villas would literally be turned into banqueting houses over the month. After guests had finished the Iftaar meal and headed off for the Ramadan prayers, the owners of the houses would give them velvet purses, known as "tooth rental," containing silver plates, coral rosaries, or silver rings.
Poor people would also be given gold or silver coins as "tooth rental." The palace where the Sultan was staying would be full of uninvited guests during the month of Ramadan. In addition, the abundance of Ramadan showed its effects all over Ottoman territories, and blessings would be shared by everyone, Muslims, Christians, and Jews, equally and in a brotherly manner.
As observed, no distinction was made between rich and poor or on the basis of faith, race, or language in the Ottoman Empire. The poor were protected for Allah's approval, and people were treated with justice, tolerance, love, affection, compassion, loyalty and mutual aid in all matters.
Greeks, Armenians, and Jews, the foreign community in other words, were all treated as first-class citizens, and were not regarded any different than Muslims. There is no doubt that this behavior, which reflects the importance the Ottomans attached to all people very definitely constitutes an excellent role model for people today.
The reason we still long for the old Ottoman Ramadan is without doubt those days' unique tolerance, spirit of union and togetherness, and powerful bonds of love, unity, and brotherhood. People caught up in the hustle and bustle of modern life should permit no ruptures between them, disregard distance, regard friendship, brotherhood and affection as matters of the greatest importance, and tear down all walls between them that have a damaging impact on love.
They must soften their hearts with the warm spirit of the month of Ramadan, treat one another with love, affection and compassion, and embrace everyone as brothers, regardless of sect, language, faith, race, or opinion—for that is what is required by both the moral values of the Quran and the Sunnah of our Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.