In this part of a series of articles, educationist and writer Mehmet Karadayı narrated the preparations that started before Ramadan in Pakistan, how it showed changes in daily life and an iftar dinner to which he was invited.
Our days in Pakistan had already started when I first saw mosques and neighbourhood masjids decorated with flashing lights. The strips of lights extending down from the minarets or the roofs of the mosques were a very beautiful sight. When it got dark, everywhere around the mosques sparkled. Meanwhile, I should not move on without mentioning here: I saw hundreds of masjids in Islamabad that you would not be able to differentiate from a residence in terms of simplicity. Before I saw those ornaments, I did not even realize that those buildings places were indeed mosques. The only thing that broke the cycle of simplicity was those flashing strips of light.
In addition to the decoration of the mosques, the crowds and the mobility on the streets would become visible. All the shopping places we visited, especially the places selling food, were packed full. People would queue in front of the spice shops and that was the first time I witnessed spices being sold by kilograms. Spice mixes packed in paper bags aroused a shopping desire in all passers-by. All these heralded an approaching month, Ramadan. Nothing could be more natural than shopping for this blessed month, where everyone competes in offering treats to one another.
A different meal from the neighbours at every iftar
Ramadan had arrived with all its beauty. Fasting during the daytime was crowned with the iftar eaten at modest floor tables spread in the courtyards of the mosques in the evenings. After the evening prayer, people would come home and continue having their dinners at lavish tables. Every time I came home, a different meal would show itself on the table besides the meals my wife had prepared. Our Pakistani neighbours loved to share their meals. That was how we had the opportunity to savour Pakistani flavours. From time to time – it must have been because we had not been used to those spices – my throat would burn, but the taste of the meals would always prevail. I do not remember the number of different kinds of rice I ate. One day a yellow-coloured rice dabbed in saffron would come and the next day a green and sweet rice would arrive. The flavours of all these were different and beautiful. Undoubtedly, sharing was of key importance for that food to taste so delicious. Yes, eating was wonderful, but offering food to others was far better than eating on one’s own. We acquired that experience personally.
Who’s Ayten? One of our students?
One day, close to the afternoon, Mr. Ebubekir phoned and said, “We are invited to Ayten for an iftar dinner, brother. Get ready, I’ll pick you up in two hours.” It was a men-only invitation. The hosts had invited the ladies elsewhere. After the ladies left the house, we took a taxi. The sun on Islamabad was gradually setting as the time for the iftar was approaching fast. There was a hectic activity on the streets. As the taxi sped towards our destination, I asked Mr. Ebubekir the question I had in my mind for a long time: “Who is Ayten? Is she a student? Rather, is she a Turkish national who had settled here?” A broad smile spread across Mr. Ebubekir’s face. I could sense a mischievous glance briefly in his eyes before disappearing immediately. He said, “Brother, I guess you still could not get used to the address system here! We’re going to I-10. One of the parents invited us to an iftar dinner.” I started laughing, but I also had felt a little embarrassed as well. I turned my eyes to watch the fleeting scene from the window and looked at the combination of letters and numbers on the street signs, trying to estimate how much distance was left to our destination. This time , it was Islamabad: 1, and Me: 0.
Mr. Ebubekir added, “Brother, friends had cautioned me, Please do not ever dare to commit a mistake.” I looked at his face as if to say, “What do you mean?” He continued, “As you know, we all are fasting. Whether we like it or not, we all feel thirsty during the day as well. Please do not exert yourself on water in a manner to neglect the food. Pakistanis enjoy entertaining their guests. However, when the meal is not eaten much as expected, they feel sad.” I was enlightened, so I said, “Never worry!” and added the same as in an ad slogan, “It is our job to please”.
We jointly did justice to the food
Yet, when I saw the table, my guard fell a little. I had rarely seen such an elaborate table in my life. The way the table was set no different than a proverbial food parade. Colourful meals, desserts, salads, appetizers, drinks… Oh my God, “doing justice to this table” also meant spending the night in the hospital, but we were contented with our fate from the very beginning. When the adhan was recited, we broke our fast with dates and immediately stood up to perform the maghrib prayer. We sat at the table after the prayer with an earnest surrender. Our host must have observed our condition; he was watching us and laughing up his sleeve. The same as a student in an exam started answering from the question he knew best, I started with the food I knew. Once in a while, I would rely on a spoon and a fork to reach for a meal which I had not seen earlier and, after tasting it, save it on a list in my memory. It must have been the effect of the spices; the more I ate, the more my appetite bloomed. I saw my companions were in the same situation with me. We were jointly doing justice to the food on the table. The more the food was kept on eaten, the more our host cheered up. He was elated whenever he took an empty plate from the table to refill it. Borrowing from a classical Turkish poem to adapt it to our condition there, “We six people ate a giant table on that day.” Ours was almost a dizzying victory. We each made great sacrifices for achieving this victory by eating for three. When we left our host’s home for the tarawih prayer, we had the elation of having conquered yet another heart, but each of us also pulled the weight of having eaten for three.
I chose the hardest surface to deter sleep!
The mosque where we performed the tarawih prayer was also quite plain and modest. It was a single-storey colonnaded structure. The prayer niche was quite large and the pulpit, which consisted of three steps where the Friday sermons were recited, was inside the prayer niche. The floor was covered with colourful carpets. There was a fan under each of the modest chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. There were also standing fans on the right and left of the prayer niche. When we entered, more than half of the mosque had already been full and people kept on arriving. I was trying to find the hardest surface by probing it with my feet. Bearing the burden of having eaten much, I was afraid of falling asleep while kneeling on a soft carpet and waiting for the prayer. When I found the place I wanted, I immediately knelt there. First, we performed the fardh of the ‘isha prayer. An imam who had a very beautiful voice led the prayer. The tarawih prayer started after the ‘isha. The same imam also led the tarawih prayer by reciting an entire page from the Qur’an for every raka’ah with an exquisite recitation style. Since the recitation was exquisite and the pace was pleasing, the prayer was completed in about an hour.
In the mosques across Pakistan, the tarawih prayers were performed with reciting the Holy Qur’an in a manner to complete it at least once during the month of Ramadan. No matter to which mosque you attended, you would not miss on the khatm-e-Qur’an during the tarawih prayers. Since a great majority of the congregation belonged to the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence, the tarawih prayer would be performed as twenty raka’ahs. I was very grateful to Allah for having the means for performing a twenty-raka’ah prayer after every iftar I was invited to. Otherwise, it was not possible not to be devastated after eating from those iftar tables set up by our hosts and to which we did justice by eating virtually everything that was offered there.
To be continued…