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In Istanbul, Last Day of Ramadan Is a Festive Time

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

In most parts of the world, today marks the final day of Ramadan.

NPR's Ivan Watson sent this audio postcard from Istanbul, a city just finishing the Muslim month of fasting and spiritual renewal.

IVAN WATSON: At 3:30 in the morning, the empty streets of a residential neighborhood echo with the sound of a drum.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUM)

WATSON: This is an old Turkish tradition during Ramadan. A drummer goes on patrol, waking up the faithful for the pre-dawn meal that's eaten before the rising sun marks the start of another day of fasting.

In this huge, ancient city by the sea, tradition often collides with the modern world with sometimes-unexpected results.

Iftar is the meal Muslims eat after sunset. But some young Turks choose to break their fast at this crowded Burger King in Istanbul's Central Taksim Square. Just before sunset, dozens of people sit waiting here at empty tables. They will eventually order the sultan menu. This $6 Iftar special includes a burger, fries, a soda and dates, a traditional Ramadan food.

This 21-year-old university student named Tuba Koch(ph) admits she's desperate to break her fast, but not because she's hungry.

TUBA KOCH: (Speaking in foreign language)

Unidentified Woman: More smoking. She's about to faint because she wants to smoke, not for food.

WATSON: Koch and her three friends are not observant Muslims.

They drink alcohol sometimes and they rarely pray. But 19-year-old Benan Oztuzun(ph), who has a stud through one of her eyebrows, says she enjoys fasting during Ramadan.

BENAN OZTUZUN: (Through translator) It makes us understand the value of the things that God give us. And it's also fulfilling a requirement of God, and it makes us happy.

WATSON: Professor Abdul Aziz Bayandir(ph) is a former mufti of Istanbul, who now heads an Islamic foundation here.

ABDUL AZIZ BAYANDIR: (Through translator) It is true that during Ramadan, more people pray and more people go to mosques. That's not actually what the religion wants. The religion asks that people pray and avoid committing sins every day of the year.

WATSON: In recent years, the city government has begun organizing street fairs during Ramadan at several locations around Istanbul. At this one, families eating sticky Ramadan sweets watch as a band dressed in old Ottoman costumes of red robes and turbans marches past stalls that sell trinkets and toys.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUM)

WATSON: Nearby, adults and children laugh out loud as they slam into each other at a bumper car ride.

A man named Ahmad Ersu(ph) watches the scene while sitting on a park bench with his wife and two children. He says Ramadan brings a spirit of unity to this sprawling, chaotic city of more than 12 million people.

AHMAD ERSU: For this, we are very happy. Ramadan gives us happiness and peace.

WATSON: Tonight, as many Turks sat down to a final Iftar dinner with their families, the call to prayer echoed throughout Istanbul, through mosques where minarets have been decorated with rings of bright white lights.

Ivan Watson, NPR News, Istanbul.

SIEGEL: You can read more about the celebrations that mark the end of Ramadan and recipes for some of the sweets served on the occasion at npr.org. Check out our food column called Kitchen Window. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.