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Istanbul drummers keep Ramadan tradition alive


ISTANBUL: Thousands of Ramadan drummers in the metropolitan city of Istanbul gear up to be back on the streets next week to resume the ancient tradition of waking up residents for ‘sahur’ the last meal before the onset of the daily fast before sunrise.

Selami Aykut, who heads a federation of mukhtars in Istanbul in charge of drummers, says the drummers will make their final preparations up until their first day on the streets.

Throughout the holy month, up to 3,300 drummers will roam across 963 neighborhoods in Istanbul, where more than 15 million people live.

Mukhtars, elected officials in charge of neighborhoods, are responsible for the registration of drummers. 

Indeed, it is not a job anyone can do, unlike in the past when drummers were less supervised. 

Drummers are now required to be professionals and residents of the neighborhoods where they work.

Usually dressed in costumes dating back to Ottoman times, they recite short poems about Ramadan besides drumming.

“Usually, the same people work as ‘official’ drummers every year, with some doing it for 30 years. Anyone seeking to play the drums is required to apply to the office of their local mukhtar with a copy of their ID. 

Registered drummers are given official name tags,” Selami Aykut said.

Ramadan drummers were among the few professions unaffected by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Even at a time of curfews, they were allowed to work but on the condition that they maintained social distancing while asking for tips when going door to door at the end of Ramadan during Ramadan Bayram (Eid al Fitr).

Ali Bulur has been a resident drummer of the Siyavuspasa neighborhood in the city’s Bahcelievler district for the past 45 years. 

He feels excited every Ramadan. “I prepared the poems I will recite. Everything’s ready,” he said. 

For the past 10 years, Muharrem Bulur accompanies his father who taught him to how to play. 

“I am happy that Ramadan is nearby. People applaud us when they see us beating the drums,” he said.

Across the world, Muslims fast each day for the entire month of Ramadan, abstaining from food and drink from dawn to dusk. That means around 15 hours without food, water, cigarettes, or caffeine.

Fasting is aimed at drawing worshippers closer to God through self-control, remembrance, and humility. 

The challenge of fasting for many is also a chance to reset spiritually and physically, kick bad habits and purify the heart.


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