Religious directorate head: "Fasting should make us develop empathy to help the needy"
Today marks the first day of Ramadan, when Muslims in Turkey and across the world observe a daily fast from food and drink from the break of dawn until sunset. Ramadan, for Muslims the most blessed of all months, received a heartfelt welcome last night in Turkey and across the globe as believers stepped into a holy period of reflection and purification to review their lives in light of Islamic teachings and refocus their attention on God, redoubling efforts to avoid bad deeds. This morning, in homes, dorms, hospitals and mines across Turkey, people partook of a pre-dawn suhur meal for the first time this year as part of their preparation for today's Ramadan fast, which will not draw to a close until after 8 pm. Fasting during Ramadan is not just about abstaining from food or drink during the daylight hours, but about refocusing on spiritual things amid the demands of modern life, said Ali Bardakoglu, the head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate on Tuesday. He called for more contemplation during the holy month. "Modern life does not let us spare one moment of time for ourselves," Bardakoglu said in an interview, adding that Allah grants Muslims the opportunity to reduce worldly affairs to a minimum during Ramadan. "Fasting is a symbolic thing," he said. "Distancing one's self from eating, drinking or sexual activity is actually the beginning of reducing our relations with the world." All three things, along with smoking and swearing, are prohibited to observant Muslims during Ramadan between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Bardakoglu had three suggestions for Muslims as they observe Ramadan this year, starting with thinking about why they are fasting. Bardakoglu's second suggestion was to spend time learning more about Islam by reading the Koran, which he said is meant for everyone. "The age we are living in is the age of information; we should have proper information on religion," he said. "Religion is nobody's property; it is nobody's monopoly. The mosque is nobody's monopoly. These are our common denominators." In a third suggestion, Bardakoglu said the act of fasting includes understanding the problems of the needy. "Fasting is about sharing the opportunities and the lack of them. While fasting, one should understand the situation of those who lack," he said. Asked about the spiritual contributions of Ramadan to Muslims, Bardakoglu said: "When religion is mentioned, when Islam is mentioned, we should think about all moral and humane qualities together. Helping the poor is an act of worship. But if you're helping the poor so they will become obligated to you, it is better to not to help." Sharing should go along with decency, or not be done at all, he added. "Ramadan should make us nicer," Bardakoglu said. "Ramadan should drive us to being nice in our spiritual life, to be a gentleman, a lady."