Ramadan Drummers of Turkey

During 30 days of every year, Muslim people follow a worship period called “Ramadan”. They fast to show devotion to their God, namely “Allah” in Muslim culture. This fasting period begins with “sahur” and goes on until “iftar”.

There is a Ramadan timetable showing when the fasting time starts and ends. Usually, Muslims wake up 1 or 2 hours before sahur time to eat the final dish before fasting. They quickly eat and offer their intentions to Allah by saying “Niyet ettim Allah rızası için oruç tutmaya (I intend to fast for God’s sake)”. In Muslim regions, these times are announced via azan recited in mosques. There is also an opportunity for people outside of the Muslim countries to reach their timetables via internet.

The fasting period starts and lasts until the iftar time when people break their fast usually by drinking water or eating dates.

However, there is also another key factor for waking up people in sahur time besides azan: Ramadan drummers. These people have only one mission which is to awaken people for sahur. They start to play their drum 1 or 2 hours before sahur so that people inform people that it is time to prepare their meals. This tradition has continued since Ottoman times. But in today’s Turkey, it is becoming less popular due to the developing technologies.

In addition to drum sounds, they sometimes read poems (called ‘mani’ in Turkish culture). Here is an example: “Aldanma sağa sola / Gel gidelim hak yola / Güzel oruç tutanın / Akıbeti hayrola”.[1] English version: Don’t you be deceived by others / Let’s follow the way of God / For those who fast well / Let’s hope for the best.

During the middle or at the end of the Ramadan, drummers start knocking on people’s doors and expect to receive some tips. This is the only way to earn money because municipalities do not pay salary to these drummers. Thus, drummers try to earn money through tips in the region that they are in charge of.

How are they appointed to their regions? They go to a municipality to submit various formal documents and are assigned to certain regions that they will be in charge of for 30 days of fasting. They do not go into another drummer’s region; this is the procedure. This way, every drummer has the opportunity to earn fairly if people are willing to give tips.

This is the Ramadan drummers’ journey. 30 days can be considered as a short-term but these people work in hard conditions such as no salary, working outside at night, possibility of getting hurt by anyone mad about being woken up etc. Although this tradition started to lose its popularity, drummers will always be there to keep and revive our traditions.

On the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a drummer, wearing traditional Ottoman clothes, performs in an Istanbul neighborhood, More than 2000 drummers wander through Istanbul’s neighborhoods playing their drums in the early hours to wake up the residents as part of the holiday tradition. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)