It is 20:35, and I am waiting for the sun to set and then some additional minutes until I can eat, until Iftar. I don’t have the three dates, nor did I fast since dawn, which in Vienna is 5am, nor have I prayed as I don’t even know the prayers and anyway, I’m an atheist, so what am I talking about here?

A few years ago now, it slipped out in a conversation that my grandmother – my father’s mother – was Turkish and Muslim, something like, “Oh, that’s why she couldn’t stay with you, because the kitchen wasn’t Halal.” Living in Berlin, living especially in Wedding has meant seeing a lot of daily Turkish life on the street, which in turn has led to a lot of probably meaningless questions such as, “What does it mean to be the grandchild such as this, who was named because of her, who has fundamentally no idea about any of this?”

It was earlier this year I started thinking about Ramadan, or Ramazan as it is in Turkey (according to WikiPedia) and thinking perhaps I might attempt it one year, maybe this year. As the date lurched nearer, and I began doing some study in earnest, and then came to Vienna, I decided it was all a little ambitious of me, and thought instead I’d spend the month perhaps occasionally fasting, and much more importantly learning about these two things: Turkey and Islam.

To reiterate (and perhaps protest too much), I’m an atheist, and I’m not doing this out of any crypto-religiosity. I think to be concise, it’s perhaps like this: my grandmother, being Muslim (and because of our haraam kitchen, I think not Alevi) observed Ramadan, and being Turkish observed it in that particular way. Besides these two things, I know she lived in Jo’burg in South Africa, married an Afrikaner, had at least one child, and was named Aişe. And couldn’t stay in our house because of the kitchen. I’ve had a curiosity about things Central Asian, Persian, and so also Islamic for much longer than I’ve known about her, and living in Berlin my interest has obviously shifted westwards to Turkey and to the history of Turkish immigration to Germany and my current home city. It turns out I know nothing about this.

It was only recently I learnt of the existence of Alevi in Turkey; I thought I was doing ok having some general understanding of the Kurds and knowing a bit about why there are also Kazakhs living in western Turkey. But not even knowing of a group comprising around a quarter of the population (depending on which estimate one ascribes to) fairly well illustrated complete lack of knowledge.

So. Ramadan. Not doing it. Kind of paying attention to it. Probably will do a bit of it before the month is up. I mean, the fasting from dawn to dusk is such a small part of it – and probably the easiest – when I know nothing of the culture, the habits, routines, not to mention how to properly do Iftar in the evening, Sahur in the morning, Kadr Suresi, let alone the prayers. The prayers of which there are many and varied even before the Ramazan Terâvih namazı additions.

Spending the month of Ramazan, when there is also an emphasis on reflection and contemplation, learning about Islam in Turkey, be it Hanafi Sunni, Alevi Shia or any of the others, if nothing else seems like a fun way to reduce my stupidity. Also, because I wonder how she lived, and what it was like for her.

So, the sun has well set, it’s Iftar, I have no dates, and I should say, “Allah’ım! Senin için oruç tuttum, sana inandım, sana dayandım, Senin verdiğin rızıkla orucumu açtım. Yarının orucuna da niyet ettim, benim geçmiş ve gelecek günahlarımı bağışla”, but I can’t even translate it properly; something to work on for the month then. I can say, “Ramazan ayınız mübarek olsun!”