ANKARA: Social distancing and a curfew in Turkey have affected a prominent Ramadan custom.
Since Ottoman times, during the holy month drummers would wake people up for the pre-dawn sahoor meal by reciting short poems and beating their drums.
But this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Turkey’s Interior Ministry has banned Ramadan drummers — of which there are around 5,000 in the country — from collecting tips by going door to door and wandering the streets.
Aziz Arslan, a drummer working in the southeastern Sanliurfa province, said he was looking forward to the opportunity to pay his debts with this once-in-a-year job.
A drummer since the age of 13, the 61-year-old earned about $500 during Ramadan in previous years.
“Those tips helped me and my eight-member family a lot. I’m now forced to stay at home,” he told Arab News. “I applied to the municipality for social assistance, but in vain. I’ll file a complaint to the provincial directorate soon.”
Arslan is one of 300 Ramadan drummers who live in Sanliurfa. He was also a musician performing at weddings, but since none can be held due to coronavirus he became jobless, without any social security guarantee.
Ramadan drummers in Turkey usually play music at social gatherings in the remaining 11 months of the year. So far, only a few municipalities have granted them a minimum wage for the holy month as temporary relief for their economic hardship.
Drummers have held strikes in some cities, urging authorities to help them cover their economic losses. They are not included in unemployment figures due to their lack of social security.
Although some people prefer technologic tools such as alarm clocks, Ramadan drummers are still seen as a traditional wake-up call, especially in areas where observant Muslims live.
But this year’s loss of income, and the lack of governmental and municipal support, may significantly harm that tradition for years to come.
“Drummers should’ve been notified beforehand of the Interior Ministry’s decision,” Elmas Arus, president of the Zero Discrimination Association, told Arab News.
“Many of them came to the big cities, like Istanbul, with their whole families, to get more tips from the rich neighborhoods.”