Most people are aware of the big events in the Islamic world, such as the fasting month of Ramazan (Ramadan) and Kurban Bayramı (Eid al Fitr), when an animal is sacrificed to Allah. Less well known are the five holy nights on the Muslim calendar called kandil, meaning candle. The tradition dates back to the reign of Sultan Selim II in the 16th century, when he ordered that kandil, that is candles, be lit on the minarets of the mosques to announce these holy nights to the public. Mosques are brightly illuminated for these special evenings and the Muslim congregation recite special prayers. People usually worship and sing the Mevlit, an epic poem written to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Mohammad. Most of the pastry shops and bakeries sell Kandil simidi, similar to a small simit with or without sesame seeds. In some apartments the neighbors hand out helva or lokma tatlısı (a special Turkish dessert made of deep fried dough served with lashings of honey syrup).
The nights on which these holy nights fall are calculated according to the revolution of the moon around the earth so the dates of the kandil differ every year. However, the names and meaning of each night remains the same. They are
Mevlid Kandili – The birth of Prophet the Mohammad
Regaip Kandili – The conception of the Prophet Mohammad
Miraç Kandili – Prophet Mohammad’s ascent into heaven
Berat Kandili – The day of forgiveness
Kadir Gecesi – The Koran’s first appearance to the Prophet Mohammad
Of all the nights, Kadir Gecesi is the most revered. According to the 97th chapter of the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet Mohammed, this is the night on which the first verses of the Koran were revealed to Mohammed so Muslims are encouraged to seek out God’s forgiveness on this night. It is a special time when the blessings and mercy of Allah are abundant and all sins are forgiven. One prayer in particular is recited, the words of which mean, “O God, verily you are forgiving and love forgiveness, so forgive me.” Prayers made on this night are thought to be worth a 1000 months of worship.
It is not certain in which of the last ten days of Ramazan Kadir Gecesi falls, so many Muslim countries, including Turkey, usually designate the 27th day of Ramadan for this special night. Each year men and women of all ages and social backgrounds flock to large historic mosques in İstanbul such as Eyup Camii, to perform the terawih. This is a night prayer specific to the last ten days of Ramadan which is derived from the Arabic taraweeh, meaning to rest and relax. Muslims will sit and reflect on their lives, offer prayers and supplications and listen to sermons and recitations of the Koran. Known in Arabic as Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Power is so important that many mosques remain open all night. Those unable to get out can watch live broadcasts of the prayer services going on at some of the larger mosques. In addition Laylat al-Qadr programs are shown, featuring talks on the importance of the night for Muslims.
Discover more about everyday life in Istanbul in my book Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City 2nd Ed.