The Sufi have many practices and cultural foundations rooted in their treatment of food in preparation and presentation. Additionally, many of their practices are influenced by the surrounding cultures and the practices described in the Qur’an, the Islamic book of scriptures. Essentially, the Sufi food practices are derived from Islamic beliefs and seen shared throughout Turkey and among cultures whose beliefs derive from Islam.
Firstly, the food must be considered Halal, or clean, before it is prepared. Food that is impure is worthless and considered dangerous to consume. The Qur’an clearly commands followers to “eat of that [meat] upon which the name of Allah has been mentioned, if you are believers in His verses” (Sahih International, 6:118). However, it is also possible to consecrate the food at the table if the food comes from an unknown source such as a market or as a gift by praying over it before consumption.
The Sufi also have rules regulating eating food from and among certain people. The aforementioned notion that gifts from bad people are Haram, or unclean, is very true in Sufi culture, and it extends around the bad person themselves. If, for example, a perfectly clean meal is prepared and shared amongst bad people, the “meal” is considered Haram. The food is fine, but by sharing the spiritual process of consumption with an impure person the ritual is ruined. The people that one shares a meal with matter in part because the act of sharing is so important to the Sufi people. Like most Turkish cultures, it is expected to prepare much more food than is needed to ensure that everyone is satisfied and to encourage generosity among peers.
This generosity, however, goes hand in hand with the Sufi’s strong belief in fasting. For many Muslims, the month of Ramadan is a highly holy holiday where people fast from dawn until dusk. The holiday celebrates the revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad, and highlights the self-discipline that Muhammad had and aims to emulate and respect it. To the Sufi, abstaining from food is just as important as eating and sharing it.
As for the actual food itself, once the fast has ended, the Sufi people bring out dates and other fruit with water, milk, and juices to drink. The food varies from region to region, but in Turkey the Sufi traditionally eat Ashura, a pomegranate and nut pudding of sorts. The Sufi are also known for their grains. They eat many types of breads in addition to various rice grains.
Finally, the Sufi people also consider food to be a resource both spiritually and communally. Essentially, Sufi Masters were able to create or produce food for people and they were centers of community. The attraction through food was the creation of bonds between people, and collecting in the houses of these masters created hubs for local groups and among regions. To this end, food was a social resource for the Sufi people. Again, since food moderation and starvation are signs of self-control, the Masters controlled which people should get food. For the Masters, bestowing food was a miracle-like activity. Miracles are a major element of many religions and communities, and to the Sufi miracles often manifested as the ability to provide food, again linking to the value of generosity.
Such Masters and their miraculous power to create food is essential to the formation of Sufi communities. This tradition has been carried on in fasting and discipline, great generosity, and sharing meals with people who are kind and wholesome. These elements of Sufi culture remain, as do their traditional foods and festivities.