Ihsan Eliacik, a critical writer and a prominent theologian and some of his followers were detained by Turkish police during an iftar meal organization called earth tables on the first day of Ramadan, Ahval online news website reported on Monday.
During the arrest police used violence in a bid to disperse the crowd gathered to break their fast in front of Galatasaray Lycee on Istiklal Avenue in central Istanbul, dragging them harshly. Eliacik fainted during the police action.
Accompanied by police, the detainees were taken for a mandatory health check at the hospital after questioning and later were released.
In reaction to the detention at the iftar meeting Ismail Kilicarslan, a columnist at pro-government daily Yeni Safak posted a tweet criticizing police action.
“Breaking one’s fast on the street is a right that does not require [government] permission. I protest [condemn] the police for their action,” he tweeted.
Ramadan is the Muslim holy period, the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar during which God revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad according to Islam.
Muslims observe Ramadan through day-time fasting during which eating, drinking, smoking, and sex are prohibited. Many Muslims believe that fasting helps someone put oneself in the shoes of people who live the reality of hunger and thirst every day and it reminds oneself to be grateful and patient.
Each day at sunset, the day-long fasting practice one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith is ended with a fast-breaking Ramadan dinner known as iftar in Turkish which is a crowded affair where people come together to share and socialize.
Known as an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), Eliacik is the intellectual leader of a movement called Anti-Capitalist Muslims, which opposes many Islamist-rooted AKP policies. The group played a major role in anti-government Gezi protests in 2013.
Eliacik is one of the inventors of the earth tables concept, an outdoor iftar dinner organization which has emerged as a reaction to iftar programs conducted at sponsored municipality tents or at luxury hotels.
“The iftar tents are erected by the state. We are against those tents as they tie people to the state through a bond of exploitation. We are equally against the sponsored tents and the expensive iftars at luxury hotels,” said Eliacik, explaining the idea behind the earth table initiative.
In 2011 the movement members first organized small public meals during Ramadan outside of luxury hotels where lavish iftar dinners were hosted.
“Ramadan shouldn’t be about eating expensive food, it should be about understanding and helping the poor, the hungry, the needy,” said Abdurrahim Ozer, a member of the Anti-Capitalist Muslims.
In 2013 the first earth table was set during the Gezi protests on Istiklal Avenue, Istanbul’s main and best-known shopping venue, starting from Galatasaray Lycee and stretching all the way to Taksim Square.
The tables later spread throughout the city and even the country, with individuals and groups organizing iftars at different locations, which were considered symbolic due to conflicts in the area or threats facing historic heritage.
Since 2013, the dissident theologian has been facing legal actions against and was sentenced to six years in prison last year for disseminating terrorist propaganda, due to his speech in the mainly Kurdish southeastern province of Diyarbakir.