The Ottoman tradition inspired by Islam encourages people to pay it forward at local bakeries so that the needy could access free bread.

'Bread on a hanger' is a concept rooted in Islam, which encourages people to buy loaves of bread and pay a little extra money so that the baker could afford to offer free bread to the poor.  

In Turkey, the concept known as ‘askida ekmek', which means hanging bread, was supported from Ottoman times to ensure no one went to bed hungry. 

On the Asian side of Istanbul, TRT World visited a neighbourhood baker named Hacioglu Bakery to get a sense of how the hanging bread tradition was holding up through the fast-changing times. 

Inside the shop, a white paper hung by the wall on which the day's record for the number of donated pieces of bread received and given out was maintained. 

The owner Faik Karayigit said they bake at least 800 loaves of bread per day, of which 10 percent goes to poor people. 

Hikmet Gelez, an employee at the bakery, said they give away 60-70 pieces of bread to the needy. 

“We know the needy people in our neighbourhood. We can also understand while looking at people’s faces. You shouldn’t hurt them while doing this. They can get as much bread as they want for free without telling us anything.”

A white board is seen on the wall of the bakery which shows the number of donated breads.
A white board is seen on the wall of the bakery which shows the number of donated breads. (TRTWorld)

The donation of ekmek (bread) has special importance in Turkey because in Islamic belief bread sustains life and the protection of life is sacred.

The owner of the bakery, Karayigit adds that they try not to send people back empty-handed.

“Even if the daily donated bread runs out, we try not to send people home without bread by making our own contribution,” he said.

Karayigit added that they treat needy customers just like they receive any ordinary customer. "We don't want to hurt them by making them feel awkward about the fact that they are taking bread for free".

According to Gelez, the act of paying it forward is something that reveals the kind nature of the Turkish people.  

“People who donate here are happy. We are also happy to be a part of this charity. And,  people in need are also happy to be able to bring bread to home without hurting their pride,” Gelez adds. 

As per the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, bread is considered to be a ‘nimet’ which means a blessing sent from Allah (God). Therefore in Turkey and several other Muslim countries, if a piece of bread accidently falls on the ground it must be picked up immediately. 

Many Muslims around the world, including in Turkey, kiss the bread to show their respect. 

As a large number of Syrian refugees are living in Turkey since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, many bakers in Istanbul have seen a surge of Syrian refugees coming to receive bread for free. 

"Syrian refugees come here to demand bread from us even if they don't know about the 'hanged bread' project," an Istanbul-based baker told Anadolu Agency. "We feel obliged to give them bread for free either from the charity basket or the bakery itself."

Source: TRT World