On numerous Muslim news sites in Turkey and now on social media, the document below is being celebrated as evidence of a timeworn relationship of solidarity between the Turkish people and the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar.
It rains a lot in the Black Sea region of Turkey — that’s what makes it so suitable for the cultivation of its two biggest exports, black tea and hazelnuts — but this year’s precipitation was unmatched. Neither I nor the locals had ever seen anything like it; some were calling it a one in 500-years event. The average precipitation in the town of Hopa, close to Turkey’s border with Georgia, is 173 mm in the month of August, but during one day this year, 255 mm fell in less than 24 hours. Heavy rain we had witnessed last year, which caused minor flooding to our hillside house, seemed like a light shower by comparison.
The problem is that we believers have become tribal people, exhibiting the characteristics of a Chosen People that our religion so strongly opposed. Instead of standing for justice, we stand for our tribe (our supporters, friends, family). However our religion tells us to do the opposite: to stand up for truth and justice — even if that is against ourselves!
“O you who have believed, persistently stand firm in justice, witnesses for God, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, God is more worthy of both. So follow not your personal inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort your testimony or refuse to give it, then indeed God is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.”
“Ey iman edenler! Adaleti ayakta tutan ve kendiniz, ana-babaniz ve yakin akrabaniz aleyhine de olsa, yalniz Allah için sahitlik eden kimseler olunuz. Zira zengin de olsa, fakir de olsa, Allah ikisine de (sizden) daha yakindir. Nefsinizin arzusuna uyarak adaletten uzaklasmayin. Eger (sahitlik ederken) dilinizi eger, bükerseniz veya çekinirseniz, süphesiz Allah yaptiklarinizdan haberdardir.”
That is a lesson for us all, be we leaders or common folk. However for the leaders it is much more important.
A leader who thinks only of his own survival is not much of a leader at all.
Two weeks ago the big news was that Turkey had paid off its IMF debt and had pledged a $5 billion loan to the IMF to help alleviate the European debt crisis. Turkey seemed to have an air of confidence. And yet today the Prime Minister, democratically elected with 49.83% of the Popular Vote in 2011, is presented as an autocratic dictator. Is this the real mood of the nation, or outside provocation?
At the end of the summer last year, we spent our days between visits to a clinic in Jihangir, Istanbul. While its views over the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn beyond were stunning, I was not too keen on those streets. In this secular quarter and haunt of expats, wine shops outnumbered grocery stores. In the rising heat there was often an unpleasant smell, for the area’s pet owners would not clean up after them. These streets had a continental European feeling to them and indeed conversations in French, German and English were often within earshot. Pehaps Jihangir’s most famous resident is the writer, Orhan Pamuk, whose apartment I always passed on my way to the mosque. My heart in Istanbul lies in a place inland called Gunesli – it is not beautiful, it does not have grand views and its residents are far from rich – but in its huge mosque in its centre into which pour local shop keepers for every prayer, there is a sense of iman. Jihangir is a place without spirit, a pale imitation of a Parisian street, losing itself in Efes Pilsner.
But on Fridays, a beacon lights on that hillside overlooking the Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea. The adhan calling me from Jihangir’s eroding minarets, I would wander down the road to join my jamat. Nobody ever looked at me and stared, for in this land of different hues, nothing indicated that I was an Englishman. Sitting on the carpet, the sun streaming through the open windows, the voices of foghorns down on the water below would greet us. Seeing young men entering in droves through the antique doors was a true delight, having recently returned from Artvin Province where the toothless, grey-haired ones dominated the mosques, though even they were small in number. These youthful faces were not locals, but came here for employment: my visits for Asr and Maghrib met with an elderly jamat numbering no more than five.
With every period of darkness, when my life seems so distant from the Prophetic ideal, I recall that beacon on the hillside. In the midst of despair there can still be light. And where did that beacon lead me? Warmed by dhikr after jummah, refreshed and renewed, we packed up and moved on to Gunesli, where salams are exchanged on its streets.