Coming to Turkey for the past four years I have largely been in the company of loud and often rude atheist secularists who chain-smoke perpetually and frequently declare their dislike for Muslims. Apart from the elderly who still attend the mosque five times a day, even those Turks who would assign the label “Muslim” to themselves freely drink alcohol and mock their brethren with their atheist friends. One such person who was adamant that I sit next to him in the mosque on Eid two years ago, less that twelve hours after he made fun of me for not drinking alcohol, now exclaims “Al-Fatihah” (i.e. the name of the opening chapter of the Qur’an) as a substitute for a swear word whilst watching football. Sure enough, I have met decent Muslims here, but not many whose teeth still grace their mouths or whose hair has not yet whitened. Instead most of the people I meet my age, younger and into their middle-age follow the Cult of Ataturk which has become a new religion in its own right. Saddened, my depression came to a head last Tuesday whilst staying in a mountain settlement up above the clouds. Sitting in the white walled mosque I scribbled my thoughts down in minute characters on a scrap of paper:
I feel frustrated in this once great Muslim land. It seems like the Turks I come into contact with have lost respect for their heritage, their land and themselves. There is no-one under the age of fifty in the mosque – all the faces are aged and wrinkled, mostly ancient as if soon to pass from this world. Instead the middle-aged men spend their days drinking and gambling, mocking the religion of their forefathers. They do not believe in God or the Prophethood of Muhammad, they say; they believe in Ataturk. In respect for this cult they furiously attack the Muslims, ridiculing them to the best of their abilities. They refuse to say “Salam” because it is Arabca (Arabic) and insist instead on “Merhaba”, oblivious to its Arabic origin. They do not respect the culture which brought them beautiful mosques, gardens, homes and art – their culture is concrete apartments, satellite football and Raki.
Like their disrespect for their heritage they show how they do not care for their land. All around, the ground is little with cans of Efes Pilsner. The streams sourced by natural springs are filled with detritus, plastic bags and cigarette packets. Beneath a sign which reads, “Water gives life, do not pollute it,” the earth is hidden beneath more cans of beer. It is true that the earth will cleanse itself – when the snow comes in a month’s time the streams and land will be washed clean again by the melt that follows it – the huge boulders strewn across this landscape witness to the power of these waters when they come. But how will the people cleanse themselves when they have lost respect for their heritage and their land?
Yesterday, however, I caught a glimpse of another Turkey; one that has been shielded from me since I first set foot in this country. A young generation of Muslims exists after all and I detect an inkling that there is a living Islam out there. The stagnation and opposition I have seen thus far is only one face of this once great Muslim land. A cause for optimism at last.