Revisiting Turkey

I came away from Turkey in 1999 with mixed feelings. At that time I don’t think I was mentally ready as a Muslim to see so many people with Muslim backgrounds drinking, clubbing and in open disdain for religion and I was horrified and when I went to the masjid and saw strange practices I was also frustrated.


Everywhere I went in Istanbul there were Turkish flags (and I’m an American and have never seen so many flags) and portraits of Kemal Ataturk and I found the cult worship of Ataturk and the Turkish state to be silly. This belief was reinforced when I would be invited to drink tea with people and they would go on and on about Turkish history, how great Turks are and how Ataturk is almost a deity and after a while I got bored with that.

In America all the Turks I knew were Salafis or Turkish Islamic Nationalists who practiced traditional Sufism and they had created the image in my mind that there was a great Islamic revival getting ready to happen in Turkey and the Turkish people were finally getting ready to reject the state oppression of religious peoples by the Turkish state. I even got the chance to meet Merve Kavakci the Turkish Muslim woman who was elected to the parliament but not allowed to take her seat because she refused to take off her hijab.

When I got to Istanbul I found that most people were generally hostile to Merve and many called her names I would not repeat and many more openly referred to themselves as atheists or as only being from Muslim families. It seemed to me that much of Turkish society was post-Islam and some were even hostile to Islam.

My last night in Istanbul opened my mind to a little more of a nuanced version of Turks. I was invited by some Brits staying at my hotel to go out with them to a club and I really didn’t want to but had become friendly with one of the guys and I wanted to talk to him some more and so I went. The club was the same as any club anywhere else; loud music, horny guys looking stupid and looking for sex, and a mix of women trying to play hard to get but basically there for the same reason as the guys. However, even at this nightclub there were Turkish flags everywhere, and a group of Turks broke into some patriotic dance and started waving the Turkish flag and yelling chants.  This is something that I cant imagine happening anywhere in most of Europe or North America. Then, after this, a Brazilian belly dancer comes out ( perhaps because the Turks like to play with “others” and keep their own girls pure) and this woman, who had to be one of the best looking women I have ever seen in my life, heads straight for me, and what do I do? I turn my back to her. I was in the middle of making dawah to this guy and the last thing he needed to see was me lusting over this dancer. Later that night I would wonder into a religious neighborhood and meet traditional Muslims who were in many ways unlike the devout of the Arab World I had just left.

In conversations with Turks I found that most I met were very nationalistic, disliked Arabs, disliked
Israel despite the position of the government, and were proud of their history. As this was during the beginning of the Russian invasion of Chechnya I also found a lot of support for the Chechen people.

As I traveled from one end of Turkey to another I found that while the major cities of Turkey are on par with many European cities, and exceed most in terms of history and culture, much of the rest of the country was poor, underdeveloped and in a state equivalent to much of the Middle-east.  This, coupled with the fact of empty mosques, left me with a bad image of Turkey in my mind.

If I went to Turkey today I would probably have a different reaction. Many, if not most, Turks are secular and will openly tell you they don’t pray and are not religious, but at least their honest, because in the Arab World, even the non-observant are required to give some hollow lip-service to the deen.

Turkey is not as modern and developed as some claim; but Turks are timelier then most in the region (including Israelis) and the streets of the cities are clean and the public buildings are kept to Western standards unlike the rubbish-lined streets of much of the Muslim World. I would also be less hostile to the traditional Sufism practiced by many Turks.

At that time Turkey was just a place to pass through; but if I go back to visit I will go because I want to be there and learn more. I am interested in the new rise of nationalism In Turkey and its connection with Islam as Turkish nationalism has traditionally been in opposition to Islam. The condition of religious and ethnic minorities in Turkey is of interest to me and most of all I am curious to talk to Turks and see how they feel about joining the European Union as it seems many have woken up and saw that they will never be accepted by Europe so they might as well create their own destiny. Also, I will explore the question of the Armenians of Turkey and their history and my research to his point told me there was a mass killing of Armenians but it was not a genocide.

Turkey may not be an Islamic utopia; but I see signs of Turkey developing into the most mature of all Muslim nations in dealing with the modern world.


32 thoughts on “Revisiting Turkey

  1. My experience was the same, with the exception of the rural areas, where mosque attendence was large. The large cities are little different than European ones and I was suprised at the nude beaches.

  2. Although you may perceive many Turkish people to be ‘secular’, and I do agree with you there, I have found first hand that when tragedy strikes…many seek comfort in Islam. When my mother in law died suddenly and we went for her funeral in Izmir, we spent a week in her home with all the family members and friends coming and staying. I remember ‘Teza Hoja’, the Imam’s wife, coming each night to recite Quran and pray. All womens’ heads,secular and religious were covered respectfully during this time, some whom I had pegged as ‘secular’ even recited Quran as well. I, a convert to Islam, was touched to see how everyone really sought out comfort, not only from each other, but from Allah as well.

  3. Yes, I agree with Leila. Maybe the Prophet should have refused to give dawah to the pagans in Mekkah and Media!

    Maybe he should have refused to live in these pagan towns?

    Although Islam, as a religion, would have died, but hey, at least he would have “fixed himself first.”

  4. Turkey is a natural friend and ally of the United States. At least she should be. Unfortunately, Bush and our State Department are as myopic as the damned Europeans.

    My God… with the way the Europeans – especially the French and Germans – have treated Turkey… with total disregard and disrespect… – we should have used every social, economic, political, military, and public relations tool at our disposal not only to show the Turkish government and people that WE respected them, but reinforced their resentment for our European… “allies.”

    Iraq aside, Western Europe and the U.S. would still be falling out over time because we have different mindsets and expectations. The Europeans are our competitors… and perhaps in 10/15/20 years they’ll be our enemies – along with China.

    Bush/Clinton/Bush mishandled the opportunity of several lifetimes by failing to “save” Russia from itself after the fall of communism. We let the ball drop and now… Putin leads Russia and Putin is not our friend. In fact, Russia and China have pretty much formed an alliance of convenience against the U.S.

    The U.S. can’t afford for Turkey to cross over either to Muslim fundamentalism or to join a Chinese-Russian sphere or even a European sphere as opposed to OUR sphere. We NEED Turkey just as we NEED Japan and just as we NEED to have India a longterm ally of ours rather than of a Sino-Russian “alliance.”

    Anyway… I know this is off the main track of Islam in Turkey… but being reminded of how incompetent the U.S. government is just pushes my buttons.


  5. Let us all band together and sing “High Hopes”! At this rate I have a niggling suspicion that we will be “going the way of the Romans”. (and speaking Chinese)

  6. assalamu alikeum

    [Abu Sinan: Maybe the Prophet should have refused to give dawah to the pagans in Mekkah and Media! Maybe he should have refused to live in these pagan towns?]

    Brother, your mistconstruding her words and impying things she never said. You know Leila wasnt saying that Umar shouldnt have given dawah to that man, just that he shouldn’t have gone to the nightclub to do it and technically she is right, however good Umar’s intentions were (and im sure they were the best). Although yea, she could have said it more polietly and in a better manner.

    The prophet s.a.w gave dawah to all sort of people, but he never went against his beliefs for it. I don’t think the prophet s.a.w went to haram enviroments where pagans regualury met up in those days to watched half naked women dance, drink alchoal and fornicate, to do his dawah. Umar even admitted himself he found the brazilian belly dancer attractive and had to look away so as not to give a bad example of being a muslim and not get distracted. What would have been better for him would have been not to be in the nightclub to begin with thus saving himself from such fitna.

    And Leila didnt mention anything about not living beside non-muslim neither.

    I admire anyone who spreads the message of islam, but we have to be careful that we as individuals dont wipe out those good intentions and deeds by doing something which might be deemed haram. If we want to do dawah, then the prophet s.a.w left us his example of how to do it (and they are many ways). Inshallah we can all strive to follow his example in the best way that is possiable for us.

  7. salams

    The Turks in west are very secular and many have stopped believing in God altogether. I have yet to meet a practising turkish family in my area and they’re quite a number of familes- not as much as north london though where they are mainly congregated in. Whilst some of the older members of the family believe in islam (even if their practise is minimal), the younger turks of today have pretty much left islam and only claim to being muslim simply because their parents are. The turkish cypriots tend to be more removed from islam though then mainland turks. I’ve met a few who are blatantly aetheist but tried telling me that they were muslim too. One old college friend of mine, was exactly that and tried explaning to me that he could still be a muslim, even though he didnt believe in God or a creator (and clearly mentioned many times in class that he thought that there was no God and God was a load of BS astrfual allah). I said that it was impossible seeing as the first pillar of islam, the first requirement to be a muslim is the shahadah and requires that the individual believes in the all-mighty creator and that we werent like jews, in the sense that one can be deemed as jewish even if their secular/aetheist in belief as long as their family are of jewish decent. Naturally this confused the hell out of all the other non-muslim classmates as they all thought he was muslim and wondered why we were aruging about this matter.


    Its people like that i wished just stop claiming that they’re muslims, so that their actions and beliefs can be dis-associated with islam and muslims.

  8. Let us not all harsh on the Turks now. I personally know many devout Muslim Turkish people (…my husband for one). If you look at the bigger picture you may notice that America could be classified using the same verbage. This is a Christian country yet I know many who are born Christian but are not practicing or who are even atheist or agnostic. Europe itself could be described as a postreligious region with a declining number of people attending churches or practicing Christianity.

  9. As salaamu alaikum

    Muslim gal,

    Its not just the Turks, but many immigrant Muslim children seem to be like your classmate. Many of them put on a show for their parents, who barely practice Islam themselves. It is very dangerous to bring up Muslim children in that sicko society.

    What I have a hard time understanding are the people that claim to be Muslim converts, but keep their same sick practices, manners and friends. Not too long ago when someone embraced Islam in america it was because they loved the truth. The truth in the quran and the sunnah of Muhammad(SAWS). Now days you find people that have claimed to have converted to Islam, but seem to hate Islam and Muslims. Some of them post here by the way.

    I can understand hating the unislamic practices of muslims and all of us should. You can find Muslims doing anything and everything under the sun, but Islam is only described by what is in the quran and sunnah not by what Muslims do.

  10. assalamu alikeum


    [Its not just the Turks, but many immigrant Muslim children seem to be like your classmate. Many of them put on a show for their parents, who barely practice Islam themselves.]

    Yea thats true. i mean this topic was about Turkey, hence me refering to Turks, but i agree in general that their are many kids from muslim countries that are no longer practising islam. Many lead double lives and have one face for the parents and one for society. To be honest parents share a large proportion of the blame for that. Instead of teaching their kids islam, their taught them a [insert ethnicity] version of islam. Not only that, i think many kids are lured by what society has to offer because they dont think islam has anything offer them. It does, but the way that parents teach and practise islam leaves little to be desired, which in turn makes their children switch off from islam.

    [What I have a hard time understanding are the people that claim to be Muslim converts, but keep their same sick practices, manners and friends.]

    I dont make the distinction between muslims who were rasied as one from birth and those who later adopted islam. Muslim is muslim and what you said there is true for many muslims all over the world.

    [Not too long ago when someone embraced Islam in america it was because they loved the truth. The truth in the quran and the sunnah of Muhammad(SAWS). Now days you find people that have claimed to have converted to Islam, but seem to hate Islam and Muslims. Some of them post here by the way.]

    I don’t think anything changed in regards to why people come to islam. People come to it because they believe it to be the truth and the faith for them. I haven’t met any revert/convert who hates islam- not in this board or in life. I would say that there are some (including on these boards) that dislike the actions/words of some muslims, especially if those actions/words are unislamic. Other times, its more of a personality clash (or clash of egos), and nothing really to do with islam or muslims.

    [You can find Muslims doing anything and everything under the sun, but Islam is only described by what is in the quran and sunnah not by what Muslims do.]

    True, islam is only whats in the quran and sunnah and not the actions of rogue muslims, but the fact is that people will look to how we as muslims act and that will reflect on islam- even if we dont want it to, or it shouldnt do. And its hard sometimes to explain to people who arent muslim, why other muslims do things which are blantely against islam. Just like that turkish classmate i mentioned. He was aetheist, he smoked, drunk alchoal, had girlfriends but yet claimed he was a muslim and was seen by other as a ‘normal’ muslim. So when i wasnt like that, i was deemed a bit freakish and rigid (even though im not!). Funnily enough, it was the guys in my class (who were all non muslim, except for 1) who actually really respected me for being myself and i got nothing but 100% respect off them. The girls on the other hand (who made up 3/4 of the class) had issues with me, islam etc…

  11. Good point, Millie. Every poll I’ve ever seen demonstrates that Americans are one of the most “religious” peoples on earth.

    That said… we are “religious” in what I’ve always referred to as a “Little House on the Prairie” style. We like to be on good terms with our Pasters. We like to attend Church, say our prayers, sing our hymns. While many of us attend Church out of “obligation” or “habit,” many others find attending Church spiritually uplifting.

    AMERICANS, however, are fairly unique in one “religious” regard. Call it arrogance or call it self-confidence… but Americans have a tradition and natural proclivity to “personalize” their relationship to God. It’s in our literature (see: The Devil and Daniel Webster), it’s in our films (see: It’s a Wonderful Life), it’s in our mindset.

    WE… AMERICANS… especially Americans of White Anglo-Saxon descent… tend to feel that while we might wrap ourselves in the cloak of “sect,” we take a cafeteria-style approach (pick out what you like, leave the rest) to “Church” dogma. We tend to figure that when the time comes… GOD will deal with us in a “reasonable” and compassionate manner.

    Americans equate “religion” with “goodness.” The Priest is “good.” The Rabbi is “good.” The Paster is “good.” The Iman is “good.” In other words… they’re all “Men (or woman in some sects) of God.” How they communicate their “holiness” and whether they act “good” is what makes them “godly.”

    Christians and Jews believe in a RATIONAL GOD. A God who made us in HIS image and who understands us and who wants us to understand HIM. “My” God… the “Protestant” God… is fair, rational, and has a sense of humor. He (even though I’d guess “gender” as such doesn’t apply to the Diety) loves me and loves you and doesn’t much care which “religion” we belong to or whether we cross the “T’s” and dot the “I’s” of each and every tenent of our faiths. He – MY GOD – is a “Big Picture” sorta guy. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff.

    Now some of you might wrongly believe I’m being flip or sacreligious. I’m not. I’m just trying to “share” what’s a fairly common “American” view of God to those of you who might not be American born and bred and/or who might have been raised in a more “narrow” growing up experience than most native-born Americans grow up in.


  12. Sure, Umar shouldnt have gone to the bar to do dawah, and The Prophet should not have done dawah in a pagan town, with pagan residents, doing pagan things.

    He should have erected a tent camp outside of Mekkah and Medina and refused to enter the dens of inequity and demand that the pagans come to him to be converted.

    I mean think about it, Mekkah and Medina at that time were full of pagans, idols, drink, fornication, dancing, probably worse the bar Umar went to.

    I agree, a tent camp would have been better than doing dawah where the disbelievers were. I mean, isnt that the best way to get people to convert, making them come to you?

  13. assalamu alikeum

    stop being facetious brother.

    Firstly you cant really compare between the prophet s.a.w and our Brother Umar.

    There’s nowhere in the quran, sunnah or hadiths which mentions the prophet s.a.w going to places like the ‘nightclubs’ of that era to do dawah. We as muslims of today know that we are not allowed to enter such places as they are haram for obvious reasons, forget giving dawah in them! No-one denies the meccans were people who engaged in all sorts of sorded stuff and again i repeat no-one has mentioned that such people should not be given dawah too (only you have said that sarcastically).

    But you find me proof that the prophet s.a.w went to such places to do dawah, regardless of what the people were like or got upto. If he had, then i guareantee, after those things were prohibited in islam (as some things were prohibited in islam as revelations came at different periods of time), he never would have gone back to it.

    Even before the the prophet s.a.w had his prophethood revealed to him, he had never really actively saught to go were such activities took place and when he did try to, allah s.w.t through his will stopped him. There was a time as a young man (before he was married) the prophet s.a.w wanted to go to some carnival/fair/street thing that was going on in mecca. He got all ready to go and decided to have a quick nap first and he ended up sleeping all though the night and morning, till that carnival thingy left mecca and moved on [this is a hadith, obviously not word for word, but paraphrased loosely]. Allah s.w.t had stopped him from going somewhere where haram was present and he had been spared from many things thoughout his life, through the will of allah.

    No matter how you try and twist it bro, you can’t really fufil the halal through haram. No barakah comes from it, no matter how hard you [not you personally, generically speaking] try.

  14. AS muslims we can give dawah by making sure we present islam through our character not through lip service. If people can see that we have submitted ourselves to this deen then they will admire our way of life and this is the greatest form of dawah.

  15. Cheesy white boy- Nobody was talking to you, jacksuace, get lost.

    I’m sick of self-righteous twits and their bullshit. Yeah, Umar did dawah by entering an area of less than moral virtue, and openly IGNORED ITS TEMPTATIONS TO TALK TO THIS GUY. That is dawah. Sitting around hoping your co-workers will notice how nice you are is grand, but not exactly gonna help. Plus, considering I’ll bet half you people who’d criticize Umar here avoid kafirun unless your actively trying to convert them, so I doubt you have a lot of success anyway.

    Anyway, leila is a fan of Holocaust denial, so her opinion means shit to me anyway.

  16. And your opinion don’t mean jack shit either DA, you got tourette’s or something? This post isn’t about Holocaust denial so quit the ad hominem attacks on those who disagree with you.

  17. assalamu alikeum

    Dave, is it possiable to be civil whilst trying to make your point? Fair enough if you dont like whats being said or disagree, but theres no need to be rude or tell people to ‘shut the fuck up’ as you did earlier. It doesnt kill to have manners you know.

    Seeing as i was one of those people who did make mention to the nightclub/dawah ish, i might as well respond.

    I wasnt really critising Umar, but more rather the idea of trying to do nightclub dawah (and its problems) and trying to explain why i thought that it was not the best way and using his example, seeing as he laid it on the table.

    Anyways you shouldnt assume people’s characteristics and stuff and box people off into boxes just because they disgaree with a certain aspect or point. Like assuming that everyone has some deep hatred for non muslims simply because they dont agree with your opinion regarding nightclub dawah. I personally have friends of different faiths/no faith and many races (sounds cliched but true) so your wrong. I dont actively seek to convert anyone or force my religion down people’s throats. If people ask or question about islam, i just tell them what i know and point them to people who can do dawah better. Maybe being nice sucks to you and isnt ‘macho’ enough, but guess what it works for someone like me and alhmdualiah i’ve atleast helped people like school/college/uni friends i know change perspective on islam. I doubt they’ll convert (anything is possiable though) but atleast they know more about what islam really is about and not what Fox, CNN and trashy tabloids protray.

    Besides, i dont understand why are you getting so worked up about it. If Umar is pissed with whats said, then im sure we’ll all know – this is his blog after all. He dont need protection.


    Umar: if your reading this, then please take no offense to what i’ve said about you because none was intended to be caused.

  18. I love two-faced Muslim culture. People act condescending, rude, and mince around when they’re trying to talk shit, but then when someone responds with the same open rudeness in return instead of dancing around it, the lecture on manners arrives. Leila’s response was seriously lacking in adab, I don’t see why she shouldn’t be talked to the same way.

    Anyway, I wasn’t talking to you, only Leila, so I’m not sure why you find my remarks personally offensive since I wasn’t applying them to your arguments. but if you want me to address your comments; comparing one’s own efforts to the Prophet’s (saws) is called following the Sunnah. Which we’re all suposed to do. As for whether you are one of the people I’m talking about; I stated that it was a generality. Yeah, the more self-righteous and glowing a Muslim is, I’ve generally found, the more they think they need to avoid the kaffirun. Tell me that this is not often true. At any rate, I attacked Leila’s post for it’s tone. I disagree with you but didn’t attack you, for the simple reason that I have no problem with simple disagreements, I do have a problem with Muslim pretense and bullshit that I feel holds us back and leads to difficulties.

    Cheesy White Boy, actually, I have had a professional suggest I might have Tourette’s. It had to do with nervous tics I had when I was younger that seem to have disappeared. Being as this is not “Duece Bigalowe” or “L.A. Law”, your suggestion just makes you look like a Jackass. Are you Sharpass under a new name? The discourse seems to be at about the same level. I find it funny you’d bring up Ad hominem attacks while showing roughly the discourse level of an 8th grader. And do you take flat earthers seriously when they spout bullshit about something else? I don’t take nazis seriously either.

    Anyway, here’s my challenge; if anyone can bring dalil that what Umar did was haraam (And I don’t mean vague feelings or a sense of superiority, I mean real evidence) then by all means, do so. I’m going to guess no.

  19. DA, what a small world! I actually have Tourette Syndrome… but after puberty it died down to practically nothing. Man, that medication made me one fat kid though :)

  20. DA: “I do have a problem with Muslim pretense and bullshit that I feel holds us back and leads to difficulties.”


    Yeah, okay. Whatever. I’ll agree with that only if “us” means you, Umar and that other guy… whatsisname… the one that had a problem with me calling you Jethro.

    That aside, I’m reminded of that Lone Ranger episode.

    “We’re surrounded by hostile Indians, Tonto. Looks like we’re done for.”

    — “What you mean ‘we’, white man? You got mouse in pocket?”

    Khodaya shukr that the vast majority of Muslims can see through wolves in sheep’s clothing and dissemblers and mufsedeen.

  21. Are you declaring takfir on me? If you are, don’t be a pussy; come out and say it. Just remember to be just as gutsy on yom-id-din when allah asked why you denied a believer’s status.

    You’d never shit talk me in public. Your like every other internet loudmouth.

  22. A person giving da’wa who simply *says* not to sin is worthless; a person giving da’wa in front of the sin and *demonstrates* the example of not giving in to it is priceless.

  23. We will all be judged by our belief in and devotion to God — in word and deed.

    Not on whether or not some hysterical, hubris-ridden redneck from Arizona spits venom at us.

    Viva Aztlan

  24. Come on, come out and say it. Don’t imply I’m a kaffir then mince like a little bitch.

    I like that you’re a bigot as well as a liar though.

    Am I supposed to be offended by the Viva Aztlan part? Oh, right, you think you actually know something about me. Pathetic.

  25. The title of the post is “Revisiting Turkey,” not about Holocaust Denial, DA. If you’ve got a problem with someone in particular, take it elsewhere.

  26. I`m living in Turkey now. I`m an American convert trying to marry a Turkish sister. This place is strange. Umar sums up the condition of Turkey well. I could write for hours about the condition here. May Allah help this Ummah and the Turks! I`m tired of the AtaTurk cult. I`m guilty…….I visited his grave……..but didn`t make Duaa! I must say of all Muslim “races” the Turks care the least about Islam, may Allah forgive me if I make an incorrect statement”, but my religious Turkish friends openly admit to this. Islam here is mostly a culture rather than a view of life or a source of guidance and self improvement. Anyways, I hear the Azan and pray most my Salaat(Namaz :) ) in the Mosque(Cami), Alhamdulillah, and I have some good religious friends. If you have any questions or just want to drop me a line feel free.
    Muhammed Salim (steve) Lilleyman

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