When did the Turks become Muslims?
Turks and Islam : Other people's god
The first time I saw God I was eight. He was a tall, neglected man. He opened the garden gate as naturally as if he were coming home, stood in the courtyard, looked into my eyes and said: “I'm hungry!” I ran to my grandmother and told her that a beggar was asking for food. She excitedly prepared a feast for him.
A mysterious world seemed to exist between my grandmother and the beggar, of which I knew nothing. I felt deep down that there was a moral law between a hungry man and a woman who generously served him a feast, but I was unable to fully understand what I had experienced. When the beggar had finished he went out of the house, again as if he were leaving his own home. No sooner was he gone than I stormed Grandmother with questions. In a trembling voice she explained to me that that man was God himself. God was such a being. In the form of a needy person, whom one turned to caringly, whom one satiated.
My grandmother's god was a holy man who came from the ancient world before the transition to monotheism. His name was Hizir. He had wandered through the ages, through different languages and cultures, besides the ability to care for fertility and to protect the sailors, he had acquired other qualities such as wisdom, the ability to suffer, and craftsmanship here, lost there and finally was a beggar before mine Grandmother stepped over. It was a mirror image, originated long before Islam and other monotheistic religions, which shows how old the mythologies of human civilizations are and how vital the latent common culture on earth has remained at the same time.
As a beggar, Hizir, the dominant deity in the beliefs of the Alevis of Dersim, resembles Buddha with the begging bowl. Buddha's begging bowl not only represents the right to bring God's gifts to his creatures back into circulation. Rather, it represents the theological roots of Buddhist belief as an expression of the mutual dependence of creatures on one another. The English word beggar goes back to the Begarden, a mendicant order that arose in Flanders in the 13th century. According to this Christian denomination, a monk who asks for gifts is someone who opens up to one another. It is not about gain, but about revealing his soul.
In a bitter time, as religion is transforming into mass culture and fascism is budding in mass culture, it is important to remember that most religious elements have no specific characteristics at all. If we do not forget that all religions in the world spring from a common reservoir, we save ourselves from the mistake of establishing religious affiliation as a rigid identity.
For heterodox views, far from the mainstream of a religion, a believer is someone who unites the holy values of all faiths. Belief and religion are now two different tendencies. Spirituality finds its answer in a belief that contains universality, whereas religiosity finds its answer in an identity. But if we look at the peoples from a historical perspective, we see how changeable religious beliefs are. The Turks founded 17 states in the course of their history and were earlier Confucians or Taoists, from the 7th century also Buddhists, Manichaeans or fire-worshiping Zoroastrians, immediately before monotheism also shamanists or pantheists, during the 400-year Khazar empire they were Jews, some of them ab Churches that converted to Christianity in the 9th century still exist today as Orthodox Christians. Obviously religion is like a river that adapts its bed to the natural conditions and flows on incessantly. It is not subject to any universal law of nature with eternal validity.
Looking at the present, it is almost impossible to speak of an absolute Islamic culture. During my time in Berlin I experienced very different ways of life. Even if the Alevis seem more capable of integration than Sunni Muslims because of their origin from an egalitarian tradition, I have personally met women who have emancipated themselves from extremely conservative families.
There are religious communities that set up social and economic networks in small convents on apartment building floors, as well as those that use mosques as sports centers, cafés or social counseling facilities at the same time. Of course there are also extremist communities that force their wives under the headscarf and regard Islam as the roof of an ideology of male rule. But there are also Muslims who for their entire life do not look at the Koran and live there without knowing the intricacies of their own religion. I have met pious people, completely alienated from their religion, who turn to the Imam with questions of everyday life and organize their lives according to the rigid rules of haram and helal, kosher and unskosher.
Most of the Muslims from Turkey are viewed by stricter communities as "Muslim light". Congregations in which the self-definition is: “First I am Muslim” have developed a defensive rhetoric against the arguments of the Islamophobia that arose after September 11th. The theological studies, on the other hand, that Reformers are doing at various institutes to reinterpret the Koran in a thematic and historical context deserve admiration. In addition to activists who work on Islam and feminism, an Islamic movement is currently emerging, which is changing to an almost Protestant understanding according to the motto “Act for the hereafter as if you would die today and for this world as if you would live forever” . On the other hand, a trend has developed that understands Islam as a discrepancy to worldliness and bears Marxist traits. Like all religions, Islam also changes within the framework of its own dynamics. The worry that is building up towards Islam hardly has any other function than to fuel an identity crisis in both observer and observer.
In order to understand how the phenomenon of the radical Islamic movement emerged from a strongly degenerated religious discourse, one does not need an excursion into theology, but a look at international political history. The matter begins when we are condemned to stand idly by a massacre, occupation or exploitation anywhere in the world and threaten to suffocate from intimidation. Intimidation is the simplest form of propaganda. Fear as the top emotional layer shapes our prejudices. It spreads like water vapor and takes the breath away in the masses of society.
Ignoring the cultural contribution of religion, not just that of Islam, to philosophy and civilization, and believing that religion is dumbing down people and destroying civilization, may at first seem like empty chatter. But when such words meet people's fears, they can become a powerful political wave that many join. Any belief centered on a single religion necessarily degrades members of other religions to second-class citizens.
The British historian Arnold Joseph Toynbee believes that civilization is not a port but a journey. Toynbee proposes a historiography that seeks to understand cultures rather than producing positive or negative value judgments about them. Thinking in pure categories of belonging prevents objective thinking. Defining your own civilization as superior to another is indulging in a familiar nightmare. When monolithic cultures use strangers living with them as an opportunity to question themselves, they begin to attach importance to these strangers, but this can only be of a negative character.
As a person who equally values the life of all beings on earth, whether stone, tree, sky, bird or sea, and cannot find anything sacred for whose sake blood is shed, I can only acknowledge one experience in matters of faith: the immeasurable depth in the feeling of the mystery that gives man a feeling of inexhaustible life. This depth arises when one does not perceive the members of other religions as a crowd, but is curious about the ego of each individual. To get involved in this depth also means to face the uncertainty. So my grandmother's deed cannot be assigned to a single religion, nor does it have anything to do with the superficiality of our time. Rather, my grandmother created a mystery: by treating the beggar at her door like God.
Translated from the Turkish by Sabine Adatepe
Sema Kaygusuz was born in Samsun, Turkey in 1972. She studied in Ankara and now lives as a writer in Istanbul. She published several volumes of short stories. Her debut novel "Wein und Gold" was recently published by Suhrkamp Verlag. She is currently a guest of the DAAD's Berlin artist program. On Friday, January 21st, at 7 pm, she will perform as part of the evening “Germany's Muslims and European Islam” in the Berlin House of World Cultures. Among others, Hilal Sezgin, Cem Özdemir, Tariq Ramadan, Dan Diner and Gudrun Krämer will discuss. The evening will be moderated by Tagesspiegel reporter Caroline Fetscher.
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