SECULARISM vs RELIGIOUS CONSERVATISM
In The Beginning . . .
Mustafa Kamal (Ataturk) the Father of Modern Turkey was strictly a secularist, which means that
during his day religion and politics were kept entirely separate, just as they are in most Western
nations. We have absolutely no argument with that.
However, Ataturk's zealousness overstepped the bounds of separation and moved into restriction
and in some cases persecution. His actions, actually mirrored to some extent that of Mao Ze Dong,
and the Soviet Government. Human rights were trampled. Which explains the current reaction
among conservative Sunni Muslims who are currently moving in the opposite direction of attempting
(many believe) to trample on the rights of the strongly secularist population.
The Founders estimate that the population of Turkey is just about divided in half. We could be
wrong. Secularists could outnumber conservative Muslims. Throughout Turkey huge banners of
Ataturk are hung from houses, businesses, across alleys in Istanbul and even from large corporate
type buildings. This is generally understood as making a strong statement of being in support of
secularism. The conservatives are largely found in Eastern and Central Turkey (not in Eastern
Kurdish areas or Kars.) The moderates and secularists are generally found in the Mediterranean,
Aegean, Central-West Anatolia and most large cities. We suspect the black sea area is also largely
secularist from what we've learned and their close proximity to Russia.
WHO IS CHANGING THE RULES?
Changing the rules are:
1.) The four million Syrian refugees generally liberal having come from a secular state, which
also includes Syrian Christians and people still sympathetic to their Bedouin heritage.
(Bedouins are much more accepting of others and open-minded than conservative Turks.)
2.) Large numbers of outsiders from the Gulf and elsewhere are currently buying cheap real
estate throughout Turkey. People from Kuwait and Qatar are quite worldly and well educated
and see the world on larger terms (at least those that can afford to buy homes and condos in
3.) Numerous ethnic and religious minorities who feel they are largely outsiders will help change
Many conservative Turks (certainly not all) have a thread of xenophobia running through them not
found in any other Muslim countries (not even the Saudis) which is primarily due to being sealed
off from most of the world. Few Turkish people speak a second language and the media
rarely offers documentaries (except for a few nature shows) on other cultures including life
and culture in Asia, Africa, South America and so on. They really have very little information to
operate on. (The exception seems to be their exposure to Japanese culture and the Turkish people
seem to relish it. Across Turkey the ancient Samurai haircut is seen everywhere on young men.)
The most conservative and possibly the least educated in the Turkish community seem to be
uncomfortable even with clothing that reflects any ethnicity regardless of whether it is Muslim dress
that has existed much longer than their own.
This again comes back to Ataturk who tried to wipe out all divisions between people living within the
borders of modern Turkey. He had a great concern that Turkey would fragment into numerous
independent countries. This attitude is responsible for instilling a fear of “otherness” into many rural
Turkish minds which has since amalgamated into the most conservative Islamic agenda in Turkey.
YOUNG MODERN MUSLIMS
It should be noted most emphatically, that the majority of young women throughout Turkey wear
secular clothing with their own unique manner of wearing a hijab. However, many (not all) wear tight
jeans and fitted tops which pretty much negates the traditional purpose of female Islamic dress,
which is to prevent enticement to men, molestation or rape. (Remember Aisha?) However, for the
purpose of making the statement that you are Muslim and progressive - especially in
Western nations makes a lot of sense.
Of course, the advantage, aside from making a political statement is that young Turkish women who
are quite beautiful and those that wear a hijab never have a “bad hair day.” This could make a lot of
Western women (especially those hosting television shows) quite jealous. ON the other hand, they
have to endure incredibly hot summer days with their head elaborately covered in several stylish
fabrics and pinned coquettishly on the top and to the side. (Although, the pinning seems tenuous,
the hijabs never seem to fall apart. - Something like Indian saris that never come unraveled.)
NOTE: ABOUT MEN'S DRESS:
For men in Turkey to indicate any religious preference in public is frowned upon, (thanks to Ataturk)
so it is rare to identify an Imam in public (unless he is dashing from a mosque to another religious
institution) or a madrassa student on the street. In short, men very rarely wear any sort of kufi (topi
in India, cuppa in Oman- Muslim caps) or turbans as is the custom among Islamic scholars. You
will also be unable to identify an Orthodox or Catholic priest unless in a church, even at public
THE ULTIMATE HYPOCRISY
The situation for Dervishes (sufis, sidis ) in Turkey is quite contorted to say the least. Since the
days of Ataturk, Dervish ownership of meeting houses and some activities has been theoretically
and in some cases “actually” outlawed. Ataturk like many politicians, was quite fearful of the
influence of the spiritual / religious leaders including “Dervish” leaders whom large numbers of
people have often gravitated to when one of them emerges as a saint. He did not believe that
Dervishes (sufis, sidis or even a saint) could resist temporal power, since he and almost everyone
else in politics can not. So, during his time many dargahs (dervish/ sufi shrines) were destroyed and
many of the most influential tekkes (the Turkish name for sufi meeting houses) were seized and
turned into museums.
NOTE: ABOUT THE MEVLANA DERVISHES
The utter ludicrousness of the situation can still be seen with the world famous Mevlana Dervishes
whose practices of whirling (among many other practices) are based on the life of the mystic poet
and saint Celaleddin Rumi (Jalal Ad Din Rumi). The Mevlana Dervishes have had just about all
their tekkes seized by the government, they are forbidden many activities and yet the government
strongly “encourages” them to perform publicly in Konya where the Rumi “museum” exists. This
publicity is only for the benefit of the tourist industry. The government rakes a handsome profit from
all the Mevlana performances given to tourists. The only reason any tourist goes to Konya is
due to Celaleddin Rumi (Jalal Ad Din Rumi) tekke (museum) and the Dervish performances.
The Inter-Relationship Between Turkish & Worldwide Dervish (Sufi) Orders
The Embrace Founders were extremely lucky to watch a private performance of the Mevlana
Dervishes when their Dede (“Grandfather” - leader) was visiting the Jerrahi Dervish Order tekke in
Istanbul (so far, not outlawed) at the same time that the Embrace Founders were visiting when
Sheikh Safir was alive. Seeing a spiritual ceremony in the context of a spiritual location is the most
While Ajata and Virginia were in Palmyra Syria having breakfast at a small home cafe shortly before
the war, they learned that their Syrian host knew and adhered to the sufi practices of Sheikh
Muzzefer Effendi from the Jerrahi Order in Istanbul.
Throughout the years, Ajata and Virginia have met dervishes (sufis, sidis, Islamic Saints)
throughout Asia, the Middle East and Africa, including Harar, Ethiopia. According to the particular
dervish (sufi, sidi) order, the exact same zikrs (dhikrs) are done around the world, regardless of the
language spoken in the individual countries. Of course some Ya Ilahis (songs composed to the
Divine, The Holy Prophet or Ali etc.) are original according to geographic location. Furthermore, in
North Africa and the Middle East a number of Heads of State have been supporters and/or members
of dervish orders (sufi, sidi) and this can be applied to various Grand Muftis and ulama.
There Are No Prejudices In Dervish (Sufi/ Sidi) Orders
The divisions that some politicians and scholars like to apply as to “Sunni” or “Shi'ah” orders and
this seems to be the case in Turkey, are totally inapplicable. Certain orders have been far more
discriminated against than others by the government in Turkey. The entire point of following a
Dervish (sufi/ sidi) tradition is to rid oneself of prejudices that separate you from the all-Embracing
Divine. To teach discrimination or to even allow it in a dervish order is contrary to all dervish (sufi/
Dervishes (sufis, sidis) do not make any distinctions between Sunni and Shi'ah. Orders may exist in
countries or areas that are primarily composed of one sect or the other but it has no bearing on the
While reading of the progression between states of sobriety and intoxication - states of closeness to
the Divine, as taught by Haci Bektis Veli, the Embrace Founders were surprised to see it was the
exact same description included in the teachings of the Chistiyya Order of the Indian sub-continent,
as well as, that of the Jerrahi Order of Turkey and it would not surprise either of them to discover
that this Bektasi Order description has been incorporated into orders even further afield. The
sharing of concepts and practices among the dervish (sufi/ sidi) knows no boundaries.
Note on the Above:
It should be noted, that some individuals becoming new members of a Dervish (Sufi /Sidi) order or just
admirers coming to visit a Dervish Sheikh, may not know what the Sheikh (Murshid or Pir) of the order
Dervishes are generally taught individually according to their maturity and level of understanding.
The political environment a Sheikh (Murshid or Pir) lives in influences to some degree what they can
In short some people living near dervish orders but not members of a dervish (or sufi) order or new
undisciplined mureeds (students) may project their own prejudices and beliefs upon Dervish Sheikhs
(Murshids, Pirs) and express their limited understanding to others.
What is Positive In Turkey?
1.) Turkey is kind and generous to refugees. New foundations have been formed to raise
money for Syrian refugees and they can be seen raising money in malls, such as the one in
2.) It is exceptionally clean, cleaner than many European countries.
3.) It respects agriculture. It's land is very fertile and to preserve it, new cities are springing up
throughout the East and Central regions that are all built upward rather than spread out to
preserve agricultural land.
4.) Turkey really seems to utilize urban planning for new cities, which are designed logically and
practically, and are aesthetically pleasing if not always imaginative. They are clean, healthy
places for Turkish people to live and thrive.
5.) The country is beautiful. Not only the obvious beach areas, but also the Eastern and
Central-Eastern areas. The landscape is undeveloped and varied and often dramatic.
6.) Fascinating, ancient archaeological ruins of remarkable early civilizations are everywhere.
7.) For Christians this is the main destination the apostles traveled to after the death of Christ.
There are many Christian shrines and cave churches from the earliest years of Christianity.
8.) Obviously, some of the grandest mosques in the world were built by the Ottomans and they
are magnificent. They literally take your breath away.
Turkey gets hot in the summer and few places including stores and restaurants have air
conditioning. Despite this, and despite the cheapness of stand alone fans and air coolers
(evaporative coolers- used often in India among people with little money) Turkish people simply do
not use them. Not even the cheapest portable fan is found in most restaurants.
(NOTE! For enterprising Indians, Asians - this is your chance! Go to Turkey show them what a
simple air cooler can do and sell it to them. They will feel a lot more comfortable and so will their
customers for very little money.)
The Re-creation of Spiritual Places
Just as some Christians, (Catholics in particular) recreate the Via Delorosa, the journey of Jesus to
Golgotha to enable the devoted to walk his experience through the stations of the cross, Muslims
too, have for centuries recreated stories from the Qu'ran. This is so that believers will have a place
of hope and respite from the sorrows of life. Some dervish (sufi/ sidi) saints, in the past have even
suggested that poor people who can not afford to go to Mecca for Haj, draw a circle in the sand and
recreate the Kaaba in their mind. Then they have been told to reenact the entire Haj around that
space, just as if they had made the pilgrimage.
The point of such recreations is one of inspiring faith, hope and creating places of refuge. Whether
the “caves” of Ibrahim Abraham or Ayyoub Job (both are in the Qu'ran) in Turkey are literally places
where these men stayed, we can not say, but it really isn't relevant. It is of little surprise that
currently, many refugees go to these places to unburden their hearts. The grief and sorrow one
witnesses can be heart-rending.
OK What Is the Lowdown for A Tourist . . . .
Let's start off, by saying that most Westerners, unless they are doing secular or UN. relief work for
Syrian refugees or going to a confined space at an Aegean or Mediterranean Resort or have some
special connection or project with Turkey would probably be better off not going to Turkey at
The people in Turkey in general, (not all of them, of course) are not in good humor with regard
especially to Americans and pretty much all Westerners. (This is an understatement.) There is no
point in Americans or Westerners, antagonizing the situation. Yes, Turkish people pretty much
blame all Americans and all citizens of Western nations for the horrors their governments have
initiated and perpetuated in the Middle East and the recent attempts at overthrowing their
government. Generally, Turkish people only speak Turkish so for those who do not speak Turkish it
is a fruitless effort to try to convince them you have nothing whatsoever to do with your
governments' (intelligence agency's - “unintelligent” agency's) actions and moreover you have never
agreed in the last15 years with your government's foreign policy.
The recent attempt by the CIA and American military to interfere in Turkey's political affairs and
install a 77 year old conservative religious Muslim leader as Head of State has won no points with
Turkish secularists and if continued will be another “Bay of Pigs,” a failure and a resounding
The Turkish people will definitely resolve their differences given time, without interference from the
CIA, the U.S. Military or the Mossad. Most likely it will develop in stages, bloodlessly.
The Turkish people, like all people around the world, deserve to struggle for their own self-
determination without being bombed, starved or having to deal with any unscrupulous