By Inas Younis, New Age Islam
25 September, 2014
If an ideal vacation is designed to fulfil your every desire, then Turkey is a place designed to introduce you to desires you didn’t even know you had. Part mystical part mundane, Turkey is the perfect metaphor for humanities’ duelling impulses. For what turkey has to offer goes a little deeper then Turkish baths, bazaars and baklava galore.
What makes turkey the number one traveller’s destination second only to Italy, is that it is a vacation where you will experience the meaning of what it feels like to yearn for meaning. Not escape, but meaning; not the blandness of generic fun, but spicy cultural flavours which have you feeling like a vacationer one day and a pilgrim the next. The diversity in Turkey is beautiful precisely because the creative tension does not depend on demographics, for Turkey is 95 percent Muslim. The tension is mostly ideological. Turkey is a world where the free MARKETS of ideas are not entrepreneurial ventures but spiritual ones. It is a land whose inhabitants are comfortable with religion, not as a social solution but as a social reality.
It is home to one of the world’s greatest architectural buildings the Hagia Sophia . First a church, then a mosque, and now a museum, the Hagia Sophia is a stunning visual of both Islamic art and Christian mosaics in one shared space.
But even more complex than its landmarks is the duality between the two figures who shaped modern Turkey. There is the universally recognized Muslim mystic Rumi, with his timeless, spiritual legacy. And then there is Ataturk, who transformed the former Ottoman Empire into a modern and secular nation state. Turkey's spiritual past and its current staunchly secular posture may seem to appear at odds; but spend enough time there and you get the impression that many Turks are secular precisely because they want to protect and preserve religion. Turks seem to believe that faith needs the friction of secularism to find full expression, while the sobriety of secularism demands the sweetness of faith in order to keep from becoming bitter.
Juxtapose the radically secular Ankara to the more spiritual Istanbul and secularism emerges as being both skeletal and absolutist. In Ankara nationalism replaces religion but does not escape from its influence. For historical figures like Ataturk are revered in the same way that prophets and mystics are revered and with the same plastering of religious iconography. No matter where you fall on the secular religious spectrum, the one thing you will not escape nor will you wish to escape, is the call to prayer heard five times a day from the thousands of minarets which punctuate Turkey's scenic landscape. The Adhan will always feel like a welcome interruption. For the Muslim it is a reminder to make their obligatory prayers. And for non-Muslims, visitors, the faithful and faithless, it is a reminder that God exists in the collective consciousness of this land of dualities; the land of Rumi, whose most famous words still resonate in the hearts of people all over the world.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I ‘ll meet you there…..” I’ll meet you in Turrkiye.
Inas Younis is a freelance writer residing in Kansas. She has written for Muslim Girl Magazine and her work was featured in the anthology Living Islam Out Loud. She contributed this article to New Age Islam.