Continuities of Culture in the City: Using Accidental Clues to Access London/Turkish Spiritualities in Commercial Cultures

Paper prepared for the Global Studies Association conference 10th to 12th July 2013 at the University of Roehampton


While European leaders squabble about whether or not Turkey does or does not belong into the European Union and in Germany, the main destination of Turkish migration in the second half of the 20th century, Turks remain the target of racist discrimination and blame (Soysal 2013), Turkish London looks like a model case of cosmopolitan co-existence. During the 2011 Riots Daily Mail reading British tourists in Turkey learned in amazement how members of this “Muslim” population played the part of vigilante defenders of British retail, while the Turkish media noted that against the looters London Turks stood together with London Kurds. While celebrations of multicultural success stories need to be taken with a pinch of salt (particularly as they might be used as reproach towards groups considered less well “integrated”), the inconspicuous and under-researched case of London Turcophone ‘ordinary cosmopolitanism’ (Lamont/Aksartova 2002, also cf. Werbner 1999 for working class migrant cosmopolitanisms) deserves attention. At a time when multicultural society is questioned and anti-Muslim hate crimes are on the rise, what makes the apparently unproblematic everyday cosmopolitanism of Turkish London possible?

In this paper I will try to begin answering this question by presenting preliminaries for a study on the intricacies of London/Turkish life, developing from material clues gathered on a single day of preliminary ethnographic research on Kingsland Road and Stoke Newington Road, Dalston/Hackney – showing that already on the basis of very little evidence assumptions about bounded and un-ambiguously identified ethno-religious migrant community can be challenged. Randomly encountered artefacts such as a cartoon character themed yogurt drink from a Turkish supermarket, the grandfather clocks in the prayer hall of a Sunni Mosque, a guide to the ritual prayer (namaz) bought from a Turkish/Islamic book shop or a 17th century “Turkey upholstery” chair displayed in Geffrye Museum of English Interior Design tell stories about how both breaks and continuities in space and time are established through spiritual and commercial practice. Spatial references – between metropolises such as London and Istanbul, and transcendent and immanent spiritual places such as the Âlem-i Misâl , local mosques, cinematic imaginations and the Kaabe in Mecca – intersect and reflect back on each other. As do temporal references – the clues were gathered on the opening day of the London Olympics, the first Friday of Ramazan, market day on Ridley Road. The aim of this paper will be to set out the parameters to investigate continuities of culture in the cosmopolitan metropolis as continuities of time and continuities of space, as lived in practices and coagulated in artefacts whose initial function may have been distinction rather than connection.

Of course – this falls short of the full investigation that London Turkish spiritual and commercial life would merit. While one aim of this paper is to show that even before deeper investigations, clues (Inglis 2010) can destabilise existing preconceptions, even in an observer who comes in with ‘interactional expertise’ (Collins et al. 2006) I am also making a case against a too systematic approach to research as stipulated by the current funding system – a system that nominally favours “innovative” research, but requires researchers to lay out, in advance, very detailed proceedings. In this initial refusal to systematise the field from the outset I follow Çağlar’s (1997) programmatic call for research perspectives that do not start with cultural categorisation, but to find sideways access into everyday life worlds, e.g. through practices of consumption. Küçükcan (1999) has drawn up, and Çoştu (2009) has updated, a very useful map of London Turkish religious and community organisations. But in the end this leads to a categorisation of segments within the London Turkish speaking communities that may be relevant for those centrally involved in those organisation, but less so for the many who use their facilities without deeper involvement. So, while, as Werbner (1997) argues there can be no doubt about the validity of such essentialising of collective identity where it is driven by community self organisation, the symbolic work done by such organisations can only be understood against the background of the fluidity of cultural practice, the ebruesqe nature of identity in a cosmopolitan age (Durak 2006, Varul 2012). While the perspective from organisation unwittingly emphasises boundary construction and maintenance, the perspective from casual observation favours the discovery of connections and lines establishing the continuity of culture which Ingold (1993) asserts. Ingold resolves the seeming tension between the universal possibility of understanding implying homogeneity and cultural variety and diversity which implies an impossibility of such understanding by invoking the metaphor of a landscape:

‘I find it helpful to imagine the world in which people dwell as a continuous and unbounded landscape, endlessly varied in its features and contours, yet without seams or breaks. As we travel across the landscape we move from place to place. Each place is different from the last, each is surrounded by its own horizons, yet these horizons dissolve on approach as new ones loom up ahead – they are never crossed. So how do we describe the particular character of a place? I answer: “By the way the world looks from that place, by the vista it affords to someone standing there”’ (Ingold 1993: 226)

However, unlike Ingold (2008) who in a pronouncedly anti-urban turn dismisses any artificially set boundary as discontinuation of landscape and culture, I will argue that it is, paradoxically, through identity-setting, defining and “othering” delineations (which those artefacts embody) that the possibility of continuity and connectivity is constituted in the first place. Here I take inspiration from both the sociological tradition (mainly Simmel, e.g. 1994) and, as this is about continuity of culture after all, from the Sufi spiritual-philosophical tradition of the communities studied. The notion of “limit” berzah[1] as the divide that connects, as the intermediate between material and spiritual existence which is the realm of the creative imagination, the âlem-i missal,the world of images (Bashier 2004, Chittick 1989, Corbin 1969). [2] The “great sheikh” Ibn Arabi characterises the berzahas follows:

“The closest, most affectionate, and most unifying of relations is one between Other (khilāf) and its other, from which it is differentiated … Affection (mawadda) between differentiated things prevents each of them from wanting the disappearance of its other from existence. Each desires and wishes that it could become one with its other for the sake of avoiding any difference between itself and Other, so that witnessing becomes only for the one and that the other disappears in it.’ (cited in Bashier 2004: 87f.)

This finds a correspondence Georg Simmel’s notion of relation through separation, of – if you like – presenting by absenting:

‘By choosing two items from the undisturbed store of natural things in order to designate them as “separate“, we have already related them to one another in our consciousness, we have emphasized these two together against whatever lies between them. And conversely, we can only sense those things to be related which we have previously somehow isolated from one another; things must first be separated from one another in order to be together.’ (Simmel 1994: 5)

Where Simmel sees separation as precondition for connection, Ibn Arabi (and, it should be said, the Romantics – for a speculation on some parallels between Sufi and Romantic ethics in relation to consumer culture cf. Varul 2013)

While for Ingold (2007) the mapping of a stream as an international boundary is merely an act of violence against the flow of the landscape, for Simmel this wilful misunderstanding of flowing water as a limit or separation is at the same time a stimulus to the imagination and a provocation to build a bridge. In recognising this paradoxical function of reifying identity ascriptions fluidity and hybridity can be exposed without denying the reality of socially constructed and maintained “cultural difference”. Against the Heideggerian-Lukácsian horror of reification (Honneth 2008), the dialectical nature of reification needs to be recalled – as (even though without explicit reference to the dialectical tradition) Silva (2013: 83) does in her empirically grounded assertion:

Reification is always  and necessarily linked not with inertness but with responsiveness; not with detachment but with involvement; not with passivity but with activity; not with a lack of control over one’s products, but with a tighter control over those products and the advantages they bring. In the end, a different view of mastery and control will surface: to regain control and effect change it is not sufficient to adopt a critical stance and come to terms with the “objective” fact that our reified world is after all our own creation, and what we did ourselves we can undo.’

This appreciation of limits and boundaries also entails a methodological break from the idea of unconditional immersion. While, in further research, a high degree of immersion (and what is more, research subject generated content) will be sought, my starting point is one of learned distance, which combines the notion that (against a background of eclectically accumulated familiarising knowledge) every tiny detail found in the field can become a vital clue, with a radical de-familiarisation and alienation that refuses to privilege any knowledge – not even “indigenous” knowledge. To take the detective metaphor of the “clue” seriously, we will follow the abductive approach exemplified Arthur Conan Doyle in his Sherlock Holmes stories as interpreted by Seboek/Umiker-Seboek (1988) in which the imaginative construction of possible connections and relations is the first step. If you like, this amounts to an adoption of the concept of berzah not just for the interpretation of the artefacts, but in the positioning of the interpretative approach itself as one activating the sociological imagination. (Mills)

This paper is thus written from an “armchair” position, rehabilitated by Willerslev (2010: 509) as counterweight to the paradox of immersive anthropology which ‘the more faithful it becomes to ethnographic reality, the more it loses its high function of imagery, namely that of synthesizing and interpreting what it represents’. Needless to say that I am not only resisting the temptation to fully immerse in one of the spiritual outlooks found in the field,[3] the same approach is taken towards “Western” interpretations.

This attitude (which is not a retreat – the necessity of a return to the field is fully recognised here) is, I suggest and hope to demonstrate, also advantageous in finding ways of articulating the meanings contained on the level of ‘iconic consciousness’ which for the immersed observer become inexpressible because:

‘the iconic is about experience, not communication. To be iconically conscious is to understand without knowing, or at least without knowing that one knows. It is to understand by feeling, by contact, by the “evidence of our senses” rather than the mind.’ (Alexander 2008: 782)

To make a first step in articulating the iconic consciousness residing in the objects found on the way learned detachment is indispensable. The adoption of the paradoxical notion of the limit, the berzah, will help accessing the way that iconographic artefacts both presenting and absenting simultaneously, notions which ‘may inform antagonistic philosophical perspectives, but’ as Alexander (2008: 786) asserts ‘are not antithetical in the empirical sense.’ This claim, of course, is one that needs to be validated or at least rendered plausible. in the discussion of the empirical material. If successful this should lead up to a ‘writing against culture’ in the three senses that Abu-Lughod (2006) outlines, by refusing the ‘distinction between ideas and practice’ (2006: 472) – when understanding how the religio-political and the commercial interact on a yoghurt pot whose contents have been consumed by myself –, by making ‘connections and interconnections’ (ibid.), especially ‘national and transnational connections of people, cultural forms, media, techniques, and commodities’ (2006:473), but also between the researcher and the researched, and ‘ethnographies of the particular’ (2006: 473) where single narratives, artefacts, practices reflect, but do not exemplify the general, and thus generalisation is rejected even where a claim to general validity is part of the artefact’s meaning structure.

What I am presenting in the following is only part of my “haul” from a single day of field work in London Hackney, up and down Kingsland Road and Stoke Newington Road – commonly viewed as the centre of Turkish life in the UK. I can highlight only a fraction of my observations – and by doing so am making my point, namely that even a very short and unsystematic observation immediately shatters any notion of reified cultural community and coherence and points to a fractured continuity of culture.

Of course, I will not deny that to make this observations a certain level of what Collins et al. (2006) called ‘interactional expertise’ is necessary. So I came to the field all read-up on varieties of Turkish Islam, equipped with some (basic) knowledge of Turkish language and a history of partial immersion in diasporic Turkish life in Europe. But there was no attempt at a systematic “mapping”. In a very situationistic way, my observations are guided by coincidence (a bit like the idea of exploring one city using a map of another city). I did not plan this field trip properly and would normally have avoided going at the opening day of the London Olympics – which happened to be the first Friday in Ramazan and also market day on Ridley Road. I also did not plan in the weather (after all – this is England), so once I hit Kingsland Road, against all reassurances of the Met Office, it started to rain heavily. I found refuge in the Geffrye Museum, (which I otherwise would have ignored), a museum that, as “museum of the home” set itself the task to ‘how homes and gardens reflect changes in society, behaviour, style and taste over the past 400 years’[4]. Here, due to bad conscience (I was travelling on research expenses) instead of just sheltering, I started to explore with forced interest. After all, to coincide with the Olympics, the museum had a special exhibition on the world at home in London (as symbolised in the giant teapot in the courtyard




What I found in that special exhibition was

an unexpected chair


Chair with turkey upholstery, about 1685, Geffrye Museum


So this is evidence of London Turkish life without London Turks – an Orientalising adaptation of Anatolian material and artistry for early bourgeois home life in the 17thcentury. Reflecting on this item, lines open both to Orientalist romanticism and Enlightenment rationalism, linking British Imperial notions of cultural superiority with longing imaginaries relating to Turkish lands as magical and luxurious East. Also there are lines into the Turkish notions of progress and Westernisation.

The chair on display clearly is, by design, an ordinary North West European chair and as such (and in contrast to what colonialist explorers found in exotic places… and before them what crusaders and traders found in the East[5]) epitomises Western civilisation in disciplined and self-controlled sitting. This is well documented in the Geffrye Museum. We find chairs arranged around dinner tables and at desks.

Bourgeois living room arranged in the Geffrye Museum


Fixating the sitter in the direction of the envisaged activity (supping, debating, writing, studying) and enforcing an upright position, the European chair underpins the self image of the modern European bourgeois as focused, purposeful, rational and diligent whose sitting is elevated from squatting. In the way the seat is set roughly at knee height, the sitting position of the Westerner is made to resemble standing up as closely as any sitting position can possibly be. Standing up, springing into action, requires minimal effort. In a pronounced way the chair does not only ‘afford sitting on’ (Gibson 1977 uses a chair to explain his notion of ‘affordance’), but it affords Western superiority.:

‘The chair, as we know it today, derives from the throne, and the throne presupposes subject animals or human beings, whose function it is to carry the weight of the ruler. The four legs of the chair represent the legs of an animal – a horse, an ox, or an elephant – and sitting in this way, on a raised seat, must be clearly distinguished from sitting or squatting on the ground, which means something quite different. To sit on a chair was originally a mark of distinction. The man who sat rested on other men who were his subjects or slaves. While he might sit, they had to stand.’ (Canetti 1962: 389)

Until today chairs are at the heart of the capitalist economy. As Conrad and Richter (2013: 125) find in their reflection on desks:

‘tables are not only representing the core of corporate culture but also the centres of economic power. Tables are the centre of globally operating corporations where a small number of people are making decisions which affect us all. to make this table visible is tantamount to making economic power visible.’

By combining this piece of furniture with an Anatolian rug, a kilim (which in itself can act as a piece of furniture in that one can sit on it, mostly cross-leggedly – bağdaş), the displayed chair presents as its opposite what it decidedly is not. It presents and absents “Oriental” sitting.

The latter is imagined as reclined, relaxed and either related to the meditative practice of the religious writer or the leisurely hedonist (e.g. drinking coffee and sucking on a hookah, or nargile, as these men in front of a coffeehouse in 1905)

The false generalisation from such practices onto an “Oriental mentality” was introduced in a Romantic fascination with the Islam (Rodinson 1980) which left us with the Turkey-derived concepts of “ottoman” “sofa” and the “divan”.  This chair is an interesting combination alluding to perceived Turkish luxuriousness and Western rational interior design. On the one hand it enforces ideas of Western superiority, the idea of the Occident as purposive and rational – i.e. “masculine” – and the Orient as fatalistic and passive – i.e. “feminine”. On the other hand it represents, by way of consumer cultural transcendence (McCracken 1988 calls it ‘displaced meaning’), escapist dreams of an “Oriental” life of sensuous existence as delicately depicted in Liotard’s painting of two cross-dressing and leg-crossing Westerners.[6]

(Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-1789): Monsieur Levett and Mademoiselle Helene Glavany in Turkish Costumes (oil on canvas), Louvre


The picture shows a friend of the painter and a British businessman – for whom the relaxed, reclined and passive Oriental other must incorporate an unachievable release from the Protestant Ethic coagulated in the “spirit of capitalism”. Oriental sitting (in the European imagination) is passive, inward, un-busy

‘Unlike those who use chairs, the oriental, when he sits, does not parade the fact that he could, if he wished, be sitting on his fellow-creatures. He is like a beautifully clothed sack; everything he owns is inside the sack, and it is this sack that his servants wait on. But squatting or sitting on the ground also implies acceptance of everything which may happen. If he were a beggar, the rich man would continue to sit in the same way and, in doing so, would say in effect that he was still the same man. the posture contains both wealth and poverty, and this, together with what we said about the absence of needs, is why it has become the posture of contemplation, familiar to all who know the East. The man who adopts it has freed himself from the world. He reposes in  himself and burdens no-one.’ (Canetti 1962: 393f.)


The upholstery on the chair in the  Geffrye museum does the consumerist trick of incorporating the, in a capitalist society, seemingly unachievable release represented by the imagined Oriental into a quintessentially Western piece of furniture. The “turkey upholstery chair” affords retaining embodied notions of Western rationality in contrast with the Oriental Other (a superiority which is driven home by the ultimate symbol of “possessing” as “being able to sit on”) – and simultaneously long for another, less disciplined and more indulgent life which is dreamt into the Orient. It is a micro-berzah, a distinction that creates, paradoxically, an imagination that may go on to undermine the rigid distinction.

On a much more trivial level I would suggest that it does something else as well: it familiarises with a textile aesthetics and even in Orientalising usage reduces the otherness of the visual appearance and the tactile feel. The knowledge that the material has been imported from Ottoman lands (which in the 17th century certainly would have been understood to be a world power equal to the British Empire), also has the potential to engender imagined journeys, awaking an interest that may set out to (and likely to) confirm preformed ideas of self and other – but at least as a possibility also may destabilise those stereotypes and lay the ground for genuine discovery. It can be expected to reduce the potential of revulsion by complete strangeness – a process that involves all senses. Visual, acoustic, olfactory and haptic aesthetics seep from one place into another, and although they are put to different uses and understood through different systems of meaning (e.g. Coca-Cola on Trinidad according to Daniel Miller 1998), it could, for example, be argued that the cosmopolitan scentscape of consumerist and multicultural London is an unacknowledged facilitator for further global hybridisation. With time the exoticism wears off and it is hardly conceivable any more how, say, a damask rose and musk hand wash in any way makes one smell “Oriental”. What Colin Campbell has described as the ‘Easternisation of the West’  could well be the end product of this sort of wearing-off in what Nava (2007) analysed as market-based ‘visceral cosmopolitanism’ whose vanishing point is the implosion of compass based cultural metaphors.

The relation works both ways. Chair and table have come to symbolise Westernisation in Turkey. In a way this is quite rational in itself, given the affordances of the combination chair-desk, enabling work using multiple sources at the same time, contrasting with the single-focused writing or reading of other arrangements.

As Tekgül (2012) highlights, the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk uses this affordance of the chair-and-desk ensemble to symbolise the ambivalences of competition, aspiration and suspicion towards the West and Westernisation when the Venetian slave of an Ottoman grandee convinces him that for his scientific work he really needs – a chair and a desk – which his master metaphorically associates with the death of culture as it evokes the image of a bier in him. Today different dining and sitting room arrangements still carry symbolic (as well as practical) significance, as Henkel (2007: 63) reports:

‘Although all of the homes I visited in Istanbul were furnished “European style” with sofa arrangements dining tables, and so on, my hosts often preferred to sit in front of sofas and armchairs on the floor. On some occasions (e.g. when I was invited to dinner together with my wife) the entire family was seated around the dining table. On other occasions my hosts preferred to take their meals sitting on the ground with the food spread on platters placed on a cloth, rather than sitting around the dining table. Generally only men would partake in these meals. Often, no individual plates would be used but bowls and platters would be shared, with the cloth tucked over the knees of the participants of the meal. Given that, on these occasions, cutlery was normally not used for eating, the role of the right hand as the clean hand was especially conspicuous. Often this  use of furniture reflects personal taste as much as more serious considerations. On several occasions, however, my interlocutors explicitly referred to the sunna or to “our tradition” or the “Anatolian tradition” (another way of referring to the Muslim tradition, adding a distinctly Turkish dimension.) This was given as their reason for preferring to sit on the ground to eat, and, especially, for eating together from the same platters, which they pointedly contrasted to the Western (batılı) style of eating and socializing.’ (Henkel 2007: 63)[7]

Here too we find that the definition of the other through an practical aesthetic artefact also serves to establish the very continuities that it seems to deny in the first instance. While initially the Western chair (with table) is a symbol of the alien and hostile (and increasingly dominant) West, it also familiarises that other on an everyday practical level so that, in the end, microcontinuities are established. When trying to reaffirm a distinctively Ottoman Turkish identity of Istanbul the then mayor (now Prime Minister) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan oversaw the refashioning of the popular municipal Çamlıca cafe in an alaturka aesthetics. However, so taken for granted had the Western way of sitting become that an essential detail was overlooked:

‘While the illustration on the wall stood as yet another insistent effort to verify the authenticity of Ottoman culture by emphasizing historicity and tradition, the actual furnishing of the coffee house had no resemblance whatsoever to the representation on the wall. The chairs and tables in the coffee house were of nineteenth-century French style and were arranged in an orderly fashion, dividing the space so the guests could sit separately, in contrast to the Ottoman divan-style seating, which preserved the singularity of the social space, enhancing communal interaction.’ (Çınar 2005: 132)

On the one hand you could say that “the West has won this” – the world is now further rationalised through the proliferation of chairs. But one could equally say that the chair has been de-Westernised and has thus long lost the power of signification used to have (at least for Pamuk’s fictional Ottoman grandee).


All this forward and backward between Orientalism, self-Orientalisation, Westernisation etc. reminded me of another accidental clue that I had picked up much earlier without giving it much thought. It is an item I have purchased in the British Museum shop a year before.


This is a pair of tea/coffee mugs (top) embellished with a pattern taken from an İznik tile (bottom) on display in the Museum’s Islamic collection.

In this early 21st century item we find very similar contradictions of presenting and absenting an “other culture”. Like the turkey-upholstery chair it is a pronouncedly Western item decorated with a conspicuously and explicitly “Oriental” aesthetic surface. This lends beauty to a profane object –beauty of a pattern that due to its use mainly in imperial palaces and mosques carries similar notions of spirituality and hedonistic indulgence as the kilim in its evocation of “Oriental sitting”. And the profane object, too, is one that is closely linked to practices of rational nutrition and work[8] – be it the builders’ tea or the coffee on your desk top that “keeps you going” which are typically drunk from mugs like these. Turkish tea and coffee are typically consumed in different vessels – tea in small glasses and coffee in cups which, on average, are a bit smaller than an espresso cup.

So while I can continue my “Americanised” academic practice of coffee consumption as part of legitimate work routine (cf. Gaudio 2003) I can indulge in handling an object that has “a Turkish feel” to it. This, of course, brings in all the problematic implications of pre-conceived cultural properties (which are also touristically reinforced in that ceramics with İznik pattern are one of the major souvenir s sold to visitors), but again familiarises and de-alienates aesthetic patterns. In highlighting and propagating the İznik tile pattern to an “educated public” the British Museum contributes to a construction of an aesthetically different “Turkish culture” which hence is absented as belonging somewhere else, but also presents this different aesthetics as adequate for the decoration of “own” cultural objects – a border river and a (potential) bridge connecting the so separated banks.

Which leads, finally, to some of the things I actually came looking for. It is not only the British Museum that uses İznik to Turkicise a British artefact. There is a precedent in the first Turkish mosque in London, Aziziye Camii on Stoke Newington Road. This mosque, which is run by the foundation affiliated to the Turkish ministry of religious affairs (Diyanet), is an example of a converted building – which still is the most common case of a mosque in Britain.

Aziziye Camii, Stoke Newington Road, Hackney (Olympic bunting in front)


The building is a former theatre, cinema and bingo hall which has been transformed into a conspicuously Turkish mosque not only by the addition of small domes (though not a central dome over the prayer hall as one would expect) and: İznik style tiles on the exterior.

While these do signal that this is a Turkish mosque, it is doubtful that the signalling function is the main motive behind the tiling. If we understand the tiles as iconographic then it makes more sense to say that they give the mosque “a Turkish feel” – which equally caters to the aesthetic/emotional needs of migrant Turkish Muslims. Ever since the 16thcentury, these tiles are seen as the natural choice for decorating a mosque. That the mosque serves not only the spiritual but also the social and the aesthetic needs of Turkish Muslims in London is also manifest in the fact that what looks like the main entrance is actually a shop and butcher. At least in the early stages of the migration experience, reliable supplies of helal meat were an urgent need. But a mosque shop also provides other specifically Turkish goods that migrants have found lacking from the supermarket shelves. The shop also has standard items you would find in every other corner shop. The prominence of a shop that is geared towards religious compliance, profane everyday needs and, at least initially, combating loneliness and estrangement of the diasporic situation (very precisely captured in the Turkish notion of gurbet – cf. Schiffauer 2007, Yazbeck-Haddad 1999)[9] through products – mainly groceries – representing home. It is an important clue as, only looking at the way the building was Islamicised one could be misled to think that the two domes oddly placed where the minarets should be while the central dome over the prayer hall is absent, in combination with the tile patterns “signal” Turkish-Islamic identity. While in practice this may be an effect (especially for those who have purchased that mug in the British Museum…), it cannot be the main purpose – the building has been converted to serve the London Turkish Muslim population, so it needs to speak to them at least as much as it speaks to others. The simple fact is that tiles just belong to a Turkish mosque in the same way as a dome and minarets. The conversion does its best, within the limits that are set by the pre-existing building – to enable the believer to feel at home – and the prominence of the mosque shop – situated where you would expect the entrance to be –  supports this interpretation.[10]

But as far as the İznik tiles cannot help signalling “different culture” they enter a dialogue with the outside. It is now recognised part of the palimpsestical urban landscape that becomes the object of quasi touristical exploration by avant-garde consumers and residents who trickle in to create another layer on Hackney’s aesthetic surface. In an article on Dalston’s ‘growing theatre and music scene, all-night restaurants and multicultural buzz’ the London Evening Standard celebrates Kingsland High Street in terms homologous to a 1970s Turkey travel guide book

On a balmy evening the smoky aroma of kebabs and Turkish pizzas fills the air along Kingsland High Street. The use of pavement seating for smoking shisha pipes and playing backgammon gives the area an Eastern feel (Kasriel 2006)

Reasonably priced lentil soup, pastries and kebabs available inside Aziziye are specifically mentioned – integrating the first Turkish mosque in London into its internal touristic consumptionscape – following a now common pattern across London:

Most tourists still visit the famous sites redolent of the nation’s past but the guidebooks urge them also to sample London’s multicultural diversity and alternative locales. Although Soho wsa already portrayed as an alternative locality within the imperial capital, Spitalfields and Docklands add new themes in the global city. Furthermore, they lead tourists away from the West End and City of London honeypots. A Soho restaurant, a Brick Lane café, and a Docklands pub may be surrounded by the residues of industry and poor working-class housing, but they acquire an image of exciting authenticity. Their dangerous and impoverished past is made safe for the contemporary visitor.’ (Eade 1996: 179).

The official London tourist website actually did run a promotion of “Turkish London“, informing visitors where to shop, where to eat, where to be entertained.

The difference allows overcoming indifference, translating it into, initially, culinary/touristic interest. The Diyanet mosque has, in this way, paved the way for a much more self conscious and bolder approach by a community not linked to the Turkish government – one that in the literature is rather noted for its reticence and inward-looking nature – the (possibly) Süleymanlı UK Turkish Islamic Cultural Centre (UKTICC)[11]


London Süleymaniye

The secretary of the UKTICC actively uses the touristic bridge to invite passers-by to inter-faith exchanges. Interviewed by the local paper he says

‘Thousands of people go to the mosques in Istanbul, but they do not need to, they can come here’ (Hackney Gazette, 28th July 2011)

In a BBC London report on the then  newly opened Süleymaniye Mosque was introduced as aesthetic enhancement (“regeneration”) of Kingsland Road – and located in an area that Londoners will know for the best Turkish food available in the country. While the tourist gaze clearly is one that is charged with inequalities and prone to distortion (Urry), it is here used as an entry point in the hope (whether justified or not cannot be fully assessed here) to open a cosmopolitan dialogue that goes beyond the consumption of cultural difference.

Süleymaniye Camii – as purpose built mosque – comes with all the hallmarks of a mosque as one may find in Turkey, including İznik style tiles imported from Kütahya and minaret with tannoys (although the call to prayer, the ezan,  is only transmitted within the mosque compound and not onto the road, they complete the visual authenticity of the building). It is also ostensibly modern with its steel and glass front.

Süleymaniye Camii (UK Turkish Islamic Cultural Centre), Kingsland Road, Hackney


According to the UKTICC, here the aesthetic surface indeed is intended as a message. The combination of Western and Islamic styles is meant to communicate the fact that ‘you can be a good Muslim by living here in Britain and giving benefits to the community.’

Being propelled to the status of a quasi-central mosque comes with a particular expectation of non-sectarian openness (cf. Gilliat-Ray/Birt 2010: 147) – so even though the name and perceived origin point to a particular stream within Turkish Sunni Islam of Nakşibendi Sufi tradition – the Süleymanlı – the presentation of self in its official brochure places the mosque as serving the Ehli Sünnet,[12] i.e. broadly all Sunnis who stand in a Sufi-inspired tradition.  The openness of the mosque is testified not only architecturally by the heavy use of glass, but also by the fact that the UKTICC is involved in a range of interactions with the London political establishment, municipal public life and community exchange. As an unannounced visitor on the first Friday of Ramazan I was asked in and invited to take photos without actively seeking that permission.

Süleymaniye Camii, staircase

 As an architectural artefact London Süleymaniye iconographically manifests cosmopolitan globality in a sequence of presenting absences and absenting presences. It very clearly pronounces Turkishness and Islamicity, but it does so in a way that creates a romantic/imaginative berzah opening lines of topographical (and chronographical) reference which stipulate Simmelian bridgings. The two main references present distant absences – Istanbul and Mecca – in a way that they allow the imagination to travel (under a willing suspension of disbelief uniquely possible in a consumerist society, see Campbell 1987). They absent the presence of London – just as the ezan that acoustically creates an Islamic soundscape (Metcalf 1996: 8) inside of the premises, leaving behind the near constant police sirens that are the most distinctive element in Hackney’s urban soundscape and singular markers of metropolitan hostility and danger;[13] and just as the flowing-together of both sounds at the perimeter of the premises re-presents the absented from both sides of the created separator.

The first spatial orientation that offers itself, in an Islamic place of worship, obviously is Mecca as the orientation, kıble, of the ritual prayer, namaz, towards the Kaaba. Mecca is also presented by the UKTICC’s role in organising annual pilgrimage, haç, packages – constituting Mecca as a place that is to be faced five times a day (and, particularly on Fridays, from inside the mosque), and to be travelled to at least once in a lifetime if at all possible. The direction is marked not only by a niche in the wall, the mihrap, but also by a pattern of prayer mats, seccade, lined towards the kıble. During the namaz orthodox Muslims around the world are united in facing a spiritually and historically meaningful location in Arabia. In fact, as the prayer times are determined by local astronomical data that relate to the turning of the planet, Muslims keep drawing concentric circles around the Kaaba in which they face both Mecca, but also each other on a global scale. In the presenting of the centre of Islam and absenting of London, however, the absent is re-presented by the very practice of absenting in at least two ways. The clues in the below image are the grandfather clocks and the fact that the seccades do not face the East wall in a right angle.

Süleymaniye Camii, interior of prayer hall, facing the mihrap


London topography – and in particular Kingsland Road, filters into the exterior from which it seemed to be excluded. In an Islamic city, a mosque would have been oriented towards Mecca – in London the street layout renders this impossible in most cases. The slightly odd angle of the prayer mats is a constant reminder that this is outside what is commonly called “the Islamic World”. The second marker is the acknowledgement of clock time framing the mihrap. In the aforementioned BBC London programme it is explained that these are here because it is important to carry out namaz at the right times of the day (and these times, vary each day since they relate to the movement of the sun.) Traditionally (and in some heartlands of Islam till today), the five prayers are the main orientation points for time keeping (so you could, for instance, agree to meet a friend after the fourth prayer). As the prayers are located in relation to the position of the sun, it is an indirect form using sacralised “natural” time – here solar time – as opposed to “mechanical” or clock time. This submission follows a globally repeated process that has been first rehearsed in the process of British industrialisation (Thompson 1967). The identification of prayer times via a timetable and a mechanical clock constitutes an ironic inversion , a technological secularisation in which the divine mechanism of the firmament is replaced by the human-made mechanism of the clockwork. What is more, there is something very London-centric about these two clock. The time they show is derived from the British imperial assumption that London, and not Jerusalem, Rome or Mecca, is the centre of the world, and hence its meridian is the one that defines world time. Time in London is GMT – time in Mecca is GMT plus three hours.

‘Children educated in London’s schools, like their counterparts in the rest of the Empire, were taught geography from textbooks which were unambiguous about London’s place in the world. In a common school trip, children were (and still are) taken to the Prime Meridian at Greenwich to experience the whole world divided into two between their feet, in the place “where time begins”.’ (Driver/Gilbert 1998: 24)

Note that not only does the post-Imperial metropolis here continues to claim the title of “centre of the world” – there also is a religio-metaphysical undertone in the notion that the beginnings of time lie in London. The two grandfather clocks standing sentry left and right the mihrap have a colonel-in-chief in Big Ben, the great grandfather clock of the British Empire.

The second reference point that deserves attention is one that relates two post-Imperial cities: London and Istanbul. The clue is in the name which reveals an utopic aspect of the building:

‘Of course, not all places are called utopia, but there is a utopic behind every place (alternatively, perhaps, a dystopic behind some as well). Naming is also about valuing and comparing. Arranging is a selective process that includes and excludes. In doing so it allows some to name, to make known, a place as meaning something in particular: my home, the place I was born, a prison, a school, a scientific laboratory. The name of each of these places derives from an ordering that is given by a name that carries with it a utopic, a name implies some sort of meaning to what the place is about, what its purpose is and what it stands for and how that contrasts with places that are not of this kind.’ (Hetherington 1997: 191)

In the first place, for the followers of the Süleymanlı way (who will easily see their last sheikh Süleyman Tunahan honoured in the name) Tunahan’s tomb in Istanbul is a centre of their spiritual geography and they aim at visiting it at least once a year. (Yükleyen 2010: 280) But while this reference may or may not be a valid interpretation (given the absence of an official statement with regards to Tunahan and his order I am reluctant to follow Küçükcan’s and Çoştu’s readings) – there is another much more obvious and, in more than one sense, powerful reference in that “Süleymaniye” is also the name of the largest mosque in Istanbul

Vue panoramique de la Mosquée Suleymanié / Sébah & Joaillier around 1900[14]


This Süleymaniye Camii, the Süleymaniye Camii, owes its name to the Sultan under which rule the most famous Ottoman architect of all times, Mimar Sinan, has overseen its building : Süleyman the Magnificent, in 1550 to 1558. A time when the Ottoman Empire was at the height of its power. To call a mosque Süleymaniye is to evoke the building which is the materialisation of Ottoman civilisation not only in terms of religion – but generally culture, learning, and scientific achievement. As Stratton (1972: 125) points out, Süleymaniye in Istanbul is a bold statement of superiority in science and engineering:

‘In 1550, the Sacred Law was fixed as a pure science. The dome of the Süleymaniyé rises and soars. It is celestial, but it certainly does not float upon mysteriously illuminated golden air. It is held up by the law of gravity. In his building Sinan stripped bare all the technical forces at work. He revealed the structural engineering, the masonry walls, the buttresses, the solid stone piers, the granite pillars, the voussoirs of the springing arches, the thrusts and the counterbalancing resistances of the dome and its supporting members. In the Imperial Friday Mosque there is no dialogue between man and God, no space within a space. But there is perfect, and thus infinite, unity. Through tiers and rows and banks of windows, daylight fills the space flowing through the defining masses. In this building, Sinan first worked out his principle that engineering and architecture are inseparable; the one is the other. Therefore, in all his buildings the exterior is the outside of the interior, and the inside is the interior of the outside. As with crystalline forms, the eye looks clear through Sinan’s architecture.’

In a way the glass construction in London Süleymaniye could be seen as much a tribute to this principle as it is to the modern cityscape of London. The name of the original Süleymaniye, makes another claim of Imperial glory as well as of boundless piety. Sulaymân is the Arabic form of Shlomo – Solomon. And as a 1900 British travel guide book relates that, referring to the Hagia Sophia the Christian Emperor

‘Justinian, when he entered his great church, had said, “Solomon, I have surpassed thee”: Suleiman was determined that he would surpass the Christian Emperor’ (Hutton 1925 [1910]: 295).

In referencing the mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent, which competitively relates to Judeo-Christian imperial/sacral architecture from the Temple of Jerusalem onwards, London Süleymaniye creates a distinction that wants to be bridged to another imperial place of worship less than three miles away – the also magnificently domed St Paul’s Cathedral.

‘As Saint Paul’s is Sir Christopher Wren’s, so the Süleymaniyé is Sinan’s monument.’ (Stratton 1972: 255)

If St Paul’s has been the parish church of the British Empire (Eade 2000: 91), Süleymaniye was designed to be the Friday mosque of the Ottoman Empire. In displacing meaning London Turkish Muslims have built up a reference point that allows an encounter on equal footing – speaking from descendant of demised empire to descendant of demised empire. This self-Orientalisation, while playing to recognisable patterns, is evidently of a different nature than the Orientalism of the turkey-upholstery chair in Geffrye Museum. And while a distinction is drawn between what Süleymaniye and what St Paul’s represent the commonalities of the imperial architects’ reference points are also revealed: the cosmopolitan Roman Empire of which both Londinium and Constantinopolis were urban centres as much as the scientific achievement materialised in both (Daniels 1993: 11ff.). Empire breeds (albeit unqual and contorted) cosmopolitanism:

‘The phenomena of cosmopolitanism are the products of empires. They bring diverse peoples together into their urban centres who are engaged in various relationships, economic and political. The association of cosmopolitanism with imperialism is one reason nationalists and fundamentalists have found for denouncing it. The two pertinent empires for the modern history of the Middle East (since the mid-nineteenth century) are the Ottoman and the British, which had important inputs both from French language and culture and German nationalism.’ (Zubaida 2011: 132)

The multicultural encounter in a doubly post-Imperial context may engender a more liberal/democratic cosmopolitanism – particularly against the background of burgeoning commercialism. And the location of St Paul’s in the City of London points us to that aspect. The cross-referenced buildings are not exclusively sacral ones. St Paul’s has been superseded by temples of commerce – much to the chagrin of some observers, among them the Prince of Wales.

‘On the skyline St Paul’s sinks below the office blocks of the City and the Nat West tower now rises impiously above it: “The soul of the City has been conquered by hovering hordes of giants”. While other European cities have maintained their distinctive skylines, London has traded hers: “There is no need for London to ape Manhattan”, the Prince declares, “We already possessed a skyline. They had to create one.’ (Daniels 1993: 13)

And that was before the Gherkin and the Shard. (for a view from the minaret onto the City – see 2:35ff. of this report on Turkish private broadcaster ATV

The Gherkin[15]


London Süleymaniye precedes both, but the fact that Süleymaniye corresponds with both, and particularly with the Gherkin which is about two and a half miles down the A10 in a nearly straight, constitutes ex post validation of its reach into the City. As one lifestyle writer for The Times has it:

‘Kingsland Road, which morphs gently into Stoke Newington High Street, runs the length of Dalston. Glance up it and see the gleaming minarets of the Aziziye Mosque. Look down it and see the towers of the City, reaching skywards like greedy fingers.’ (Barr 2002)

Aziziye, as seen, doesn’t have minarets, but you get the drift. The spiritual and the commercial are being juxtaposed here – and one could expect some hostility towards the centre of mammon that is the City from a Muslim perspective (just as the Prince of Wales formulated it from a Christian perspective). One prominent Nakşibendi Sufi sheikh who for a long time had a strong foothold in London, Şeyh Nazım Hakkani el-Kıbrısi is reported to abhor the City as Satan’s territory.[16] But Süleymaniye’s architectural homology to commercial buildings in the City appears to be a genuine buy-in into the religio/ethno-commercial cosmopolitanism that the City incorporates – a cosmopolitanism towards which Hackney/Dalston contributes the multiculturalist aspect. The relation between the commercial and the religious is unproblematic in Süleymaniye. In a Friday sermon (available on their website) it is emphasised that under the condition of ‘being honest, truthful and fair to other people’ trade is not just allowed but encouraged by Islamic teaching. This becomes not only evident in the fact that I was able to pick up a brochure for Denis Windows in the anteroom of the mosque (which I found intriguing in that it seemed to play to the overarching theme of glass and transparency/openness), but also in the fact that secretary of the UKTICC was involved in bringing to pass culture exchanges in the Museum of London – in the City shunned by Şeyh Nazım and ostensibly introduced as financial centre in the recent article in the local Turkish language weekly Olay Gazete.[17]Thus, Süleymaniye seems to play an active role in completing the post-Imperial/commercial/religious triangle that  so crucial in attracting global business to London

‘The image of a vibrant, open, multicultural Britain was more likely to attract these members of a global business elite than memories of the Second World War and the British Empire. The transnational aesthetics of the City’s new buildings and the modernist formality of the Barbican estate established a local/global identity to which the few remnants of the past, especially St Paul’s Cathedral and the other Anglican places of worship, provided a gloss of authenticity.’ (Eade 2000: 118)

Three sketch maps: Left Dalston, centre Europe between London and Istanbul, right the A10 in relation to Süleymaniye, Gherkin, Shard and St Paul’s

The UKTICC further contributes to the multicultural authenticification of a cosmopolitan Britain by extending the proclaimed quasi-touristic function of the mosque itself and organising the annual Anatolian Cultural Festival which conjures up a historic-folklorist imagery of a traditional Turkey.

Now, as I mentioned, this is not a comprehensive survey of Turkish speaking London. The danger here is to combine the markers of difference, the Orientalising museum artefacts and the partially self-Orientalising architectures of London Turkish mosques (also cf. Metcalf 1996: 3 for a general tendency to gravitate towards stereotypical “Islamic architecture”) into an iconography that affords bridging through the creation of romanticberzahs – but leaves the claimed the notion of culturally determined difference as such unchallenged, subsuming London Turks (and Kurds) under the notion of a Turkish/Muslim population. That there is a strong section of secular minded London Turkish speakers has become clear, lately, when about 10 000 took to the streets of London to show their support of the protests against the current Islamist-leaning government in Turkey (as reported in Olay Gazete 18th June 2013).

I will use the next artefact not just to refracture the image of a culturally defined “London Turkish speaking community” but also to refracture that refracturation.

Heresy on a Yoghurt Pot? Keloğlan Ayran

Not all members of what is one of the largest Muslim communities in London – the London Turkish speaking community – are unambiguously … Muslim. And I am not speaking of the, until recently, dominant discourse of “secular, republican, urban” Turks versus “religious, Islamist, rural” Turks, which as a story of “white/beyaz” versus “black/siyah” Turks was sustained by both the mainstream republican and religious parties in the promotion of, as Houston (2002) put it, ‘fear and loathing in Istanbul’. Houston shows that the metaphor of a black and a white Turkey is not only empirically flawed but crucially, the ‘narrative construction of an opposition between white state and black society ushers in at least three unhelpful generalizations.’ It obscures ‘the self-creation of subjects as different “shades” of “white”’, homogenises ‘black society’ and gives it ‘a Muslim character’ and portrays Turkish society ‘as a passive target of the state’s modernizing zeal while Islamism, as a product of black society, becomes by definition anti-modern, rather than a producer of modernity’ (Houston 2002: 427f.) The strongest challenge to the beyaz/siyahdiscourse is Alevism – a cultural/religious group that is commonly estimated to constitute about 20 per cent of the population in Turkey and that cuts across ethnic divides, i.e. is as Kurdish as it is Turkish. Crucially, although largely secular (albeit not necessarily Kemalist) in political outlook, the Alevis have at least as much claim to a rural Anatolian identity as have Sunni Muslims. While the UKTICC hold annual Anatolia Cultural Fêtes, the London Alevis, too, strongly emphasise their Anatolian heritage, for example stating that ‘Anatolian folk music is mostly based on Alevi’ music, playing to cultural identity as one main source of legitimacy both within Turkish discourse and vis-à-vis European contexts (also see Massicard 2013)

Cover of information brochure picked up at the London Alevi Cemevi


The conflict or at least distinction between Sunnis and Alevis has entered my observation in the most profane way possible – on an innocent pot of ayran (a popular yoghurt based drink) which I purchased in TFC supermarket on Ridley Road while getting into the London-Turkish retail experience. Here it is on my laptop.

On the screen there’s a photo I made of TFC supermarket – right next to the Alevi cultural centre and community house, Cemevi. The ayran is named after and has a picture of the fairy tale character Keloğlan (also a TV cartoon series on Turkish state television TRT). I have also included a screenshot of the internet edition of Londra Gazete  – London Turkish Gazette with the news that an extremist Sunni cleric has branded the TV series “Alevi propaganda” and has called for a ban. The arguments may remind one of the Christian fundamentalist response to Harry Potter, but another underlying conflict is that between rationalist/reformist Sunni Islam and allegedly semi-pagan peasants. This can be seen as reverberation of the 19th century urban reformist (Sunni-Nakşibendi inspired) move against what was seen as unruly state of central Anatolia to which the Alevi/Bektaşi were identified to contribute (cf. Ortaylı 1999) – i.e. as part of a symbolic struggle over the rightful claim to a legitimate Anatolian identity. At the same time what this cleric complains about, e.g. the appearance of mystical babas, is not so much testimony to Alevi influence but rather to a Sufi legacy that is shared between mainstream Turkish Islam andAlevis (Yavuz 2004) in which the idea that dervişes can effect “wonders” (often misinterpreted as magic), keramet, is not at all alien.

This instant poignantly complicates and refracts not only the notion of a “Turkish Muslim community” but also the secular/religious and urban/rural divides. It also highlights the ongoing debate about the status of Alevis as Muslims or non-Muslims, which is contested not only between Alevis and Sunnis, but also within Alevi communities. This is of particular interest here as, unlike in cases where a heterodox community is denied the status of co-religionists by the orthodox majority (as is the case with Ahmadi Muslims), here we have a double contestation where some Sunnis recognise Alevis as Muslims and others see them as heretics – and some Alevis view themselves not just as Muslims but as the authentic Muslims, while others don’t see themselves as Muslims at all. According to what I have been told at the Cemevi on Ridley Road and according to the brochure I have picked up there, the position of the UK Alevi Cultural Centres & Cemevi is the latter, even though shared spiritual sources are referenced.

Of course it is hard to deny that Alevism has at least some roots in Shia Islam and in Sufism. The Alevi Bektashis were a recognised Sufi order (tekke) through much of Ottoman history – and in fact they were important as the tekke which catered for the spiritual needs of the Ottoman elite troops, the Janissaries (Yeniçeri) whose demise in 1828 was followed by the suppression of the Alevi/Bektaşi order.

(Janissary prayer and cleaning utensils at Hacıbektaş, Cappadocia, Central Anatolia )


On the other hand Alevis, particularly the urban and more educated members of the community, tend to define Alevism as a culture and a way of life rather than as a religious belief system (whereas traditionally Alevis did not only see themselves as Muslims but even as the only proper Muslims)[18]

Recently there have been moves by the Islamist Turkish government to, as it were, invite the Alevis back. And while a I was, as I said, assured by a number of London Alevis that they do not consider themselves to be Muslims, the Hürriyet European edition (one of the main Turkish newspapers with a very strong European presence, based in Frankfurt), carried the news that the AAİB, the Union of Islamic Alevis of Germany (a relative small, but not entirely insignificant organisation) asked the Ministry for Religious Affairs (Diyanet Bakanlığı) for funds to send 200 of its members on the annual Hajj.[19]

Front page of Hürriyet European edition, 27th July 2012


What, then, does the ayran pot tell us? For one thing, it tells us how such symbols as televised fairy-tale characters with a semi-religious and folk-cultural relevance present shared legacy in non-sectarian ways on everyday profane objects where they, to the annoyance of extremists, travel unproblematically through screens, supermarket shelves, fridges, restaurant tables, and dining rooms. The contained substance, ayran, can be seen as one of the most Turkish (and Kurdish) of drinks, carrying strong references to Anatolian rurality. But it is more than just a signifier. The reason I have bought it from TFC supermarket was not because of the symbolic significations. It was a hot day and while the reason for entering TFC (as opposed to Sainsbury’s round the corner) in fact was so as to get a glimpse of the London Turkish retail environment, the intent to buy was governed by thirst. Initially heading for the usual fizzies, I went for an ayran as an ideal drink in hot weather, given its light acidity and slight saltiness. In a way it is the perfect illustration of what is meant by iconographic symbolism as it combines meaning with unmediated aesthetic experience. This in turn allows for a tourist/consumerist daydream that equips the Anatolian village world romanticised in the cartoons with gustatory sensuality – a daydream that may either remain at the stage of one-dimensional stereotyping or be disrupted by boundary contestations (and contestations of contestations) as represented by the spat triggered by Ismailağa Cemaati’s statement. The idea that a character like Keloğlan himself would sip on a cup of ayran is perfectly plausible. So while on the one hand the charge of the cleric that Keloğlan is Alevi propaganda is a hurtful reminder of the ongoing discrimination against minorities in Turkey – on the other hand it is a confirmation that Alevism is at the heart of Turkish culture, and the link to ayran reinforces this.

Another way in which the difference to orthodox Islam is expressed – e.g. the assertion that for Hacı Bektaş the human being was the Kabah – comes in an idiom of Islam (Mardin 1989). But I am not trying to play out this history and inner disagreement to corroborate an academic claim that Alevis are indeed Muslims. What I am saying is that the conflict itself, the claim to difference, and the disagreement to that claim point to continuity of culture as much as to difference. Like the jibe against Keloğlan as ‘Alevi propaganda’ (and the challenge of heresy), the insistence on  difference testifies not only to division and confrontation, but also to mutual acknowledgement and belonging. A Hindu would not need to insist that they are not Muslims, and a Muslim would not see a Catholic as a heretic. As Atay (1999) shows for the case of London Nakşibendis, different currents placing themselves inside or outside Islamic orthodoxy, reproaching each other, using each other as negative reference points, also depend on each other. Similarly, we can read various swipes against Alevism as can be found in Sunni artefacts as an unavoidable acknowledgement of shared membership in a discourse universe[20] – without, to emphasise, implying that Alevis are, or are not, Muslims.

In this context, whatever the answer to the question whether or not Alevis are Muslims: While in organisational discourse these difference are thrown into sharp relief, in everyday life the boundaries are much more blurred. And while some Alevis from Germany are joining the annual Haç pilgrimage, I have observed, in the centre of Alevi spirituality, the town Hacıbektaş, a number of recognisably Sunni Muslims showing their respect to this Shiite Sufi saint at the monastery that is one of the sources of Alevism as a spiritual movement originated in the 14th century.

This ambiguity surfaced in the recent conflicts in Istanbul and across major Turkish cities. One point of contention was an insensitive mishap in naming one of the current governments mega projects: a third bridge over the Bosporus which is to be called “Yavuz Sultan Selim Köprüsü”. One of the reasons this 16th century Ottoman sultan was given the title “the stern” (yavuz) is that he crushed an Alevi rebellion and is reputed to have massacred 40,000 people in the process. Given the more recent anti-Alevi pogroms, for example in Maraş 1978 and Sivas 1993, from an Alevi perspective this has a similar significance as a “Cromwell Bridge” in Belfast would have for Irish Catholics. But what has begun as (possibly unintentional) affront against the Alevi community – creating a divide by naming, of all things, a bridge – has turned out to prompt conservative Sunni politicians, intellectuals and spiritual leaders to go to some lengths to emphasise continuities between what has been so openly separated. Fethullah Gülen – politically influential leader of a neo-Sufi movement bearing his name – has a history of emphasising shared ground, projecting the image of Sunni mosques and Alevi cemevis being erected side by side. But so far this could be construed as an attempt to, in the last consequence, re-Islamise Alevism and deny distinctions that are important for conscious Alevis. He has taken the recent conflicts as an occasion to speak up again[21] – but even though he may just be repeating the same message, once a strong distinction has been made in form of outrage at the Prime Minister’s bridge naming, the projected continuity can no longer be imagined as one in which one side is to be subsumed under the other.



While very often the emphasis in the study of identity-making is on the notion of difference and separation, I have tried to uncover how markers of distinction by virtue of constructing a relation between what is distinguished create the potential for a (cosmopolitan) continuity of culture which neither homogenises nor commits to fixed and unchangeably different identifications. With reference to a case of Orientalised British middle class domestic items, a case of Turkish-Muslim space-making and identity demarcation within what has been broadly defined as the London Turkish speaking community I have tried to show that in all these cases attempts to separate and distinguish also open an imaginative space that affords communication and bridging. Now fully ethnographic research is required to investigate whether or not (and to what extent and how) the cosmopolitan potential opened by the berzah of everyday multicultural artefacts is realised.

It will be crucial, in order to access the iconographic imagination that spun around Turcophone material culture in London (and elsewhere) to draw on participant generated and reflected content, such as photos (e.g. Holgate et al.2012 in a pioneering investigation into labour relations in London Kurdish businesses) and diaries (along the lines suggested by Latham 2004) to uncover how the material potential outlined above is realised in actual ‘cosmopolitan habits’ (Noble 2013).



Abu-Lughod, Lila (2006): ‘Writing Against Culture’, in: Henrietta Moore/Todd Sanders (eds):Anthropology in Theory: Issues in Epistemology, Oxford: Blackwell, pp.466-79

Alexander, Jeffrey C (2008): ‘Iconic Consciousness: The Material Feeling of Meaning’, in:Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Vol.28, pp.782-94

Appadurai, Arjun (2001): ‘Grassroots Globalization and the Research Imagination’, in: Arjun Appdurai (ed.): Globalization, Durham: Duke University Press.

Atay, Tayfun (1999): ‘The Signification of the Other in Islam: Reflectons on the Discourse of a Naqshibandi Circle of Turkish Origin in London’, in: The Muslim World, Vol.89, No.3-4, pp.455-77

Barr, Damian (2002): ‘Urban Guerrilla: Damian Targets Dalston’, in: The Times, 13thSeptember

Bashier, Salman H. (2004): Ibn al-‘Arabī’s Barzakh: The Concept of the Limit and the Relationship between God and the World, Albany: State University of New York Press

Çağlar, Ayşe (1997): ‘Hyphenated Identities and the Limits of “Culture”’, in: Tariq Modood/Pnina Werbner (eds): The Politics of Multiculturalism in the New Europe,London: Zed Books, pp.169-85.

Campbell, Colin (1997): ‘When Meaning is Not a Message. A Critique of the Consumption as Communication Thesis’. In: M. Nava, A. Blake, I.MacRury, B. Richards (eds.): Buy this Book. Studies in Advertising and Consumption, London: Routledge, pp.340-51

Campbell, Colin (1987): The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism, Oxford: Blackwell.

Canetti, Elias (1962): Crowd and Power, London: Victor Golancz

Chittick, W. C. (1989) The Sufi Path of Knowledge, New York: State University of New York Press

Çınar, Alev (2005): Modernity, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey: Bodies, Places, and Time,Minneapolis:University ofMinnesota Press

Collins, Harry/Evans, Rob/Ribeiro, Rodrigo/Hall, Martin (2006): ‘Experiments with Interactional Expertise’, in: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, Vol.27, pp.656-674

Conrad, Lisa/Richter, Nancy (2013) : ‘Materiality at Work : A Note on Desks’, in :ephemera: theory & politics in organization,  Vol.13, No.1, pp.117-36

Corbin, Henry (1969) Creative Imagination in the Sūfism of Ibn ‘Arabī, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

Çoştu, Yakup (2009): ‘Londra’da Türklere ait dini organisatsyonlar’, in: Hitit Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi Dergisi, Vol.8, No.16, pp.77-100,

Daniels, Stephen (1993): Fields of Vision: Landscape Imagery and National Identity in England and the United States, Cambridge: Polity.

Driver, Felix/Gilbert, David (1998): ‘Heart of Empire? Landscape, Space and Performance in Imperial London’, in: Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Vol.16, pp.11-28

Durak, Attila (2006): Ebru: Reflections of Cultural Diversity in Turkey, Istanbul: Metis

Eade, John (2000): Placing London: From Imperial Capital to Global City, New York: Berghahn

Ewing, Katherine P. (1994): ‘Dreams from a Saint: Anthropological Atheism and the Temptation to Believe’, in: American Anthropologist, Vol.96, No.3, pp.571-83

Gaudio, Rudolf P. (2003): ‘Coffeetalk: Starbucks™ and the Commercialization of Casual Conversation’, in: Language and Society, Vol.32, No.5, pp.659-91

Geaves, Ron (2000): The Sufis of Britain: An Exploration of Muslim Identity, Cardiff: Cardiff Academic Press

Gibson, James J. (1977): ‘The Theory of Affordances’, in: Robert Shaw and John Bransford (eds.): Perceiving, Acting, and Knowing: Toward an Ecological Psychology, New York: John Wiley & Sons, pp.67-82

Gillat-Ray, Sophie/Birt, Jonathan (2010): ‘A Mosque too far? Islam and the Limits of British Multiculturalism’, in: Stefano Allievi (ed.): Mosques in Europe: Why a Solution Has Become a Problem, London: Alliance, pp.135-52

Gokalp, Altan (1990): ‘ « Les fruits de l’arbre plutôt que ses racines » : Le Suleymanisme’, in : Marc Garborie Au/Alexandre Popovic/Thierry Zarcone (eds) : Naqshbandis : Cheminements et situation actuelle d’un ordre mystique musulman/Historical Developments of a Muslim Mystical Order, Actes de la Table Ronde de Sèvres/Proceedings of the Sèvres Round Table, Istanbul : Éditions Isis, pp.413-27

Henkel, Heiko (2007): ‘The Location of Islam: Inhabiting Istanbulin a Muslim Way’, in:American Ethnologist, Vol.34, No.1, pp.57-70

Hetherington, Kevin (1997): ‘In Place of Geometry: The Materiality of Place’, in: Kevin Hetherington/Rolland Munro (eds): Ideas of Difference, Oxford: Blackwell, pp.183-99i)

Holgate, Jane/Keles, Janroj/Kumarapsapan, Leena (2012): ‘Visualizing “Community”: An Experiment in Participatory Photography among Kurdish Diasporic Workers in London’, in:Sociological Review, Vol.60, No.2, pp.312-332.

Hoffmann, Ernst (1919): ‘Methexis und Metaxy bei Platon’, in: Sokrates: Zeitschrift für das Gymnasialwesen, Vol.73, pp.48-70.

Honneth, Axel (2008): Reification: A New Look at an Old Idea, Oxford: Oxford University Press .

Houston, Chris (2002): ‘Legislating Virtue, or Fear and Loathing in Istanbul?’, in: Critique of Anthropology, Vol.22, No.4, pp.425-44

Hutton, William Holden (1925) [1900]: Constantinople, London: J.M.Dent

Inglis, Tom (2010): ‘Sociological Forensics: Illuminating the Whole from the Particular’, in:Sociology, Vol.44, No.3, pp.507-22

Ingold, Tim (1993): ‘The Art of Translation in a Continuous World’, in: Pálsson, Gísli (ed.):Beyond Boundaries: Understanding, Translation and Anthropological Discourse, Oxford: Berg, pp.210-30

Ingold, Tim ((2007): Lines: A Brief History, London: Routledge

Ingold, Tim (2008): ‘Bindings against Boundaries: Entanglements of Life in an Open World’, in: Environment and Planning A, Vol.40, pp.1796-1810

Jonker, Gerdien (2006): ‘The Evolution of the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi: Sulaymançis in Germany’, in: Jamal Malik/John Hinnels (eds): Sufism in the West, London: Routledge, pp.71-85)

Jubas, Kaela (2007): ‘Conceptual Con/fusion in Democratic Societies: Undertstandings and Limitations of Consumer-Citizenship’, in: Journal of Consumer Culture, Vol.7, No.2, pp.231-54

Kasriel, Alex (2006): ‘An Edgy and Urbane Mix’, in: Evening Standard, 4th October, p.6

Küçükcan, Talip (1999): Politics of Ethnicity, Identity and Religion: Turkish Muslims in Britain, Aldershot: Ashgate)

Lamont, Michèle/Aksartova, Sada (2002): ‘Ordinary Cosmopolitanisms: Strategy for Bridging Racial Boundaries among Working-Class Men’, in: Theory, Culture and Society, Vol.19, No.4, pp.1-25

Latham, Alan (2004): ‘Researching and Writing Everyday Accounts of the City: An Introduction to the Diary-Photo Diary-Interview Method’, in: Caroline Knowles/Paul Sweetman (eds): Picturing the Social Landscape: Visual Methods and the Sociological Imagination, London: Routledge 117-131

McCracken, Grant (1988): Culture and Consumption. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Mardin, Şerif (1989): Religion and Social Change in Modern Turkey: The Case of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, New York: State University of New York Press.

Massicard, Elise (2013): The Alevis in Turkey and Europe: Identity and Managing Territorial Diversity, London: Routledge

Mauss, Marcel (1950): Sociologie et anthropologie, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France

Metcalf, Barbara Daly (1996): ‘Introduction: Sacred Words, Sanctionaed Practice, New Communities’ in: Barbara Daly Metcalf (ed.): Making Muslim Space in America and Europe, Berkley: University of Los Angeles Press, pp.1-27

Miller, Daniel (1998): Coca-Cola: a black sweet drink from Trinidad in: Daniel Miller (ed.):Material Cultures: Why Some Things Matter, Chicago: Univ ersity of Chicago Press.

Mintz, Sidney (1986): Sweetness and Power, London: Penguin

Nava, Mica (2007): Visceral Cosmopolitanism, Oxford: Berg.

Noble, Greg (2013): ‘Cosmopolitan Habits: The Capacities and Habitats of Intercultural Conviviality’, in: Body and Society, Vol.19, No.2-3, pp.162-85

Ortaylı, İlber (1999): ‘The Policy of the Sublime-Porte towards Naqshbandīs and Other Tarīqas during the Tanzimat Period’, in: Elisabeth Özdalga (ed.): Naqshbandis in Western and Central Asia: Change and Continuity, Istanbul: Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, pp.67-72

Rodinson, Maxime (1980): La fascination de l’Islam: les étapes due regard occidental sur le monde musulman, les études arabes et islamiques en Europe, Paris: Maspero

Schiffauer, Werner (2007): ‘From Exile to Diaspora: The Development of Transnational Islam in Europe’, in: Aziz Al-Azmeh/Effie Fokas (eds) Islam in Europe: Diversity, Identity and Influence, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.68-95

Schubel, Vernon (2010): ‘When the Prophet Went on the Miraç He Saw a Lion on the Road: The Miraç in the Alevi-Bektaşi Tradition’, in: Christiane Gruber/Frederick Colby (eds.): The Prophet’s Ascension: Cross-Cultural Encounters with the Islamic Mi᷾rāj Tales, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp.330-43

Seboek, Thomas A./Umiker-Seboek, Jean (1988): ‘“You Know My Method”: A Juxtaposition of Charles S. Peirce and Sherlock Holmes’, in: Umberto Eco/Thomas A. Seboek (Eds.): The Sign of the Three: Dupin, Holmes, Peirce, Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Silva, Sónia (2013): ‘Reification and Fetishism: Processes of Transformation’, in: Theory, Culture and Society, Vol.30, No.1, pp.79-98.

Simmel, Georg (1994): ‘Bridge and Door’, in: Theory, Culture and Society, Vol.11, pp.5-10

Şimşek-Çağlar, Ayşe (2002): ‘A Table in Two Hands’, in: Deniz Kandiyoti/Ayşe Saktanber (eds): Fragments of Culture: The Everyday in Modern Turkey, London: Tauris, pp.294-307.

Sirriyeh, Elizabeth (1985): ‘The Mystical Journeys of ‘Abd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī’, in: Welt des Islams, Vol.25, pp.84-96

Sluka, Jeffrey A./Robben, Antonius C. G. (2007): ‘Fieldwork in Cultural Anthropology: An Introduction’, in Antonius C. G. Robben/Jeffrey Sluka (eds.): Ethnographic Fieldwork: An Anthropological Reader, Malden MA: Blackwell, pp.1-28

Soysal, Levent (2013): ‘The Migration Story of Turks in Germany: From the Beginning to the End’, in: Reat Kasaba (ed.): The Cambridge History of Turkey Online, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.199-225

Spencer, Robert F. (1958): ‘Culture Process and Intellectual Current: Durkheim and Atatürk’, in: American Anthropologist, New Series I, Vol.60, No.4, pp.640-57

Stratton, Arthur (1972): Sinan, London: Macmillan

Tavenor, Robert (2007): ‘Composing London Visually’, in: Alan Marcus/Dietrich Neumann (eds): Visualizing the City, London: Routledge, pp.159-78

Tekgül, Perihan Duygu (2012): Around the World in English: The Production and Consumption of Translated Fiction in the UK between Cosmopolitanism and Orientalism, PhD thesis, University of Exeter.

Thompson, E. P. (1967): ‘Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism’, in: Past and Present, No.38, pp.56-97

Varul, Matthias Zick (2013 – forthcoming): ‘The Sufi Ethics and the Spirits of Consumerism – A Preliminary Suggestion for Further Research’, in: Marketing Theory, Vol.13

Varul, Matthias Zick (2012): ‘Hybridity, Alterity and Beyond – A Simmelian Perspective on Ebruesque Identity’, blog post

Werbner, Pnina (1999): ‘Global Pathways: Working Class Cosmopolitians and the Creation of Transnational Ethnic Worlds’, in: Social Anthropology, Vol.7, No.1, pp.17-35

Werbner, Pnina (1997): ‘Essentialising Essentialism, Essentialising Silence: Ambivalence and Multiplicity in the Constructions of Racism and Ethnicity’, in: Pnina Werbner/Tariq Modood (eds): Debating Cultural Hybridity, London: Zed Books, pp.226-54

Willerslev, Rane (2010): ‘Frazer Strikes back from the Armchair: A New Search for the Animist Soul’, in: Journal of the Royal Anthropological Society (N.S.), Vol.17, pp.504-526

Yavuz, M.H. (2004) ‘Is There a Turkish Islam? The Emergence of Convergence and Consensus’, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 24 (2): 213-32.

Yazbeck Haddad, Yvonne (1999): ‘Ghurba as Paradigm for Muslim Life: A Risale-i Nur Worldview’, in: The Muslim World, Vol.89, No.3-4, pp.297-313

Yükleyen, Ahmet (2010): ‘Production of Mystical Islam in Europe: Religious Authorization in the Süleymanlı Sufi Community’, in: Contemporary Islam, Vol.4, pp.269-88

Zubaida, Sami (2011): Beyond Islam: A New Understanding of the Middle East, London: I.B.Tauris


[1] I am using Turkish transliteration throughout, whether concepts used are of Turkish origin, Persian, or as in this case, Arabic.

[2] The paradigm of the creative imagination is the Muhammad’s ascension to receive the Koran, the Miraç – which is as important in mainstream Sunni Islam as it is constitutive for Alevi spirituality (cf. Schubel 2002). The idea of travel, i.e. the journey in between places affording ‘religious experience and insights […] of the unseen world (ghaib) while passing bodily through the visible world of illusion’, as Sirriyeh (1985: 96) characterises the travel writing of the 19th century Ottoman Nakşibendi Sufi poet Nabulusi. It is also worth noting that Sufi concepts are equally virulent in Turkish secular discourse and popular culture, with pop artists like Sezen Aksu (who makes an appearance in the Royal Albert Hall on 15thOctober) singing lyrics by Rumi and Yunus Emre.

[3] For instance the adoption of a Sufi notion (berzah), for example, does not require me to accept the ultimate reality of the metaphysical/spiritual ideas behind it Ewing (1994) ponders whether it is not a necessary final step in getting a full understanding of Sufism to let go of the resistance to maintain an outsider status and accept, for example, the validity and reality of her dreams of the sheikh. I fundamentally disagree for the simple reason that in order to give voice to the Sufi experience we do not need anthropologists – as far as it is possible at all to account for the authentic Sufi experience Sufis themselves will be able to speak for themselves. To put it bluntly, the whole debate around “going native” (e.g. Sluka/Robben 2007: 14ff.) can be easily resolved by pointing out the fact that, since the “natives” have mouths to speak there is no point in “giving voice” – what someone “gone native” can say can be said equally well by someone born “native”.

[5] As Marcel Mauss in his 1934 essay on the techniques of the body has pointed out both chairs and tables are far from culturally universal (1950: 379)

[6] In an ironic turn of self-Orientalisation, the Turkish Cultural Foundation uses a detail of the image, the woman pretending to be playing the tanbur, as icon for their section on the history of Turkish music, declaring her an ‘Ottoman lady’ –

[7] Şimşek-Çağlar (2002) has shown the significance of domestic seating arrangements in the negotiation of

transnational lives in the case of first-generation Turkish migrants in Berlin.For examples of ultra-Westernisation through furniture and kitchen appliances, see Üstüner/Holt 2009

[8] cf. Mintz 1986 for how tea with sugar came to replace vegetable broth in working class diets

[9] NB that the edition of Hürriyet pictured in the last section of this paper carries a short note that European Turks have started a campaign against the notion that they aregurbetçi, i.e. in exile, since many of them now feel quite at home and would rather they’d be referred to as Avrupalı Türk – European Turk.

[10] This case is similar to the misunderstanding of all forms of “Islamic dress” as identity statement. As Werbner (1999: 25) observes: ‘… exotic dress may seem deliberately aggressive: a visual barb. this is, however, to misread the intentionality of our casual Pakistani female stroller. Pakistani women wearing traditional clothes in public are hardly conscious of their dress as an act of identity display. They dress as they do because they regard their outfits as aesthetically beautiful.’ (Werber 1999: 25) Campbell’s (1997) warning against misunderstanding the meaning of dress as a message, fashion as an expressive language, seems to apply equally to architecture.

[11] The ascription is problematic and contested. According to Küçükcan (1999:) and Çoştu (2009)  the association behind Süleymaniye mosque, the UK Turkish Islamic Cultural Centre UKTICC (İngiltere Türk İslam Kültür Merkezi İTİKM) has been founded 1982 ‘by a Süleymanci group’. The Süleymanlı are followers of the Nakşibendi sheikh Süleyman Hilmi Tunahan. In Germany they have been portrayed as socially conservative, reclusive, Sufi-oriented community with little active involvement in political agendas and a strong focus on interiority and private piety and ethical conduct (Jonker 2006) while drawing on authority transmitted through a spiritual link (rabıta) of the community’s leaders to the deceased sheikh Süleyman (Yükleyen 2010)

The information material available from the UKTICC, however, makes no reference to Tunahan or the Süleymanlı community. Instead, they present themselves as aiming ‘to meet the religious and cultural needs of the Muslim community living in Britain’ (BrochureUKTICC London Suleymaniye Cultural Centre Kültür Merkezi, without year (but not earlier than 2011). The brochure is bilingual, Turkish with English translation, page 3) and more specifically characterises that community as Ehl-i Sünnet in the Turkish text and Ahli Sunnah wal Jamaah in the English text.

Although generally the Süleymanlı are portrayed as reclusive, here we have a self-location within not just the Turkish but global community of Muslims who follow a Sufi-inspired Islam (i.e. in the context of South Asian Islam, they would affiliate themselves with the Barelwis practice rather than the anti-Sufi reformist Deobandis)

The notion of being Suleymanli may be actively avoided due to the way the community was presented and misrepresented in the past. According to Gokalp (1990), who uses very little and rather unreliable source material and secondary literature, and also does not gesture to any primary research, the Süleymanlı was affiliated with far right political activism, particularly in diaspora. His claims about connections to the MHP (“grey wolves”, ultranationalists) and a history of pro-Hitler activism sound implausible and I cannot find them corroborated anywhere else. For most observers the Süleymanlı are traditionally distant to political activism and where involved tend to gravitate to the centre right, like, in the late 1980s, ANAP and DYP (Küçükcan 1999: 212ff.). Yükleyen (2010: 282f.) reports that all political involvement was terminated after electoral failure and that there is no active support from the Süleymanlı cemaat for the currently governing Islamic-conservative Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi AKP). It is, however, likely that the AKP would be a preference in terms of voting behaviour for followers of the Süleymanlı path. It is not clear if the UKTICC sees itself in a Süleymanlı tradition at all, but their present political affiliation or orientation in a London context seem to be “liberal” in the broadest sense


[12] This entails an appeal also to a wider Muslim community beyond the Turkish and Kurdish constitutents.

‘Ahl as-Sunnat wa Jamaat – mainstream Islam around Sufism, but not self-defining as Sufi ‘defined by Hazrat Allama Pir Faizul Aqtab Siddiqi, a British-born shaykh of the Naqshbanid tariqa, as:

A belief that the Prophet had knowledge of the Unseen while alive and continues to possess a spiritual omnipresence.

Allah is omnipresent, and expressions in the Qur’an which ascribe hands and limbs to Allah or describe Him as sitting upon a throne, must be taken figuratively.

Intercession is normal practice in Islam whether it is through the Prophet, angels or saints. Neither the Prophet nor Sufis are dead in the tomb and prayers can be addressed to Allah through them as they have permission to intercede.

Prayers can be made by the living on behalf of the dead.

It is normal and acceptable to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet (Milad-i Nabi).

Muslims who adhere to those beliefs and practices are better defined under the label of followers of the aqida of the Ahl as-Sunnat wa Jamaat than the more problematic term of Sufi. There is some justification in arguing that the practices and beliefs (to varying degrees) of the Ahl as-Sunnat wa Jamaat are observed by the vast majority of Muslims.’ (Geaves 2000: 76f)


[13] As it was the opening day of the London Olympics I had plenty of occasion to watch North American visitors making their way from the accommodation they managed to get hold off wherever to the nearest Tube stations, both fascinated by the cosmopolitan feel of the area and horrified by its seemingly criminal character.

[14] Title: Vue panoramique de la Mosquée Suleymanié / Sébah & Joaillier.Creator(s): Sebah & Joaillier, photographer Date Created/Published: [between 1888 and 1910] Medium: 1 photographic print : albumen. Summary: Exterior view of the Süleymaniye Camii (mosque), showing the Golden Horn in background.  Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-03742 (digital file from original) Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication in the U.S. Use elsewhere may be restricted by other countries’ laws. For general information see “Copyright and Other Restrictions…” ( Call Number: LOT 13554-2, no. 84 [P&P]Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

[15] Credits Francesco Troina ( Communications ( Rights Published under license from GovEd Communications ( – See more at:;jsessionid=E702E9328430DB386C241F6E1EA97D98#sthash.Z6s1fv7K.dpuf


[16] ‘A Turkish disciple who often drives Shaykh Nazim when he is in London explained that when the Shaykh travels from the Islamic priory in north London to the mosque in Peckham the most direct route is through the City of London, the heart of the financial and commercial world. However, the Shaykh always insists on a detour as he believes the City to be the undisputed territory of the anti-Christ (al-dhajjal). Apocalyptically he describes the four dragons which guard the entrances to the City of London.’ (Geaves 2000: 151f.)

[17] Further evidence for having no problems with City link: ‘Londra’nın finans merkezi olarak bilinen City’deky “Museum of London” ilk defa mehter marşları ile çınlandı.’ ‘Kuzey Londra’da Pazar gününe kadar devam edecek olan “Anadolu Kültür Festivali” kapsamında gerçekleşen program başlangıcında, Dr Hakan Yıldırım, Büyükelçilik Müsteşarı Fatih Ulusoy, Işçi Partisi Milletvekili Meg Hillier yaptıkları konumalarda, mehter ve sema gibi farklıkültüleri temsil eden gruplarin Londra’da bulunmasından duydukları memnuniyeti dile getirdiler.’ Etc. – Bursa Belediyesi Mehter Takımı and Konya Mevlana Sema Grubu… Olay Gazete, Salı 18 Haziran 2013, s.16

[20] In the Divan of Yunus Emre I have bought in the Turkish/Islamic bookshop opposite Aziziye Camii the question whether Yunus Emre was a Bektaşi is emphatically answered “he is not”. What is more – it is the only passage emboldened in the whole commentary, i.e. a distinction is drawn and its importance emphasised.

But at the same time the fact that a shared discourse universe is inhabited is emphasised by this denial – otherwise the difference would not be worth pointing out at all. Another instance of adversarial construction of shared discursive space is found in the Resimli Namaz Hocası I have mentioned (bought in the same bookshop): The little book contains two poems praising the practice of namaz, i.e the prescribed five ritual prayers – and both are pointedly directed at two groups of non-readers who will not be among the practitioners of ritual prayer. One is by Yunus Emre Dur Erte (Sabah) Namazına (‘Get up (Tavaslı, s.a., 19) – which is directed against the Alevis whose ritual practice does not include namaz, and the other is  by the theorist of the Kemalist revolution, poet, politician and Durkheimian sociologist Ziya Gökalp Namaz Ne Güzeldir (How beautiful is the ritual prayer!).

[21] ‘Cami-cemevi yan yana yapabilir; yeni düşmanlıklar oluşturulmamalı’, Zaman, 19thJune 2013


Ziya Gökalp, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the two Emile Durkheims

All too often the political divides in Turkey are simplified into a crude division into a secularist/republican (Kemalist) camp and an Islamic/Islamist camp, with the only complication allowed for being the conflict around Kurdish minority rights. What has been long ignored was that both these camps share a set of outlooks that they inherited from the late Ottoman Empire and early Republican period and that they are close enough to lend plausibility to “Turkish Islamic synthesis” with which a group of right wing intellectuals sought to establish as a broad national compromise in the 1980s. What is also often ignored is that in both camps an increased exposure to globalised and cosmopolitan fields of practice has inspired the emergence of a more liberal outlook that found a room for manoeuvre in the interstices created by the deadlock between growing Islamist movements and Kemalist elites. The AKP had managed to secure electoral success not just by connecting to marginalised Islamic populations moving from central Anatolia to the big cities and by support from the new Islamic business elites – they also attracted to votes of liberal Muslims and anti-Kemalist secularists by unprecedentedly pro-European, pro-human rights and pro-Kurdish policies.

For some time now secular and religious liberals have been moving away from Erdoğan, citing an increasingly authoritarian style and morally prescriptive intrusions into personal lifestyles. Is he showing his true “Islamist” colours now? Partly – the intrusions around abortion rights and alcohol consumption certainly are religiously inspired. But the style and mis-understanding of “democracy” is that of his Kemalist predecessors. For post-Islamist Mustafa Akyol the problem is not that Erdoğan is “too Islamic” but that he is “too Turkish” (at 00:15 – comment starts around 00:13), referring to a certain paternalistic/collectivist and anti-liberal pattern that is enshrined in the legacy of Kemalist republican thought as formulated by Ziya Gökalp (and it may not be a total coincidence that it was a quote from a Ziya Gökalp poem that earned Erdoğan a spell in prison).  Erdoğan’s insistence that as elected leader he represents the people’s will and hence can ignore any protests very much is in the tradition of Kemalist principles devletçilik (statism) and halkçılık (populism). As Spencer (1958) analysed, these principles as developed by Gökalp have been inspired by a reading of Durkheim’s sociology – following a misunderstanding that remained common into the 1950s and 60s, namely that Durkheim proposed that in the absence of traditional religious bonds only a strong national identity as new conscience collective can safeguard the continuity of social life:

 ‘But it must be recalled that Durkheim gave complete priority to society and dismissed the worth of the individual. The Turks have retained this concept, and argued that collective action is not arbitrary and is not to be couched in Hegelian dialectic. Statism in Turkey is construed as the manifestation of the collective will.’ (Spencer 1958: 653)

That Durkheim was not only a methodological collectivist but also a political individualist has been too much to digest for most early and mid 20th century readers. But he certainly was, seeing the cult of human rights, a culture of individualistic humanitarianism, as residual religious glue that ideologically holds together a maximally diverse society. So both the masses commandeered by Erdoğan and the masses of protestors for Gezi could be said to be Durkheimians in a way. Which of the two Durkheimisms will prevail in Turkey remains to be seen – my money’s still on a cosmopolitan cult of the individual. One reason is that the powers of collectivist Durkheimism, both among the old Kemalist elites and in the new Islamic elites share Gökalp’s idea of economic/technological modernisation that is to leave the social/cultural core of Turkish or Muslim life unaffected:

‘… Westernization created serious difficulties for the Ottoman Turks, and solutions ranged from the Westernized constitutional guarantees of the Tanzimat era to the policies of resistance and isolation for Abdülhamit II. Ziya set himself the task of providing a sociological rationale for the acceptance of Western ideas by the Turks. The solution he proposed was both simple and naïve: given the organic unity and integrity of Turkish society and the spirit of  Turkish culture, the nation is in a position to accept Western civilization in full. At this point Ziya returned to an application of the distinction of Tönnies. Civilization is not culture, but a supercultural development. Nations can share in the same civilization, as he conceived it, but by doing so they may forfeit their cultural integrity. Hence the Turks must retain their culture, but at the same time take over the benefits of Western civilization (Duda 1948: 99). How this is to be done is not clear from Ziya’s writings.’ (Spencer 1958: 651)

This idea of technological Westernisation paired up with social conservatism has been tried and tested and failed in many places –  it has failed even where the social conservatism was pursued with much more rigour than in the Turkish case – as Elmusa (1997) shows for Saudi Arabia. The microelectronic revolution has sustained a leaderless resistance at Gezi that allowed the collective expression of people who, in the end, only shared the fervent commitment to each other’s individual freedom

 Everyone is enjoying the camaraderie and freedom. No one is being patronizing and everybody is wearing their colours of life free of restraint. While the Anticapitalist Muslims perform their prayers, atheists keep watch around them. The Kurds dance their halay, Alevis whirl in their ritual dance, semah, Turks chant military marches. Socialists, LGBTs, fans of Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray teams roll up their sleeves together, have fun together and keep an eye on each other. Everyone’s freedom is guarded by everyone else.[1]

They are “Durkheimian” in that (like, by the way, old Marx) a) they are intuitively aware that all individuality is a social construct, is only possible as outcome of social interaction – they are collectivist in their methods and b) they are politically individualistic in that they not only care for their own rights of personal development and freedom of expression but that of everybody else as well.

Elmusa, Sharif S. (1997): ‘Faust Without the Devil? The Interplay of Technology and Culture in Saudi Arabia’, in: Middle East Journal, Vol.51, No.3, pp.345-57

Spencer, Robert F. (1958): ‘Culture Process and Intellectual Current: Durkheim and Atatürk’, in: American Anthropologist, New SeriesI, Vol.60, No.4, pp.640-57

[1] Burhan Sönmez: The Aesthetics of Resistance, translated by Duygu Tekgül, orig. in BirGün

İnce Memed and Paternalism

I just found out that somebody (from behind a pseudonym) has accused me of engaging in “fascist cultural production” – mainly on the basis that I reject “paternalistic systems of domination”  which my accuser identifies with “all non-capitalist relations”. That’s nonsense, of course, as fascist cultural production is, for the most part, precisely this: a celebration of paternalism.

For anybody thinking highly of paternalism because it looks like a cosy alternative to capitalism, I recommend the work of a socialist who knew paternalism inside out – Yaşar Kemal.

In his most renown novel İnce Memed (Memed my Hawk) it is when the protagonist first gets away from the villages controlled by the ağa, secretly making a trip to the kasaba,the local market town, that the possibility of a life free of oppression occurs to him. After a day in the shops, after being treated with respect by shopkeepers who want to sell to him, and after finding out that there are inequalities between haves and have-nots, but no single master, no ağa, whose control seems inescapable, Memed’s world changes:

‘Dünya kafasında büyümüştü. Dünyanın genişliğini düşünüyordu. Değirmenoluk köyü bir nokta gibi kalmıştı gözünde. O kocaman Abdi Ağa karınca gibi kalmıştı gözünde. Belki de ilk olarak doğru dürüst düşünüyordu. Aşk ile şevk ile düşünüyordu. Kin duyuyordu artık. Kendi gözünde kendisi büyümüştü. Kendini de insan saymaya başladı. Yatakta bir taraftan bir tarafa dönerken söylendi. “Abdi Ağa da insan, biz de…”’

(Kemal, Yaşar (2005) [1955] İnce Memed, İstanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, p.80)

“In his head, the world had grown. He was thinking about how wide it was. In his eyes his village, Değirmenoluk, had shrunk to a small point. That mighty Abdi Ağa had shrunk to the size of an ant. Maybe this was the first time that he thought properly. He thought with passion, he thought with zeal. And felt hatred. He felt he himself had grown. He began to see himself as a human being. While turning from one side to the other in bed he told himself: “Abdi Ağa is a human being, but so are we…”

True: urban life is far from free of oppression, inequality, violence, humiliation. Kemal would be the last to celebrate “the market” as the ultimate utopia of freedom and justice (after all he spent time in prison for “communist propaganda”). But however unjust and thereby illiberal the “free” market is – it contains the promise and possibility of freedom and justice. Simmel rightly remarked that socialism is a product of the pervasive use of money and its cultural impact (and Marx often implied the same).

Memed underlines his status as individual by bringing back tokens from the markets (which he has to hide from the ağa who forces the villagers to buy from his own shop) – and in order to stand up for equality and freedom one has to achieve such individuality. Memed’s failure to achieve something more fundamental than just the death of one oppressor is due to the fact that he is one of only a few who manage to establish such individuality in a quasi feudal world.

Marx postulated the necessity of individualisation on a mass basis as a precondition for any communist revolution (explicitly so in the German Ideology). (It is Gerald Cohen’s take on this: the liberation from “engulfment”, that the anonymous paternalist took issue with.) The capitalist market has this power of alienation and thus both the frustration to drive change and the individual agency to perform it. Paternalism, if left alone, can reproduce itself endlessly.

Idioms of Islam – idioms of consumerism… a note on Mardin

In his ground-breaking analysis of the emergence of the Nurcu movement in Turkey, Şerif Mardin operates with the concept of an “Islamic idiom” in order to explain how the receptiveness for Islamic legitimation has survived the secularist onslaught of Kemalism in the first decades after the demise of the Ottoman Empire.

‘Every author who has written about Islam has indicated that Islam is more than simply a religious belief, that it structures the social life of Islamic societies, that it provides the foundations for political obligation and that, in short, it penetrates the smallest interstices of daily life and of  social and political organization. What these authors have not elucidated is the process by which such a society is reproduced. What I suggest is that the reproduction of Islamic societies is linked to a common use of an Islamic idiom by the members of such societies.’ (Mardin 1989: 3)

This idiom is not  perpetuated by a continuity of  reading holy texts – the notion derives its use precisely from its independence of such scriptural tradition. What is to explained is the possibility of an Islamic resurgence after the most fundamental ideological re-orientation that any Muslim country has ever experienced.  Mardin himself does not entirely free himself from a scriptural basis. In the absence of Qur’anic studies he sees lesser (but still written) texts, taking over:

‘narratives of the lives and pious deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, biographies of Muslim holy men, poetry and love stories placed in an Islamic setting.’ (Mardin 1989: 5)

… all providing patterns of morality, scripted ways to behave and act, metaphors, justifications… maybe even not so much perpetuated by story-telling and reading but in its use in the everyday for practical purposes. So it does not come as a surprise that even for the laicists-to-be, the leaders in the Turkish “liberation war” (İstiklâl Harbı, later: Kurtuluş Savaşı), mobilising the population for the war effort to save at least Anatolia for a post-Ottoman Turkish state, use of the Islamic idiom was a natural choice, so:

‘The nationalist struggles of 1919-1922 were fought in Anatolia at the popular level as a war in defense of  the faith. In fact, the Islamic layer of identity was heightened and used by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to mobilize the population against the occupying  powers that sought to implement the Sevres Treaty of 1920, which divided much of what is now Turkey among European powers, and carved out an independent Armenia and Kurdistan in eastern Anatolia.’ (Yavuz 2003: 45)

And even later on in the early Republic there was a silent understanding that being a Muslim was a condition for being a Turk – not so much as an legal requirement but as a tacit assumption that only occasionally was openly stated:

‘Even for the secular intellectuals there has always been an ironic ambivalence surrounding the Islamic component of Turkish identity. For example, one “author” of secular Turkish nationalism, Ali Haydar, viewed Islam as a sine qua non for being a Turk; a non-Muslim, even one whose mother language was Turkish, could not be a real Turk.[1] He categorically said: “It is impossible to make non-Muslims sincere Turkish citizens. But at least we can make them respect the Turks.” Haydar’s ideas were not exceptional and indicate that, at a fundamental level, Turkish identity, even during the most doctrinaire Republican period, could not elude religion as an important component of its supposedly secular, national identity.’ (Yavuz 2003: 47f.)  [1] Ali Haydar, Milli Terbiye (İstanbul: Milli Matbaası, 1926), 21-23

This should serve as an indicator of how deep the Islamic idiom sits in the moral grammar of Muslim societies and communities. Haydar’s statement quoted here by Hakan Yavuz can in effect be read as saying: “we can’t trust them as they don’t have internalised the same ideas of legitimacy – all we can do is coerce them to accept the arrangements we arrive at on the basis of our shared ideas”. As it provides the justifications for behaviour and actions, social legitimacy, the Islamic idiom can be seen as the centre piece of Muslim collective and individual identities:

‘It is because this idiom is shared that there appears something which we could name “social legitimation” in Islamic societies, a legitimation that | derives from the widespread use of this idiom. As long as the common idiom is used by individuals to procure their needs, the social process functions smoothly, and it is legitimated by use. Anything that upsets this use of the idiom for everyday purposes becomes illegitimate.’ (Mardin 1989: 6f.)

One could even say that such undermining of legitimacy becomes an assault on Muslim identity, a questioning of the validity of a whole way of life – which explains the defensive reaction to such challenges.  To avoid them where they are not inevitable, recognising and understanding such religious idioms has been advocated under the banner of enhancing the “religious literacy” of multicultural society. As Tariq Modood emphasises, multi-faithism is a central feature of a

“multiculturalism that is happy with hybridity but has space for religious identities” (Modood 2003: 88)

Religious literacy  seems particularly urgent in a situation where religion

“marks a significant dimension of cultural difference between the migrants and British society. Not only did most of the migrants have a different religion to that of the natives, but the indications are that they, including Christians among them, were more religious than the society they were joining.” (Modood 2003: 80)

This concern reaffirmed in a recent EHRC research report (Woodhead/Catto 2009: 27f.) and has already lead to some pedagogical guidance issued for administrative use – for an example, see this brochure issued by the Yorkshire and Humberside Assembly.

While it may be true that in a multicultural society we need to develop a religious literacy, i.e. learn to understand various religious idioms in which (ethnic) minorities define themselves in religious terms, members of religious communities cannot avoid picking up the secular idiom of consumerism and human rights. I will come back (inevitably…) to the consumerism aspect – what is normally in the foreground is the question whether Islamic politics is reconcilable with secular constitutions in liberal democracies. And it certainly looks like there is a strong current within Islamism that fairly early on learned to formulate political aims in a secular language. Though doubtful about their genuineness, Niyazi Berkes detects politically secular literacy already in the Islamists challenging the early Turkish Republic, starting to make claims no longer solely based on religious righteousness but on constitutional principles:

‘To put it in a nutshell, Kemalist secularism was nothing but a rejection of the ideology of Islamic polity. The Islamist critics of this view of secularism became, ironically, the advocates of separationist secularism within the context of the Republic. Measures taken for an understanding of Islam that would not be voiced as a call to tradition, obscurantism, and reaction in times of political stress were, for them, both anti-Islamic and anti-secularist. Pretending to be true believers in “laïcisme,” they opposed the secularizing legislation, not on an Islamist principle but, strangely, on the grounds of the constitutional right to free exercise of religion so that they might reassert the political ascendancy of their own ideology. Resorting to democratic slogans such as “the will of the People,” they were bent upon restoring a polity under which the will, sovereignty, or law of the people would become nothing but heretical concepts.’ (Berkes 1964: 499f.)

What Berkes overlooks is that re-entering the public sphere under such terms fundmentally transforms political Islam. Even if the commitment to laiklik is only a rhetorical one – it is a submission under the terms of secular politics. It is not only the Military and the courts that will see to that – it is also the “will of the people” which is staunchly in favour of a secular state and has no appetite whatsoever to turn into a Şeriat state. Also, there might be an emerging honest commitment to a Western style democracy at least in some quarters, even though it may be primarily motivated by a utilitarian insight that such a system of government actually provides ample liberties for religious life:

‘A related aspect of the new “Muslimhood” in Turkey, and that of the Gülen movement, is its growing advocacy of Western-style democracy. One reason of this phenomenon is a significant discovery that Turkey’s observant Muslims – especially the ones who had a chance to know the West, such as the Gülen movement – had in the past quarter century: that the West is better than the Westernisers. What this means is that they recognized that Western democracies give their citizens all the religious freedoms that Turkey has withheld from its own. In fact, no country in the free world has secularism as illiberal as Turkey’s self-styled laicité.’ (Akyol 2007: 30f.)

The migration experience is crucial here – especially as much of the reflexivity in modern Islamic movements took place in diaspora where traditional assumption lost their immediate plausibility and expression of new ideas and interpretations was less restricted (Mandeville 2001: 115ff.). As Nilüfer Göle observes:

‘Islamism is the work of those Muslims who exist under conditions of social mobility and uprootedness; those actors who have left their families and small town to come to cities or to cross national boundaries, becoming migrants in Western countries in search of work, education, and better living conditions. Sociologists know that these displacements create fertile ground for social alienation and frustration, and for delinquency and terrorist actions. But social mobility is also a condition for modern definitions of individual choice and agency.’ (Göle 2003: 813)

In light of the post-secularism debate it is worth pointing out that this move from (in Mannheim’s terms) traditionalism to conservatism is a modernisation, and in its implication makes religious and political allegiances a matter of individual choice – a hallmark of secularity. In the Turkish case this was accentuated by the coercive pressures of an unparalleled programme of uncompromising “Westernisation” which, at least initially, deprived the Islamic idiom not only of its public but even its private power of justification. The Nurcus studied by Mardin therefore had to learn to accommodate to and learn to express their Islamic ethics and spirituality in a secular idiom.

‘Between 1923 and 1938 the entire cast of Turkish society was penetrated by some of these reforms carried out under the aegis of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The Nurmovement had, therefore, to accept as a datum of social life those reforms – such as universal education – which, gradually, had become part of the birthright of modern Turks.’ (Mardin 1989: 25)

And it is not only institutional entitlements like education that – if you like – feed into a secular idiom. The cultural reforms of the 1920 and 30s not only challenged the Islamic idiom but, despite the failure to establish a coherent secular/nationalist ideology to rival Islamic belief, it established idiomatic facts. The Islamic calendar gave way to the Gregorian, Sunday became a weekly holiday, and the Ottoman clock to the 24 hours day – all synchronising life in the Turkish Republic with that in Europe. (Lewis 1961: 265) The old Arabic/Ottoman person names – which through isim, künye, nesep, lakap and nispet located the individual within a wider family, tribal, occupational, hierarchical and geographical context – made way for European style surnames (Lewis 1961: 283) which stipulate an idea of nuclear family relations which postulate the adult person as beyond the family of origin, as (alienated) individual rather than representative of a community. Of course – the practice of referring to others in the language of family relations has survived this move to an extent, alongside with some expressions of respect of social position (you still address a teacher as hoca), but a secular idiom of egalitarian civility has also been introduced and taken hold as

‘… non-military ranks and titles surviving from the old régime were abolished, and replaced by the new words Bay and Bayan – Mr. and Mrs.’ (Lewis 1961: 283)

C. Wright Mills’ notion of a “vocabulary of motive” (“vocomot” in the following) captures quite well what’s at stake here. Mills (1963) suggests that the justification by the naming of a legitimate motive and its link to an intended outcome is maybe more important (and definitely more available!) for understanding an action than its “actual” psychological motivation. It thus makes a great difference whether someone is used to justify political decisions in terms of Islamic tradition, custom, and theology or in terms of a discourse of efficient provision, human rights, electorial demands etc. At first sight – and certainly in the eyes of both Islamim traditionalists and secularising modernists the two are mutually exclusive. But there is another understanding of secularism in the (minimalist) terms of the cult of the individual as human rights where the overarching vocabulary of motive is – adequacy in expression of individually important motives. Such a secular idiom – in contrast to the quasi-religious modernist secularism… see the postscript for an example – becomes a metavocomot of the overarching democratic public sphere: one that creates empty spaces to be filled in by sub-publics that feed into the general debate, but when doing so need to translate their internal vocomots into the metavocomot… In such a metavocomot the single vocomots that lead to the formulation of claims in segregated public spheres have the same status as “actual motives” in a vocomot: they may be drivers, but the outcome is justified by legitimate motives which may or may not differ. It hence makes not much sense to dismiss a claim that it is a human right to express one’s religious identity in attire with the argument that this is not the real reason why that claim is made and it’s really about taking a step into the direction of re-establishing the şeriat… even if that were the “true motive”. Mills emphasises that the parallel existence of different vocomots is a perfectly normal state:

“However, there are other areas of population with different vocabularies of motives. The choice of lines of action is accompanied by representations, and selection among them, of their situational termini. Men discern situations with particular vocabularies, and it is in terms of some delimited vocabulary that they anticipate consequences of conduct. Stable vocabularies of motives link anticipated consequences and specific actions. There is no need to invoke ‘psychological’ terms like ‘desire’ or ‘wish’ as explanatory, since they themselves must be explained socially. Anticipation is a subvocal or overt naming of terminal phases and/or social consequences of conduct. When an individual names consequences, he elicits the behaviors for which the name is an integrative cue. In a social situation, implicit in the names for consequences is the social dimension of motives. Through such vocabularies, types of societal controls operate. Also, the terms in which the question is asked often will contain both alternatives: ‘Love or Duty?’, ‘Business or Pleasure?’ Institutionally different situations have different vocabularies of motive appropriate to their respective behaviors.” (Mills 1963: 442f.)

Such pluralism is embraced by the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP) [Justice and Development Party] – the Islamist party currently in government in Turkey – which presents itself as a European-style conservative party, and whose

concern to limit state and governmental power is connected to a related acknowledgement of naturally occurring social diversity (toplumsal çeşitliği), cultural difference and local values, as well s to its desire to have these reflected in the political sphere. Here “variety is richness” (AKPARTİ’ye göre de farklılıklar tabii bir durum ve zenginliktir.).’ (Houston 2006: 166)

Of course, the suspicion formulated by Berkes was not and still is not entirely groundless: There has been a slow erosion of secularism in Turkey (e.g. in the reintroduction of Sunni religious education in state schools – naturally marginalising Alevi pupils) so that, particular given that Ahmadinejad’s Iran is just round the corner, anxieties fuelled by some actions of more zealous AKP politicians and administrators are quite understandable – as formulated here by Binnaz Toprak

The Islamist project, on the other hand, is largely based on the segregation of sexes. Although political Islam in Turkey is to be distinguished from radical Islamist movements elsewhere, and although it does not argue for same-sex public life, its understanding of the place of men and women in the public sphere differs from the republican understanding. This difference is most vividly apparent in the covering of young girls and women There has been heightened press coverage of numerous attempts by municipal governments, public educational institutions and other government offices controlled by the Islamists to introduce changes that might indeed suggest the “Islamization of public life,” such as to include Islamic or ‘intelligent design” texts in primary and secondary school curricula, to permit the covering of young girls in certain extra-curricular activities even at the primary school level, to relocate restaurants that serve liquor to the outskirts of cities or refuse to give them licenses, to open “women only” public parks, to ban alcohol in municipal-owned recreational or art centers, etc.

Based on historic Islamic concept of inseparability of  dîn ve devlet – religious and political affairs which secularism challenges, Islamicist  Fuess speculates about the discomfort of Muslim migrants and minorities in the West

‘Not surprisingly Islam accompanies the devout Muslim throughout his daily routine also in Europe and it is certainly not as easy to keep religion in the private sphere as it is for most “part-time” Christians. Therefore some Muslim immigrants will find it hard to deal with everyday secularism, known in the West.’ (Fuess 2004: 70)

But is that a valid observation – particularly (as it was made in a German context) for Turkish/Muslims who hail from a country whose separation of “church” and state is stricter? After all, in Germany the Christian Democrat Union are in power while the AKP would be closed down straightaway should they decide to follow a European pattern and call themselves the “Müslüman Demokratlar Birliği”. (The potential objection that, as mentioned, Islam as part of national identity in Turkey does not hold here as the same could be said about Germany where being of Christian extraction was long considered to be a condition for being German and far into the 19th century speaking an old German dialect (Yiddish) or High German didn’t earn Jews German nationhood – until today the idea that Jews or Muslims can be “proper” Germans is by no means universally accepted although at least institutionalised). A German Christian Democrat politician of Turkish descent, Aygül Özkan,  found this out by receiving support from within her party for her view that Islamic headscarves should be banned in state schools, but got much flak for stating that, as the reason for this is that schools should be neutral ground – crucifixes should also be removed from classrooms. John D Boy in his post on The Immanent Frame rightly points out that she has underestimated the entanglement of this symbol of Christianity and German national identity (although his explanation that this is to do with the crucifix as symbol of redemption after the Third Reich does not seem very plausible to me – less so than the formula of a (Christian) abendländische Kultur/Occidental culture that pops up in German political discourse again and again).

Apart from the fact that, as Akyol (see above) underlines, many Muslims – and particularly more pious Muslims – experience Western secularism as more conducive to the expression of Islamic identity and spirituality than the more regulated and controlled religious life in Turkey: Is this really about politics at all?

Indications are that the public presence aimed for is more of an aesthetic nature – a yearning for the possibility to perform Islamicity without a sense of being out of place. Heiko Henkel reports how his key informant in his study on Islamic life in contemporary Istanbul refers to this aesthetic frame as “natural propaganda” for Islam.

‘I asked him to explain what he meant by the phrase “natural propaganda” that he had used in our first conversation. He paused for a moment, then pointed at the trousers of his suit, which displayed a neatly pressed crease and said, “I don’t remember” (hatırlamıyorum). Seeing my puzzled expression, he explained, “When I wear Western clothes, suit and tie and so on, I don’t remember God. But when I am in the old city, or in the mosque, they remind me (hatırlatıyor), then I remember God.” In a telling linguistic move, Nevzat switches here from the intransitivehatırlamak (to remember) to the transitive hatırlatmak (to remind). This grammatical shift relocates the agency from the remembering subject to the reminding physical and social structures of the lifeworld. The ease with which Nevzat performs this grammatical shift underlines the correspondence and close connection between both aspects of the invocation.’ (Henkel 2007: 65)

While in the old quarters such natural propaganda is still in operation, for most of the city there is no more of it than in London or Paris (and therefore needs to be substituted by consumerist practices such as tourism, acquisition and display of nostalgic goods, etc.):

‘For many religious Muslims in contemporary Turkey […] what once may have appeared as the obvious correlations between, for instance the old neighborhood of Fatih, Muslim culture and the neighborhood’s inhabitants has become problematic. As it becomes more difficult to simply assert the “Muslim identity” of Turkish society – or even of individual neighborhoods – the question of how Muslim space, and, indeed Muslim society is generated comes to the fore.’ (Henkel 2007: 58)

The professed pluralism of the Müslüman Demokratlar does not necessarily aim at a unitary Muslim public sphere, but definitely at least at reinstating some of the aesthetic frame for Islamic life – Alev Çınar analyses these efforts looking at projects of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when still mayor of Istanbul (then still in Necmettin Erbakan’s Refah Partisi/Welfare Party), such as a major mosque at Taksim Square (which never made it) or the revamping of the municipal Çamlıca Restaurant along an Ottomanesque aesthetics – which like all “themed” restaurants showed cracks in its “authenticity” from the start. Typically, controversy kicked off centring on consumer items – in this case notoriously: Coca Cola and similar

‘After the secular media made a huge fuss about banning carbonated beverages at a tourist site, the city responded in its bimonthly publication: “Our goal here was to create a truly authentic place. Tourists coming from Europe and other places are mostly interested in such authentic, original sites. Surely they will be interested in seeing other cultures, not standardized five-star hotels or night clubs … They do not have to come all the way here to see [their own cultures]” This justification does not express a sense of the danger posed by cultural imperialism and a need to protect the local cultures from its erosive effects. It does not reflect a concern with preserving the self against destructive threats. Had such a concern been the case, the city would certainly not been eager to attract more tourist’ (Çınar 2005: 131)

So this is a far cry from the rejection of an alleged American cultural hegemony as in the promotion of Mecca Cola as the Islamist’s and the radical Leftist’s counter drink to Coca Cola. (Littler 2009: 33) Quite the contrary: while Mecca Cola needs to disguise its commodity status by means of political (anti-American, antizionist) rhetoric, the legitimacy of an Ottomanised Islamic nostalgia is provided by the fact that (among others) American tourists may find it pleasantly consumable. Tourism here is not just a rationalisation or fig leaf – it is the tourist gaze bent back on oneself and constituting one’s own “authenticity” in the same way that romantic tourists in the 19th century (and overseas tourists today) through their gaze construct an British (nostalgic/idyllic) identity that is then sold back to (and at least partly accepted by) an educated British public (e.g. by David Dimbleby presenting a picture of Britain)

What I’m edging slowly towards here is that the idiom of legitimacy has changed: while the Islamic idiom is recreated and revitalised it is not the legitimising element: Legitimation is drawn from a consumerist imperative of aestheticisation.

Like with the maintenance of cathedrals and village churches by the Church of England – which Grace Davie (2006) understands of part of a ‘vicarious religion’ – the creation of an Ottoman/Islamic atmosphere by local authorities and others can be seen as the public performance of religiosity for a consuming but not necessarily actively participating population. Such performance is by no means imposing (again: where it does not violate the constitutionally guaranteed and generally accepted secularist imperative of non-coercion) as this aestheticisation is obviously evocative, fictitious – nobody who doesn’t actively want to be transposed into an Ottoman atmosphere will fall for the simulacrum. As Mike Featherstone (1991: 24f. and 72) points out, aestheticisation requires controlled de-control on the side of the consumer – better captured earlier in Colin Campbell’s (1987) adaptation of Coleridge’s notion of “willing suspension of disbelief”. Like vicarious consumption vicarious religion only works for an autonomous imaginative hedonist – and notoriously such hedonists can use an atmospheric creation for all sorts of revelries, not just those intended by the creators. As Nilüfer Göle writes:

‘Each time I cross the Galata bridge, I never tire of contemplating with wonder the panorama of Istanbul in which emerge, like drawings, the silhouettes of its longilineal minarets. Unlike the Eiffel Tower, the minarets, multiple and discreet, are not erected as symbols of the city of Istanbul. Nevertheless, Istanbul, without its slender minarets, which symbolize the spiritual elevation of man towards God, would lose a part of its soul. The minarets, in the eyes of the inhabitants—pious and secular, Muslim and non-Muslim—are part of the familiar landscape, of the common heritage.’

All indications are that while there is a loud battle between modernist secularism based on an Enlightenment optimism around science and progress and religious revivalism, there is a silent supersession of religious idioms by a no less secular (or civil-religious) idiom of the cult of the individual – human rights and even more powerful as lived on a quotidian level: consumerism. I will expand on this in a later post in more detail. Here I simply re-emphasise the dominance and civilisational potential of Durkheim’s cult of the indivdiual as human rights theology and consumerist folk piety. My (Plessnerian) point is that, while rigid civility/secularity as strict separation of private person and public role/mask already is liberating in comparison to less alienating traditional community in that it allows a development of personality beyond the mask; consumer masks drive this further – I paste in the relevant passage from my earlier post:

Ceremonial roles are insufficient in an individualistic culture – they remain necessary! – there is a shift to prestige in a trivialised artistic, creative existence

‘The rigid masks of an arbitrary and interchangeable office, which imparts to the most different personalities the same aura, gives way here to a counter-picture appearing in the unique work brought to permanent form of the person who created it.’ (Plessner 1999: 141)

Such objectification (e.g. as a facebook entry) necessarily creates a distance – and hence establishes a subject that is not to be defined by the sum of their performances. The struggle for prestige as “struggle for a true face” hence still constitutes an “unrealisation” – the true face just as another role. This is not a repetition of the medieval situation where“man never was alone” – it is a performance of a private self that is detached from and thereby constitutes a subjectivity ‘behind’ the private self, thereby realising even further the potential that lies in the anthropologically given eccentric positionality.

In both cases civility and personal development/human flourishing (or whatever you would call it) are safeguarded by alienation between authentic self and performance of a role (the latter offering the chance of constituting authentic selfhood in the first place) – a society of Simmelian strangers. Göle invokes this figure of the permanently resident but also permanently different other in characterising the position of self-assertive Muslims in secular societies:

‘Instead of giving up the attributes of “undesired difference,” Muslim actors voluntarily adopt stigma symbols; expose their embodied difference (through dress codes, modes of address, eating habits) and claim public visibility (in schools, universities, workplaces, parliament). The disturb because they represent ambivalence, being both “Muslim” and “modern” without wanting to give up one for the other. One can almost twist the argument and say that they are neither Muslim nor modern. The ambiguity of signs disturbs both the traditional Muslim and the secular modern social groups.’ (Göle 2003: 824)

Göle illustrates this ambiguity with the case of an Islamist career women with an engineering degree from a US university, fluency in English, versatile in modern gadgetry and fashionable: ‘light-colored headscarf and frameless eyeglasses’ – all ‘distinct cultural symbols in a non-Western context of modernity’ (Göle 2003: 823f.). This ambiguity is maybe most prominent in ex-prime minister Necmettin Erbakan (then Refah Partisi, nowSaadet Partisi/Felicity Party – his fifth Islamist outfit after the other four have been successively banned). As Alev Çınar recounts:

‘During the mid-1990s, when the Refah Pary was rising to prominence, its leader, Necmettin Erbakan, started to appear before the media in fashionable suits, noting his Versace ties, which soon became his trademark. Similar to Atatürk, who had made a public appearance wearing a suit and a top hat, thereby inscribing on his own body the norms of “civilized” modern governance, Erbakan also used his own body to create an image of modern and competent Islamist statesmanship. Erbakan’s suits and trademark ties served a twofold function. First, they served to vest the Islamist elite with agency and ascribe to it the qualities of a competent leader who was capable of ruling and transforming society toward a new Islamist nationalist ideal […] Second, this intervention with regard to the male body of the Islamist leadership served a crucial function toward unsettling the dominant view of Islamism as backward, “uncivilized,” fundamentalist, incompetent, and lacking taste and culture. ’ (Çınar 2005: 88)

In short, just like the early Republicans needed to adopt an Islamic idiom to mobilise the Anatolian population, thus acknowledging its pervasiveness, contemporary Islamists, at least in Turkey, adopt a modernist/secular idiom not just in political discourse but also in their sartorial decisions.

This leads over into the mentioned literature on consumerist veiling – a form of veiling that contrasts markedly with a uniform 1980s “banner of Islam” style veiling as it

has begun to lose its homogenizing feature, its uniform, and embraces esthetic values and suggests a symbol of distinction and prestige for pious women. If in the case of Turkey it is by means of democratic politics, market forces, and fashion that stigma symbols are turning into symbols of prestige […].’ (Göle 2003: 821)

Islam clearly is compatible as such with the estranged civility, as Göle (2003: 826) points out – it is very much about boundary maintenance – and the individualisation of the mask in consumerist veiling is one way (among others) to maintain boundaries in a less ceremonial and more artistic way. There is a wide space of  option between the rigidity of a 1980s style fundamentalist and a 1990s and 2000s style fashionable veil – just how wide can easily be gauged by looking at the cases of contemporary performers/artists studied by Emma Tarlo (2007).

Does that mean that the idiom of Islam is now subordinated to consumerism and hence has lost some of its power and meaning? I don’t think this is the case. It certainly has lost its politically legitimising power to secular justifications – constitutional and consumerist. But this loss is also the loss of a burden which allows a reconnection with the spiritual needs of people who consider Islam as their heritage and/or spiritual home, but also inhabit a modern world which is not reconcilable with the social order projected by the şeriatçiler . One could say that there is an historic opportunity to see the intention of Kemalist secularisation realised which had been buried under a very formalistic institutional practice:

‘In accordance with its own principle which was accepted as a fact (without recourse to the Şeriat of legitimization), the new regime would accept the freedom of religion not because religion should be implememtned as the basis of the state, but because it was the duty of the state to safeguard freedom. Freeing the conscience could be effected only when and insofar as the theocratic concept was eliminated from the body of the religious outlook.’ (Berkes 1964: 482)

Akyol, Mustafa (2007): ‘What Made the Gülen Movement Possible?’ in: Muslim World in Transition: Contributions of the Gülen Movement. Conference Proceedings, Leeds: Leeds Metropolitan Unversity Press, pp.22-32

Berkes, Niyazi (1964): The Development of Secularism in Turkey, Montreal: McGill University Press

Çınar, Alev (2005): Modernity, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey: Bodies, Places, and Time,Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Davie, Grace (2006) ‘Vicarious religion: A methodological challenge’, in N. Ammerman (ed): Everyday Religion: Observing Modern Religious Lives, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 21-37.

Featherstone, Mike (1991): Consumer Culture and Postmodernism, London: SAGE.

Fuess, Albrecht (2004): ‘Islam’s Compatibility with Secularism’, in: Peter Graf (ed.): Der Islam im Westen, der Westen im Islam: Positionen zur religiös-ethischen Erziehung von Muslimen, Göttingen: V&R unipress, pp.69-76.

Henkel, Heiko (2007): ‘The Location of Islam: Inhabiting Istanbul in a Muslim Way’, in:American Ethnologist, Vol.34, No.1, pp.57-70.

Houston, Chris (2006): ‘The Never Ending Dance: Islamism, Kemalism and the Power of Self-institution in Turkey’, in: Australian Journal of Anthropology, Vol.17, No.2, pp.161-78

Littler, Jo (2009): Radical Consumption: Shopping for Change in Consumer Culture, Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Mandeville, Peter (2001): Transnational Muslim Politics: Reimagining the Umma, London: Routledge

Mills, C. Wright (1963): ‘Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive (1940).’ In: Irving Louis Horowitz (ed.): Power, Politics and People, London: Oxford University Press, pp.439-452.

Modood, Tariq (2003): ‘New Forms of Britishness: Post-Immigration Ethnicity and Hybridity in Britain’, in: Rosemarie Sackmann/Bernhard Peter/Thomas Faist (eds): Identity and Integration: Migrants in Western Europe, Aldershot: Ashgate, pp.77-89.

Tarlo, Emma (2007): ‘Hijab in London’, in: Journal of Material Culture, Vol.12, No.2, pp.131-56.

Woodhead, Linda; with Rebecca Catto (2009): ‘“Religion or Belief”: Identifying Issues and Priorities’, Equality and Human Rights Commission Research Report Series, Manchester.

Yavuz, M. Hakan (2003): Islamic Political Identity in Turkey, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Yorkshire & Humber Assembly/The Churches Regional Commission for Yorkshire and Humber (2005) (4th edition): Religious Literacy: A Practical Guide to the Region’s Faith Communities,


The “scientific rationality” of the modernist-secularist idiom does not necessarily reflect the rational pursuit of scientific inquiry but regularly descends into a quasi-religious messianic cult – Atatürk, in his 1925 speech at İnebolu pronounces

Medeniyetin coşkun seli karşısında mukavemet beyhudedir, ve o, gafil ve itaatsizler hakkında çok biammandır. Dağları delen, semalarda uçan, göze görünmeyen zerrelerden yildizlara kadar her seyi gören, tenvir eden, tetkik eden medeniyetin kudret ve ulviyeti karşısında kurunuvusta zihniyetile, iptidaî hurafelerle yürümeğe çalışan milletler mahvolmağa veya hic olmazsa esir ve zelil olmağa mahkûmlardır

This extract, which can also be found on the What-Atatürk-said-about-medeniyet page of the Turkish Ministry for Culture and Tourism, roughly translates as

Against the gushing torrents of Civilisation resistance is futile – Civilisation knows no mercy for the heedless and disobedient. It penetrates the mountains and flies in the skies, it sees everything from the atoms invisible to the naked eye to the stars. Nations that, guided by medieval mentality and primitive beliefs, try to march against the might and superior power of illuminating and investigating Civilisation are doomed to disappear, or at least to be enslaved and humiliated. [any suggestions for a better translation welcome, mzv]

If my attempt at translation is only approximately correct: the quasi-religious fervour for the messianic cause of scientific civilisation that is presented as at least by tendency omniscient and omnipotent can hardly be denied – Medeniyet takes the place of God in this discourse – using (deliberately?) and Islamic idiom (e.g. the term “itaatsiz” is normally used in conjunctions like “Allah’a karşı itaatsiz” “disobedient against God”) . A secular eschatology is outlined that identifies those who will find Grace and Mercy and those who will be crushed by the ire of almighty Civilisation. But at the same time this discourse is conducted in a way that not only tries to expropriate the Ottoman Islamic idiom, but (in a way that Mardin does not include, but Yavuz hints to) keeps it alive even in the most committed secularists.


The notion of “itaat” derives from the theological notion of āʿa – which denotes an act in obedience to God. While it doesn’t appear in the Qur’ān it is frequently used in Ḥadīth where ‘so far as one can judge, obedience to God is expressed exclusively in the explicit formula āʿat Allāh‘ (Gimaret 2010)

Gimaret, D. “Ṭāa (a., pl. ṭāāt ).” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman; , Th. Bianquis; , C.E. Bosworth; , E. van Donzel; and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2010. Brill Online. EXETER UNIVERSITY. 17 August 2010 <;


One prominent function of idiomatic expressions is in ritualised greetings, openings to social interactions that define the relation between the people entering the communication (Oevermann 1983). The Arabist, Turkologist, Aramaist… linguist Otto Jastrow (1991) in a handbook article points out the infusion of greetings with Islamic/Arabic expressions throughout the Islamic world – and also the way that expressions of Islamicity pervade everyday talk with expressions like bismillah (“in the name of God” – expressing surprise, joy, anger and more)  (all given here in their modern Turkish spelling), inşallah (in şaa Allah “God willing”) as acknowledgement that the future is not in one’s own hands – etc. Of course, like the occurrence of “God” and “Christ” in various English expressions (“OMG” and worse), such expressions can lose their religious connotations. So, an atheist Turkish intellectual may still use the occasional maşallah without really wondering what God is willing. Conscious Muslims will distance themselves from such casual use by being more careful with the pronunciation of these expressions and by giving them more prominence. E.g. they would insist that it’s Allah’a ısmarladık (“we entrust (ourselves) to God”) or at least allahaısmarladık, but not the more colloquial contraction allahasmarladık or evenallasmarladık.

This is not just about stating a difference between believers and non-believers – if it were, the expressions wouldn’t have made sense during the Ottoman period when their use was more or less universal among Turks. As Wittgenstein insisted, language is to be understood through the practice it is functional in, by what it does. Obviously, these expressions are of a different order than the classic example (the word “Platte”, “slab”, which in the language game of primitive builders is a command on which the addressed brings another slab…) – but that they don’t immediately elicit actions in others does not mean they don’t do anything. Believers use idiomatic expressions, which now compete with secular alternatives, to infuse their lives with religious meaning, to invoke the presence of a higher power and remind themselves and others of the nature of the universe they act in. A shared idiom creates legitimacy by reassuring those sharing the idiom of the shared world they inhabit – in a way they are a means of creating such a cosmos (see, classically, Berger 1967 and Luckmann 1967). As I argued earlier, secular idioms around human rights and consumerism can fulfil similar functions (though the cosmos constituted is of a peculiar nature here: for practical purposes it encompasses religious cosmoi, from the religious perspective it is a parallel cosmos that constitutes a meeting ground with inhabitants of other cosmoi… also the consumerist approach is much more contentful but makes good for it by not constructing one shared cosmos but an infinite number of ephemeral micro cosmoi, see Varul 2008: 243ff.)

The existence and (towards the believer:) benevolence of God is crucial in this. It is, for the religious practitioner, not enough to believe in his existence and benevolence – it needs to be constantly represented (from an atheist perspective: recreated) by referring to God as (from an atheist perspective: as if) personally present. As Wittgenstein says in hisPhilosophisch Untersuchungen I.36.:

‘Wo unsere Sprache uns einen Körper vermuten läßt, und kein Körper ist, dort möchten wir sagen, sei ein Geist.’ (Wittgenstein 1995: 259) (also

Any meaningful investigation into Muslim life under secularised conditions must look at everyday idioms and practices – they are more significant than any programmatic statements of this or that organisation or scholar who claim authority to speak for those they represent.

Berger, Peter (1967): The Sacred Canopy, New York: Anchor Books

Jastrow, Otto (1991): ‘Ein islamischer Sprachraum? Islamische Idiome in den Sprachen muslimischer Völker’, in: Werner Ende/Udo Steinbach (eds): Der Islam in der Gegenwart, Munich: C. H. Beck

Luckmann, Thomas (1967): The Invisible Religion, New York: Macmillan

Oevermann, Ulrich (1983): ‘Zur Sache’, in: L v. Friedeburg/J. Habermas (eds): Adorno Konferenz, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, pp.234-89

Varul, Matthias Zick (2008): ‘After Heroism: Religion versus Consumerism’, in: Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, Vol.19, No.2, pp.237-55

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1991): ‘Philosophische Untersuchungen’ in: Werkausgabe Band 1, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp


Jastrow (1991: 585) is quite mournful about the demise of Ottoman Turkish, which he characterises as a language of many sources and high complexity, allowing for the finest nuances of expression, not least because it combines original Turkic vocabulary and grammar with Arabic and Persian, which remain a constant source for neologisms. Although I fully appreciate what the language reforms have done for literacy, I agree, to an extent, with Jastrow: Imagine English purged of Latin and French influences, its orthography fully phoneticised … surely easier to learn, but much less expressive and much less worth learning. However, Jastrow’s claim that Turkish has been reduced to ‘the one-dimensional steppe language from which it once emerged’ clearly is unjustified. After all, as he notes, the purge has let to a new import of foreign words – this time of European origin. His examples are instructive as they show up that indeed it is also a matter of adopting different idioms: “common sense” used to be the Arabic aklıselim and was replaced the French bonsans… do the two really mean the same while invoking two different literary traditions? Quite obviously, Turkish is stilled nuanced enough a language to lend itself toNobel-prize winning novels… but it has to be acknowledged that in this case the writer is versatile in both discourse universes and many idioms… I’m sure it can only be a good thing to have both an Arabic and a French expression at hand – it’s a matter of sağduyu.