A Not So Turkish Life

What’s to fear in a brother?

Why do you need to? your Baba asks as I pace around the house saying I need to write this and I answer that it’s how I process things. Nothing makes sense until I’ve formulated my words into sentences that fall over a page. Exhausted and unable to switch off I wrote over 4000 words yesterday. The best part of a blog? It makes me stop and untangle the jumble into segments easier for my brain to piece together and for you two to understand someday when you ask me what happened on 15th July. 

Inshallah by the time you read this, islamophobia will be a thing of the past but right now little ones, difficult as it is to be a Muslim in the west, it is equally as difficult in Islamic countries. Afghanistan and Iraq are recovering from wars, Pakistan is repeatedly hit by terror attacks; Palestine is under the oppression of Israel, Saudia Arabia still limits the rights and movements of women to a disgraceful inequality. I can only pray these are things you know of only through history lessons but right now we are watching the aftermath of the Arab Spring, living with increasing attacks from ISIS and western policies and global fear levels are still very much in the shadow of 9/11. Again I want you to know that the scenes from your country were incredible to watch, your abi(s) stood up for democracy in such a commendable way and while this may well become lost under the political repercussions of the attempted coup, both internationally and nationally, I want you to know that for your country’s democracy I felt hopeful whatever other feelings the event may have stirred for me.

Long before I met G, I went to university, traveled freely, and frequently. Not once did it cross my mind that I couldn’t go to university if I set my mind to it or that my travel may in some way be restricted. A friend my age has a very different story. Born into a secular country with a majority Muslim population, by the time university came around she was forced to choose between her expression of her faith or her education as headscarved women were banned from entering education institutes or working in government offices and faced numerous other restrictions in Turkey. It wasn’t until after you were born M that headscarved women began to re-attend universities in Turkey without having to remove their scarves at the door. An entire generation of women – my generation – were prohibited access to education. Travel outside of the country was not only prohibitively expensive for most people but fraught with complications due to the visa requirements of the majority of countries for anyone with a Turkish passport. The only two things I’d grown up certain of, that I’d get a degree and travel extensively, were the two options completely out-of-bounds to her.

Both in Turkish and in Islam, the address “brother” is used as a respectful endearment and a declaration of peaceful intention. It means my elder, my peer, my fellow Muslim, my brother of kin and nationality. It is the respect I show my brother-in-laws and the affection T expresses as he kisses M goodnight. To us, there is nothing strange or worrying about the use of the pseudo-title.

The underlying basic feeling imparted by the word ‘abi’ is the acknowledgement that we are connected in some way that unites us. When you use the word in English though, it is a little weird to the western ear. Some of the most heartbreaking scenes over the weekend –  young soldiers sobbing “brother they told us it was a training op” as they were lifted from  tanks and relieved of their guns, weapons it was just dawning on them they’d been expected to use to kill civilians; as they climbed out and the situation was explained to them in its severity by the civilians who’d taken to the street to stop the coup even if that meant lying on the floor in front of armed tanks or having their car crushed underneath tanks purposefully taking out civilians vehicles or risk the falling bullets from the highjacked military helicopters. That was your brothers uniting for your country.

Over the time I’ve lived in Turkey I’ve witnessed Muslim women gain more and more rights under the AK government. Rights that were granted to us in the Quran and sit comfortably alongside a secular democracy. Politically – in official standing in all government institutions – Muslim women can no longer be discriminated against for their hijab and taking your lunch hour in five minute segments to pray can no longer be cause to fire you. My friends’ daughter can now go to university… and inshallah one day before you read this, Turkish passport will not be a default obstacle to travel.

Every time I watch an episode of BBC 2’s harrowing series showing the journey refugees take to Europe, every time I hear a Syrian friends pain as they hear news that yet another life close to them has been lost; everytime an event I don’t understand or can’t comprehend happens (and often times when you guys are driving me crazy!) I repeat the words Allah Akbar, SubhanAllah. God is great, glory be to God. These words are words that remind Muslims of what we already believe – that God has a plan for it all, even  (especially?) the horrors we cant understand. If you can, you put your trust in God; if you can’t, you pray to be able to do so. In times of happiness, upset, confusion and distress we call on God the same way a Christian or Jew would. The only difference being we use the name Allah.

It is hard for the western world to understand what relation the invocations ringing from the mosques had to do with the democracy people were celebrating having claimed. It’s often forgotten or overlooked that while Turkey is a secular republic, the majority of the population are Muslim. If Quasimodo rang the bells for an emergency  -remember Disney, like the media, never lies* – wouldn’t church bells have been rung in a similar situation God forbid? That, my boys, was your brothers turning to the only place we go to seek refuge. La ilaha illallah


*(if you believe that I’ve failed my mission statement miserably. )



This entry was published on 07/20/2016 at 19:38. It’s filed under From Me to You and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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