Turkish Odyssey
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Contents
of this Page

Mother Goddess of Anatolia

Religion in Modern Turkey

Islam

The Five Condition of Islam

. Namaz

Attributes of God

The Alevis

Mosques

Anatolian Culture Part 2
Religion in Turkey

   

MOTHER GODDESS OF ANATOLIA

 

The symbol and mythology regarding the mother goddess is found in many diverse cultures of the ancient world. She represents the creative power of all nature and the processes of fertility, along with the periodic renewal of life. Representations of the mother goddess date from Paleolithic times.

The Neolithic settlement of Catalhoyuk (c.7000 BC) in Anatolia provides archaeological evidence that the cult of the mother goddess has been continuous. The chief deity was a goddess who simultaneously incorporated the roles of young woman, mother in childbirth and old woman.

The worship of a great goddess was particularly dominant in Middle Eastern religions, especially in the cult of Cybele. We only learned her various names after the introduction of writing to Anatolia in 1950 BC: Kubaba, Kumpapa, Kybele, Cybele, etc. She was a fertility goddess involved with a young male consort who died but was continually reborn.

This element of the dying male deity, representing vegetation, is a later development in the cult of the mother goddess and is regarded as a transition from her primal state of being an unmarried mother to having a son, a lover, or both.

Artemis of Ephesus is the extension of the mother goddess and the source of the Virgin Mary cult which parallels virginity and motherhood.

Further cultural integration occurred with the adoption of the Egyptian Isis cult by the Greco-Roman world. Isis became a universal goddess, incorporating local goddesses and identified with the mystery of fertility. The cult of Isis persisted during the first four centuries of the Christian era, until persecution finally halted cult activities.

In Christianity the figure of the Virgin Mary as theotokos, or the "Mother of God," has clear affinities with that of the ancient mother goddess. Her role, however, is diminished and that of the divine child is central.

 
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RELIGION IN MODERN TURKEY

 
   
There are 935 million Moslems in 172 countries of the world today. This is nearly 18% of the world's population. 6% of Moslems live in Turkey. More than 33% of the world population are Christian.

Among the Islamic countries there are two different models: The first is fundamentalist, like Iran or other Arab countries and the second is modern like Turkey. Although 99% of the Turkish population are Moslem, Turkey is a secular state and people have freedom to choose their religion and beliefs. No one is forced to participate in any religious ceremonies or rites against his will and no one is viewed as being at fault because of his beliefs.

In secular Turkey all religious affairs are carried out by a central government organization affiliated to the Prime Ministry, namely the Department of Religious Affairs. The function of this organization is to carry out tasks related to the beliefs, divine services and moral principles of Islam and to enlighten citizens on religious matters.

 
 
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ISLAM

 
   
Islam is the name of the religion that arose in the Arabian Peninsula where its founder, the Prophet Mohammed, was born in 571 AD in the city of Mecca.

A pious, charismatic man, Mohammed was a merchant by trade, who in his youth searched for a purer and more meaningful religion than the polytheistic beliefs that surrounded him.

In his fortieth year he received his first revelation. He was called to be the Prophet of God to his people. He began to preach oneness of God and to preach the message entrusted to him that there is but one God, to whom all humankind must commit themselves. The polytheistic Meccans resented Mohammed's attacks on their gods and finally he emigrated with a few followers to Medina. This migration, which is called the Hegira (Hicret), took place in 622 AD; Moslems adopted the beginning of that year as the first year of their lunar calendar.

In Medina, Mohammed won acceptance as a leader. Within a few years he had established control of the surrounding region and in 630 he finally conquered Mecca. The Kaaba, a shrine that had for some time housed the idols of the pagan Meccans, was rededicated to the worship of Allah and it became the object of pilgrimage for all Moslems.

The believers of Islam are called Moslems (Muslims). The Arabic word Islam means the act of committing oneself unreservedly to God and a Moslem is a person who makes this commitment.

The religion of Islam is the youngest of the three great monotheistic religions. According to Moslems, all the universe is Islam, all the religions that have ever existed are Islam and the prophets with their followers are Moslems. God sent Mohammed as a messenger from among the Arabs, bringing a revelation in "clear Arabic". Thus, as other peoples had received messengers, so the Arabs received theirs.

Islam is the last religion and Mohammed is the last prophet. Islam does not deny or ignore previous religions or their prophets. The Koran records that Mohammed was the Seal of the Prophets, the last of a line of God's messengers that began with Adam and included Abraham, Noah, Moses and Jesus. The Koran is said to be the perfection of all previous revelations.

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Ortakoy (Buyuk Mecidiye) Camisi, 1853, Istanbul
 
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Interior of Kocatepe Mosque, 20C, Ankara
 
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The Five Conditions of Islam

 
   
1) To say and to believe "I witness that there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet". When somebody believes in this, it means he believes and acknowledges everything declared by Mohammed.

2) To practice namaz 5 times a day; early in the morning, at noon, in the afternoon, in the early evening and at night.

Namaz

Each prayer is called namaz in the Arabic language. The leader of the prayer is the Imam and his assistant during the prayer is the muezzin. The time to pray is announced to people by the muezzin. In former times this took place from the top of a minaret, but now it is announced over loudspeakers.

All Moslems in the world pray in the Kaaba direction and call it "kible" which represents a spiritual unity. The word kible derives from Kaaba which is associated with Kybele (the mother goddess of Anatolia) as there was previously a cult of Kybele in Kaaba. For a Moslem the Kaaba is the sanctuary that Abraham and his son Ismail built for God. It is a symbol of God's uniqueness.

It is accepted as being more correct if people practice namaz in the mosque, although they are not obliged to do so. Each set of prayers is about 10-20 minutes long.

The average number of people practicing namaz in the mosque, regularly 5 times a day, is not more than 4-8% of the total male Moslem population in Turkey.

For a Moslem, Friday is the holy day as is Sunday for a Christian or Saturday (Shabbat) for a Jew. The Imam gives a sermon to the people in Turkish at the noon time prayers on Fridays. According to the law, they are not allowed to speak about politics in their sermons. For men, these noon time prayers on Friday have to be practiced in the mosque and the average number of people attending rises to 30-40% of the total male population. In many places you may notice that shops close so that workers may attend the Friday noon time namaz.

Early morning prayers on the first days of the two religious holidays (Seker and Kurban Bayrami) are the two most important prayer times for men in a year. Attendance at these times can rise to 70-80% of the male population.

3) Oruc: To fast for 30 days during the holy month of Ramadan (Ramazan in Turkish). From sunrise to sunset eating, drinking, smoking and having sexual intercourse is forbidden for all except the sick, the weak, pregnant women, soldiers on duty, travelers on necessary journeys and young children.

The coming of Ramadan is a big social event throughout the country. To celebrate it minaret balconies are lit as hundreds of lights (mahya) are stretched between the minarets of mosques with some figures, words and expressions to welcome or praise Ramadan. The figures are of flowers, boats, bridges or mosques. Papers, magazines and TV channels have special features and programs during Ramadan.

The process of fasting starts at about 3 'clock in the morning with the street drummer's music. Each vicinity has its own drummer who makes music to wake people up each morning during the whole month. All his efforts are to make a living from the tips he collects at the end of the holy month from his neighborhood.

After being awakened by the drummer people have the opportunity to eat before sunrise as it is then which marks the beginning of fasting for the day. While fasting eating is not the only thing prohibited. Bad behavior, such as cursing, lying, doing harm to others are also forbidden.

People who fast expect respect from others. This means, especially in smaller cities, that restaurants will be closed during the daytime and people will not eat, drink or smoke in public.

At sunset, the muezzin's call for the early evening prayer marks the end of the day's fasting. Olives, salt, dates and water are religiously accepted as being the best foods to break the day's fasting.

About 20-25% of Turkish people fast in Ramadan in urban areas and 60-70% in rural areas.

4) Hac: Visiting Mecca on a pilgrimage is only achievable for those who can financially afford it. Generally people prefer going to Mecca when they come to a certain age usually between 50-60 although there is no age restriction. The returning pilgrim is entitled to use the honorific haci (pilgrim) before his name, a title that indicates his piety. He is then more careful to refrain from any sin for the rest of his life.

5) Zekat: To give alms to the poor as a part of one's wealth that being 1/40 each year. In practice lots of people give alms to the poor, but sometimes not at the established rate.

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A man in the act of ritual ablution before going to prayer
 
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Attributes Of God

 
   
He is called Allah. He exists. There is no beginning or end to His being. He is unique. He does not look like any creature. The cause of His being has nothing to do with anything except Himself. He is omniscient and omnipotent. He hears, sees and speaks without using sounds or letters. God sent a messenger to each society and Mohammed was sent for all societies which means that he is actually the last prophet.

In Islam, the lives of individuals and of society are organized by the Holy Koran, which was revealed to Mohammed as vouchsafed through the angel Gabriel. According to the Koran, everybody is born as an innocent Moslem being regardless of his mother or father, but should practice the main beliefs of Islam as he grows up. No one can or should come between God and the worshipper.

Believing in the hereafter as well as God is also emphasized in the Koran. Man's life is not limited by his death. On the contrary, the gates of a higher world open with death. The position of the human being in the hereafter will be determined by his behavior on earth. The punishment is hell and the reward is heaven.

According to Islam, murder, cruelty, adultery, gambling, usury and the consumption of carrion, pork, blood and alcohol are strictly forbidden. Women should dress "decently" so that other people cannot see their hair, legs or arms. Boys have to be circumcised before the transition to manhood.

The language of Islam is Arabic because the Koran is God's words in Arabic. A translation into another language may give the meaning of the revelation, but its sacred character is lost. Turkish people do not speak Arabic, because in formal education Arabic is not taught except in Imam Vocational Schools. If families want their children to learn Arabic, they send them to Arabic courses given in the mosques by the imams or muezzins during the holidays. On these courses, due to the limited time, they can only learn how to read the Holy Koran.

Islamic countries are generally ruled by the Seriat, Canonical Law (Islamic Law). Despite the absence of a formal church structure, religious functionaries played an important role in the Ottoman state. Islamic law regulated all aspects of life. The sultan, the supreme head of the empire, ruled as the representative of God on earth.

However, the Republic of Turkey is a secular state which means religious affairs are not combined with those of the state.

 
 
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The Alevis

 
   
Today's Moslems are mainly divided into 2 types: Sunni and Shia. Sunnis acknowledge the first four Caliphs (Ebubekir, Omer, Osman, Ali) as rightful successors of Mohammed, whereas Shias believe in Ali and the Imams as the right successors of Mohammed. More than two thirds of the Turkish population are Sunnis. The Shias of Anatolia are not the same as Shias of Iran. In Anatolia they are called Alevis which comes from the word Ali. It is a mixture of Anatolian cultures together with a deep belief in the incarnation of God in Ali. Compared to the Sunnis of Anatolia, the Alevis are more flexible. For example, they stopped going to mosques on the rationale that Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed and the founder of Alevism, was murdered in a mosque, thus violating the sanctity of the building; and they stopped formal prayers for safety's sake. A system of traveling holy elders (dede) replaced the more traditional Moslem structure of authority. The ban on wine and alcohol was relaxed, with wine actually used for religious ceremonial functions. The month of fasting was converted into eight days during the month of Muharrem.  
 
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MOSQUES

 
   
 

A mosque (from the Arabic mescit) is a place of public worship in Islam. The Turkish word for mosque is cami and it means "a place where people gather" in Arabic. Mosques must have an area for ritual ablutions and be positioned as such so that worshippers face Mecca during prayers. The leader (imam), when opening services at prayer times, stands in or before the mihrab, prayer niche in the mosque which indicates the direction of Mecca. The preacher, generally the imam himself, speaks from the minber. An additional liturgical requirement is the minare (minaret), a high, generally pointed tower from which Moslems are called to prayer.

In the Koran, the term mescit refers either specifically to the Holy Sanctuary (the Kaaba Mosque) in Mecca or to religious buildings in general. Early Islam did not require a specially built space for the performance of the principal liturgical obligation of common prayer. The obligation could be met anywhere, provided the direction in which worshippers must face during prayer (kible) was properly determined.

Soon after the Prophet Mohammed's death (632), his house in Medina, which had often been used for gatherings of the faithful, became a model of the proper kind of meeting place in which to pray at formally appointed times as well as to perform a variety of social, political and administrative functions related to the Moslem faith.

Generally, but with notable exceptions, mosques have assumed the form of large enclosed spaces serving the collective needs of the Moslem community and decorated with quotations from the Koran and with ornaments intended to heighten the unique quality of the monument. Statuary or other images of living beings are uniformly absent from the mosque; geometric or floral motifs predominate in its carved-wood, plaster, tile, or mosaic decoration. The floors of mosques are generally covered with rugs; hanging lamps, candlesticks, stands for holy books and platforms for readers are often placed within the interior.

The Anatolian-type mosque was created under the influence of the local Anatolian architecture of the 13-14C, reaching its perfection with the growth of the Ottoman Dynasty in Bursa, Edirne and eventually Istanbul. It is characterized by the domination of a single dome covering the main prayer hall. Inside, brilliantly patterned supports extend gracefully from the top of the cupola and in the exterior courtyard tall minarets frame the soaring dome. The Anatolian-type mosque appeared in all the lands that came under Ottoman rule, but its masterpieces are the 16C creations of the great Turkish architect Sinan in Edirne (the Selimiye Mosque) and in Istanbul (the Suleymaniye Mosque).

 
 
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Contents
of this Page

Mother Goddess of Anatolia

Religion in Modern Turkey

Islam

The Five Condition of Islam

. Namaz

Attributes of God

The Alevis

Mosques