Wednesday, August 20, 2003


In Egypt, the followers of Hasan al-Banna ask: "What professional organization will we stack out and take over next before the upcoming elections when Uncle Husni throws us in jail to secure his 99.9996% majority?"

In Pakistan, the followers of Sayyid Maududi ask: "What clause of the constitution will we islamize next while we still have a military dictatorship to suck up to?".

In Indonesia, the followers of Abdullah Sungkar ask: "Which nightclub shall we bomb next?"

In Turkey, the followers of Esad Cosan and Said Nursi and Fethullah Gulen and every other Islamic activist-scholar ask: "When am I going to make my next million??"

Turks rock. And they know it. Pity the rest of the Muslim world don’t wake up to it (and to themselves) and realize there is something in these ex-Ottomans that makes them special.

My ancestors were Turks. One of my grandfathers was Mirza Yusuf Baig (or Bey), and the other was Mirza Yaqub Baig. Typical Turkish names. So how on earth did I end up being born in that jungle of rotting fruit, half-built bridges and loud rikhshas that is Karachi?

The Turks traveled everywhere. They came, they saw, they conquered. They missed out on Vienna by some fluke of history (from memory, it had something to do with Suleiman being given the wrong sauce on his kebab). They civilized much of Central Asia. But then some of them met and inter-married with Persians and Mongols. The result was a lecherous group known as the Mughals.

Now these Mughals had huge ego problems. One of them, a dude called Babur, decided he was not happy being the ruler of the rich city of Herat. He also must have found Indian women attractive. Within a few months, he was king of Delhi. Meanwhile, his relatives and subjects in Herat were ignored, eventually being forced to convert to Shiism under the Safavids. Today we know them as the Hazaras, those enterprising people who were persecuted under the Taliban and are now persecuted by the Minister for Immigration, Multicultural & Aboriginal Affairs in Australia who locks them up in concentration camps out in the middle of the desert. It’s great to see conservative governments in Australia and Afghanistan have so much in common.

Getting back to Babur, his son Akbar decided being king was not enough. So he declared himself the founder of a new religion which he labeled Din-e-Ilahi (the Divine Faith). And who was to be the prophet of this faith? Conveniently, Akbar himself.

The ulama (religious scholars) did not seem to mind, especially after he fed and clothed them all. But the more orthodox sufis were furious. One of their senior guys, an indigenous Indian named Ahmad Sirhindi, declared Akbar to have left Islam. Akbar, being the tolerant and liberal king that he was, threw Shaykh Sirhindi in prison.

My favorite Mughal was Shah Jahan. Now here was one guy who knew how to please a woman. The problem was that she kept needing to call on her midwives. She died after giving birth to her 39th royal toddler. The Shah was stricken with grief. He did what every self-respecting Mughal does when stricken with sadness--he turned to opium, wine, Persian poetry and fab music (accompanied by even more fab dancing girls). And by the way, he also built the Taj Mahal.

His son Aurangzeb was a pretty decent bloke. But he was not very fond of a small group of Sufis and their followers who were based in Lahore. He showed his displeasure by slaughtering them and forcing them to set up their own community. Today they are known as the Sikhs. Had Aurangzeb been a little more thoughtful, they would be known as Muslims.

Anyway, now that I have totally ruined my chances of marrying the daughter of a Mughal, I might as well get back to my original topic.

So why do Turks rock? And why have they been quietly rocking away throughout most of the 20th century?

Many Muslims (especially Indians who resent Kemal Ataturk after so many Indians sent him money and jewelry to support the Ottoman Caliphate, only to find him using it to prop up his anti-caliphate republic) see Turks as complete sellouts. They wonder why Turks are so materialistic and so damned keen to join Europe.

Many of us see Europe as the antithesis of everything Islamic. But Turks know better. Turks know from their history that Europe has to be engaged, not fought all the time. Turks are Muslims who have come to terms with Europe. And let’s be frank. Most modern Turks have European ancestry anyway.

What makes me admire Turkish Islamic activists is their realism and their spirituality. Turks know about jihad. And they know that the modern jihad is to be fought not with swords or huge cannons but with dollars and euros. While Arabs and Pakistanis have been shouting slogans and getting themselves arrested, Turks have been making truckloads of money.

Go to Pakistan today. What do the Minhaj al-Qurans, the Jamaat-e-Islamis and other Muslim groups own? How big are they in the mainstream? Yes, they can attract 40,000 kids to a jihad rally. But what impact are they having?

But in Turkey, the “green” sector is propping up the economy and employing millions of Turks. Turkish businessmen and women are bankrolling the various religious groups and parties to the tune of billions of dollars. The secular fundamentalist kemalists just cannot keep up (or they had too many araks last night to know what is going on).

At the same time, Turkey’s Muslims did not throw away their Sufi heritage. Rather, they adapted and are using it to suit their modern conditions. Again, here we find a common misconception. Many of us think that Turkish Sufism is all about some Cypriot dude with a turban big enough to fit in a double decker bus and a beard that looks like something out of a ZZ Top video. Some guy who claims to be the head of all Naqshbandis in the galaxy. And whose North American representative thinks that the best way to follow Ahmed Sirhindi’s approach to corrupt rulers is going to the US State Department and calling every mainstream Muslim group terrorists and Wahhabis and extremists.

But what is the status of the dude I speak of? Talk to Turks and you will find out most have never heard of him. The ones who do know him say he is regarded in Turkey as a joke, a cross between Mullah Nasruddin and Ali G.

Today, Turkey’s most prominent Naqshbandi Sufi leaders are not sporting mammoth turbans and beards down to their knees. Today’s Turkish Sufis prefer to wear Italian suits or smart leather jackets with Bolle sunglasses and Doc Martin shoes. Their beards are trimmed, and many of them have MBA’s from American universities. They run massive business enterprises, they tour the world looking for investment opportunities and they spend lavish amounts developing institutions.

These guys know the importance of communication. So they own TV and radio stations. One group has the largest small goods operation in the world. Another is building huge shopping malls across Europe.

They are jokingly labeled by their secular fundamentalist opponents as the “millenium hojjas.” And as always, the hojjas are having the last laugh.

Millions of Turks are flocking around these men and women. Why? Because everyone wants to know you when you are successful. When you feed someone and give him a job and guarantee his livelihood and provide him with a ladder to climb, he will support you in just about every way. "Thanks for the pay raise, sir. And yes, my 5-year-old has become a hafiz."

Turkish Muslim groups are making a positive contribution to Turkey and to the region as a whole. In government today, they are proving to be responsible, sensible, patriotic and loyal. Even Daniel Pipes is finding it hard to say something nasty about them.

Seriously, this article is getting too long. So let me finish with an incident that just summarizes all that is great about Turks. I was at the funeral of the prominent Turkish Sufi Mahmud Esad Cosan (pronounced Joshan in case you wondered) at the Gallipoli Mosque in Sydney 2 years ago. The imam was lining everyone up for the janaza (funerary) prayer. I was standing at the end. When he was satisfied our lines were straight, the imam stood in his place. He then did nothing but look toward the horizon as if waiting for someone.

After about 30 seconds, I hear this loud noise. It was a Harley Davidson. Riding it was some dude who looked like he had just left a Bon Jovi concert. He had tattoos up and down his arms, was wearing black jeans, big black boots and a black t-shirt. He got off his bike and walked toward me. I stood there, wondering whether I had said or done something to him in a past life. I was shaking as he strode toward me. And he walked straight past me, stood next to me, took off his helmet and put it on the ground. The imam waited for the fellow to signal his readiness, and before I knew it, we were all lifting our hands in unison with “Allahu akbar!”

That dude was a local Aussie Turk. He was from a bikie gang. He was also one of Shaykh Cosan’s favorite students. And as I saw the coffin being placed in the hearse, I saw something I have never seen in my life. I saw a Hell’s Angel shed a tear for a Saint.

Stumble Upon Toolbar