Reading Erdogan’s Ambitions in Turkey’s New Mosques

Source: The New York Times

In Turkey, mosques have a dual spiritual and economic purpose. This surprised me when I first moved to the country more than a decade ago. I expected God and money to be kept separate, at least outwardly, more in keeping with the discreet, cash-in-envelopes Christian churches of my youth. Yet around the exterior of the tiny, seafoam green 19th-century mosque across the street from my Istanbul home, I discovered an array of shops: a locksmith, a market, a kebab joint, a teahouse and a rotisserie vendor whose delicious, buttery chickens twirled all day outside. One of the imams who preached at the mosque was a part-time real estate agent. The attempted military coup last July lasted until the wee hours of the night, yet my little green mosque was, as usual, open and ready early the next morning for prayer; the locksmith whose shop was part of the complex waddled in by 9 a.m., and the happy blend of prayer and small-time hustle in Istanbul continued unabated.


A mosque under construction in Yenimahalle, Ankara, in 2016. CreditNorman Behrendt

Yasamkent Nur Mosque, Yasamkent, Ankara, completed in 2015. CreditNorman Behrendt

But much of typical Turkish life has been transformed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, especially when it comes to Islam and profit. Many of Turkey’s 75,000 mosques were historically built and maintained by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, or Diyanet, according to a community’s needs for prayer space. It was not assumed that a new neighborhood or a college campus, for example, necessarily required a mosque. Such decisions depended on both the ruling government’s perspective on religion and society and the levels of urban and rural development at the time. Between 2006 and 2009 — Erdogan became prime minister in 2002 — 9,000 additional mosques went up throughout Turkey. Like his bridges, airports, pastel-pastiche apartment towers and luxury shopping malls, Erdogan’s mosques have themselves become engines of national economic growth, as well as symbols of his New Turkey. In 2012, roughly when Erdogan was taking a turn toward the authoritarian and just before terrorist violence began hitting Turkey, there was a ribbon-cutting for the government-commissioned, $22 million Atasehir Mimar Sinan Mosque on the eastern, Asian side of Istanbul. One of the guests, the speaker of the National Assembly in Iraq, remarked: “Turkey is building a new civilization.”

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3 replies

  1. “God and money kept separate”? Very rarely in organised religion!
    “Like his bridges, airports, pastel-pastiche apartment towers and luxury shopping malls, Erdogan’s mosques have themselves become engines of national economic growth, as well as symbols of his New Turkey.”
    Well, a lot of Turks are happy with the new Turkey, and they’re helping to build all that new stuff. One could argue it’s a bit like the USA was back in its heyday, 1890-1960.

  2. From my view— Most Islamic leaders in the world knows how to build mosque— but they do not have IDEAS to build facturies to create job for young Muslim— many young Muslim Turkey, and other Islamic countries want to live in Westren Countries or Christian Countries.— to get good job—very sad indeed—

    We never see at Malls Products of MADE IN—Saudi, Turkey, and other Islamic coutries .

    Most products we use every day life come from The westren Countries, USA, Japan, China, S. Korea etc etc

    What is wrong with Muslim?
    What is wrong with Islamic teaching?
    Is Islamic teaching not teach his followers to be PRODUCTIVE MUSLIM? Or scared to live in wealth?

    Can Zia, Rafiq, and Riffat answer my question above ?
    Thank you

    • Turkey actually has quite a good industrial base, and, yes, I have seen many products made in Turkey. In Jordan the Turkish textiles were better than the Chinese ones. Other items also, electrical etc. – In a recent article I showed the Turkish assisting Algeria with a large Textile factory. Good start, but, yes, more needs to be done. In the Arab countries actually Syria was the best. Is it the reason USA and Israel wanted it destroyed? Before the war there were lots of Syrian products available in Jordan. Textiles, processed agricultural products. – And, yes, come to my house in Lombok and you will see some nice pieces from Turkey, Syria and Jordan and Egypt.

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