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.
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.”