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Where have all the Muslims Gone?
A park rest
A Short Analysis of the Muslim Society in Turkey through Amateur
Anthropological Eyeballs

is 99% Muslim.  What image comes to American mind when thinking of a predominantly Muslim country?  Routine calls to prayer, shrouded women with veiled faces, conservative dress of both men and women, women with covered hair, severe gender inequality, no women in the work place…the list of generalizations goes on.  My mind is surely not filled with Istanbul’s free association of low-cut, tight fitting clothes with flashy style and wild untamed hair only occasionally contained under a brightly colored trend-setting cap.

Turkish MosqueJolted back only by the call to prayer from some distant mosque that could not reach everyone’s ears, I had fallen into that stream of “I have to see it to believe it” - all too common in human beings. Mosques dotted the horizon as a backdrop of Islam poised like a scene from a movie, but within my experience in Turkey the scene was a freeze-frame of a silent film.  In contrast, Egypt’s Muslim influence followed many of the generalizations listed above.  The reverb of the prayer calls’ voluminous and routine presence was inexorable, playing on all eardrums, from the most pious to those of the atheist passer-by.  Muslim and mosqueThe largest sign of migration within Turkey’s tug-o-war borders was having to constantly remind myself of the religious demographics of this country.  Historical reforms buffered this country toward the Western image, especially limiting religious displays of dress, and mentalities followed thereafter bringing Turkey closer and closer to the picture of an idealized and idolized Western society.  Descriptors of “Turkishness” are disputable, often making one Muslim view the next with a shrug of “foreignness” as is anecdotally portrayed in Yael Navaro-Yasin’s publication, Who is “Turkish”?  Two women – one veiled, one exposing short-cropped hair – are shocked to realize they are both Turkish and both Muslim.  “You look like a Westerner,” said one; “I thought you were an Arab,” said the other in put-off return.  Each thought the other a foreigner; each represented to the other a sign of migration, evidence of Istanbul’s historical role as site for centuries of crossings of cultures.  

Conclusion: Where have all the Muslims gone?  They are there, integrated and intertwined
in Turkey’s culture.  Muslim men and women are the pillars of Lunchtimesociety as prevalent if not more than anyone else.  A Muslim woman may have sold you a scarf in the bazaar or sat next to you in the hammam, a man may have shaved off the skewered meat for your sandwich.  Both may be running his or her own highly successful business.  They are there, but, juxtaposed against Turkey’s modernity, we will have to throw off the lens through which we have been taught to view the Muslim world and take the time to look a little harder.  Breaking through the guidelines of Muslim seemliness builds bridges between diverse cultures.  Turkey is this bridge.  

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