Turkish Muslims relaxed about Muhammad film

ISTANBUL – Muslims in Turkey remain remarkably quiet about the film mocking Muhammad, which sparked unrest in the Arabic world. There was a small demonstration in Istanbul, but that went quietly and without violence. The American President Obama has even asked the Turkish PM Erdogan to help quieten down Arabic Muslims, Turkish media report on Saturday.

On Tuesday the still popular Turkish PM Erdogan called on his citizens not to be provoked by the film, right after the American ambassador Stevens died in an attack. And religious leaders who are important in Turkey called on the people to remain calm, among them the head of the directorate of religious affairs, Mehmet Görmez, and the preacher Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the United States.

But there is a big chance Turks wouldn’t have reacted aggressively even without those calls, says Islamexpert and political analyst Mustafa Akyol: ‘Fanaticism is not in the Turkish religious tradition. Turkey for example has no Salafists, a group that does play an important role in the Arabic world. Turkish history has not seen any armed Islamic groups come into existence from the grassroots of society.’

This doesn’t mean Muslims in Turkey shrug their shoulders about the film, according to Akyol: ‘There have been some small demonstrations, for example by the small religious Saadet Party, but they never turn violent.’ And Turkish religious leaders raised their voices against the film while calling on their followers not to be provoked.

As well, the Turkish form of secularism plays a role: in Turkey it is not permitted to start your own religious movement, open a mosque and employ your own Imam. Islam is controlled by the state. The Turkish version preaches that religion is something personal that should not be mixed with politics.

There is another sentiment though that is being kept warm by the state: nationalism. Akyol: ‘Turks are more fanatical about that than about their religion.’


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