Turkey sits geographically on the crossroad between East and West. Its most famous city, Istanbul, straddles Asia and Europe, and Turkey’s culture and attitudes are a melting-pot of both continents.
It’s one of the world’s fastest growing economies, one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations yet it has struggled for decades to even become a candidate for its long desired EU membership, which it sees as its hope for future prosperity and security. The modern exterior of this constitutionally secular republic is combined with a traditional Islam that has begun to influence politics and cause division and controversy, as secularism, nationalism and Islam battle for supremacy in public life.
The majority of Turks are Sunni Muslim, since the Turkic invaders from the Central Asian steppe entered Antolia (mainland Turkey) from the 12th century. The Ottoman empire was established in 1453 by the conquest of Constantinople (Istanbul), overthrowing Christian Byzantium. Despite Ataturk (see back page)abolishing Islam as state religion in 1928, it has always defined Turks as a nationality and culture. Islam has regained a major role within public life and politics in the last few decades. However, the average Turkish Muslim is moderate and is likely not to keep the strict regulations of prayer, fasting and pilgrimage to Mecca. Instead, like most Central Asians, religious practice is mixed with folk Islam, where fear of evil spirits and the evil eye are warded off by beads and talismans.
Fortune-telling is widespread, and sacred burial sites are revered and visited when there are immediate needs such as sickness, engagement or marriage. These practices seem to be popular because it is believed circumstances of everyday life can be affected or manipulated by them. That is something which orthodox Islam cannot offer as God is all-knowing and all-powerful but distant and firmly in control of their fate.