Monday, January 2, 2017

Turkey’s Diyanet Building Mosques All Over The World

On April 13 last year, Andreas Scheuer, the General Secretary of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel's CDU, called for an "Islam law" that would limit the influence of foreign imams and prohibit the foreign financing of mosques.

His comments came amid reports that the Turkish government has sent 970 Turkish imams — most of whom do not speak a word of German — to lead 900 mosques in Germany that are built and controlled by the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), a branch of the Turkish government's Directorate for Religious Affairs, known in Turkish as Diyanet.

Critics accuse Turkish Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of using DITIB or Diyanet mosques to prevent Turkish migrants in Germany from integrating into the German society. Turkey is also widely accused of sponsoring Islam abroad to extend its prestige and power.

A MEGA-MOSQUE is growing on George W. Bush Street in Tirana, the Albanian capital, near the country’s parliament. When finished, it will be the largest mosque in the Balkans—one in a long string of such projects bankrolled by Turkey.

By its own estimate, Turkey’s directorate of religious affairs, known as the Diyanet, has helped build over 100 mosques and schools in 25 countries. In Bosnia, Kosovo, the Philippines, and Somalia, it has restored Islamic sites damaged by war and natural disaster. In Gaza it is rebuilding mosques destroyed by Israeli military operations in 2014. Current projects alone are expected to cost $200m. All of the money comes from private donations, insists Mazhar Bilgin, a senior Diyanet official.

Critics suspect Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of deploying mihrabs and minarets to revive his country’s imperial heritage in former Ottoman lands. Secular nationalists in Albania, which was strictly atheist under communism, bristle at seeing their parliament dwarfed by a mosque, and urban planners complain about the project’s bland, “McOttoman” design.

But most Albanians are sympathetic. While post-communist governments allowed Catholic and Orthodox Christians to build cathedrals in Tirana, Muslims were left out in the cold. Worshippers regularly found themselves praying outdoors, unable to squeeze into the city’s tiny 19th-century mosque. It is not clear why Albania’s government waited until 2013 to approve a new one.

Turkey’s role in Albanian Islam goes beyond building mosques. Six of the country’s seven Islamic seminaries are managed by foundations linked to the Gulen community. Turkey’s development agency, TIKA, has completed 248 projects in Albania. Besides the fiscal aid, many Albanians welcome Turkish influence as a counterweight to the spread of Islamic militancy.

According to Tirana’s mufti, Ylli Gurra, up to 150 Albanian nationals have joined Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists in Syria. He blames the zealous salafist foundations from the Gulf monarchies that poured into the region in the 1990s. (Many were expelled after the September 11th attacks.) Mr Gurra says most Albanian Muslims reject such radicalism: “They have more affinity for Turkish Islam.”

In fact, Muslims in Albania are far less devout and more pro-Western than their Turkish co-religionists. Meanwhile, Turkey’s religious outreach is hobbled by an internecine conflict at home. Mr Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) party once worked hand in glove with the Gulen movement.

All that changed two years ago, when the AK launched a vendetta against the Gulen movement, accusing it of orchestrating a corruption scandal that had tarred senior government figures. Scores of Gulenist bureaucrats remain behind bars.

During a 2015 visit to Albania for the groundbreaking ceremony of the new mosque, Mr Erdogan asked his hosts to shut down schools run by the Gulenists. Albanian officials turned down the request. Yet in Albania and elsewhere, Muslim communities that benefit from Turkish largesse still face pressure. “Erdogan is forcing them to take sides,” says Kerem Oktem, a Turkish studies professor at the University of Graz.

The Diyanet, meanwhile, has extended its mosque programme to countries whose connection to Ottoman history is tenuous. In 2014 Mr Erdogan suggested that Cuba had been settled by Muslims long before it was spotted by Christopher Columbus, and unveiled a plan to build a new mosque there.

Another mosque is under construction in Haiti. The building spree has become a vehicle for broadcasting Turkey’s religious credentials to Muslim audiences domestic and foreign. The ultimate objective is “claiming new territory,” says Mr Oktem. “It’s about the idea that Turkey should be the leader of the whole Muslim world.”

Tirana Grand Mosque in Albanian capital city.
Turkey Casts the Diyanet

Ankara's Religious Directorate Takes Off: On an April visit to Washington, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced that U.S. President Barack Obama had agreed to join Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the opening of a $100 million mosque in Maryland later this year. The news attracted considerably less notice than it likely deserved.

A year after founding modern Turkey in 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (the founding father of modern Turkey) abolished the Islamic caliphate and created a government directorate of religious affairs, or the Diyanet. Through the management of mosques and religious education, the new body would make Islam subservient to the state to secure the republic’s ostensibly secular identity.

Kemal Ataturk the founder of modern Turkey wanted Turkey to be a secular and democratic nation.
Today, the Diyanet has largely been turned on its head. The Grand Mufti of Turkey, Mehmet Gormez, is now the head of Diyanet (Turkey’s giant Directorate of Religious Affairs) which runs the country’s 85,000 mosques and employs 122,000 people, has assumed an increasingly active role in the government’s foreign policy.

In the lead-up to June parliamentary elections, Western news outlets have fretted about Erdogan’s crackdown on free speech and his broader authoritarian drift. Meanwhile, his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), in power since 2002, has wielded a beefed-up Diyanet to promote a conservative lifestyle at home and, increasingly, to project Turkish Islam abroad. 

Since 2006, the Diyanet’s budget has leapt fourfold, to 5.4 billion lira (just over $2 billion). Its share of government spending has increased by about a third and its staff has doubled, to nearly 150,000. Its budget allocation this year is 40 percent more than the Ministry of the Interior’s and equal to those of the Foreign, Energy, and Culture and Tourism ministries combined.

The directorate oversees Turkey’s 85,000 mosques, writes Friday sermons, and issues halal certificates to food producers. It also runs a 24-hour television station, Diyanet television, available via satellite, cable, and YouTube, and manages a Facebook page (with nearly 230,000 fans), two Twitter accounts (more than 50,000 followers), and an Islamic lifestyle hotline.

Recent Diyanet-issued fatwas have condemned as haram the celebration of the Gregorian New Year, playing the lottery, tattoos, and abortions. It is impossible to say whether the Diyanet issues these at AKP’s request, but the measures do jibe with AKP social policy. Further, the AKP seems to have little compunction about using the Diyanet for political purposes.

But present Islamist president of Turkey has a different idea and he is building mosques even in US.
Turkey Builds Mega-Mosque in US But Blocks Churches in Turkey

As yet another enormous mosque has opened in the U.S. (funded by the Turkish government), Christians in Turkey are waiting for the day when Turkish state authorities will allow them freely to build or use their churches and safely pray inside them. In Turkey, some churches have been converted to stables or used as storehouses. Others have been completely destroyed. Sales of churches on the internet are a common practice.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Erdogan said during the opening ceremony of the Grand Maryland mosque that the center was important at a time of an "unfortunate rise in intolerance towards Muslims in the United States and the world."

How would Muslims feel if mosques in Mecca were put up for sale on the internet, turned into stables, or razed to the ground? How would they feel if a Muslim child were beaten in the classroom by his teacher for not saying "Jesus is my Lord and Savior?" How would they feel if they continually received violent threats or insults for just attempting peacefully to worship in their mosques?

On April 2, a gigantic Ottoman style of mosque was opened in Lanham, Maryland by the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The mosque, according to Turkish officials, is "one of the largest Turkish mosques built outside Turkey." Funds to build it, as reported by the Turkish pro-government newspaper, Sabah, came from Turkey's state-run Presidency of Religious Affairs, known as the Diyanet, as well as Turkish-American non-profit organizations.

Head of Diyanet & Grand Mufti.
The mosque is actually part of a larger complex, commonly referred to as "Maryland kulliye." A kulliye, as such Islamic compounds were called in Ottoman times, is a complex of buildings, centered on a mosque and composed of various facilities including a madrassa (Islamic religious school).

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away from the American soil, in Turkey, Christians have for decades been deprived of the right to build their places of worship. The 2015 report by Turkey's Association of Protestant Churches revealed many violent, repressive and discriminatory practices against Protestant Christians in Turkey. According to the report, hate crimes, physical and verbal assaults as well as threats against Protestant Christians were commonplace in 2015 -- as in previous years.

"No development with regard to uncovering the perpetrators of these actions has occurred despite making known the content of the threats, the telephone numbers, email addresses, Facebook profiles and YouTube links of those making the threats in an official complaint," according to the report.

Christians also experience many problems in the compulsory "religion and ethics" classes, which are mostly about indoctrinating schoolchildren in the teachings of Islam. An obligatory declaration of faith is one of the more serious problems facing Christians.

"The section for religious affiliation on the identity cards forces people to declare their faith and increases the risk of facing discrimination in every arena of life," said the report. "For example, those who want to be exempt from mandatory religious instruction do not have the right to leave the religion line blank because they have to prove they are Christian in order for their children to be exempt from religion classes."

Eleven-year-old Huseyin Bayram, for instance, a student at a primary school in Diyarbakir, converted to Protestant Christianity with his family in 2008. But because he was still officially registered as a Muslim, he had to take the compulsory Islamic class at school. In 2010, Huseyin's family lodged a complaint against the teacher of their child's mandatory Islamic religious class, stating that the teacher slapped the child in the classroom.

Huseyin said that the teacher had asked the entire class to say the Islamic shahada ("There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah) three times; he did not do so. When the teacher asked him why, he said: "Sir, I go to the church. I do not know shahada and I do not want to learn it." The teacher, however, rejected the claims of beating: "I did not know the child was a Christian. I asked him the question that I ask to everyone."

Like all other cities in present-day Turkey, Diyarbakir -- called Dikranagerd or Dikrisagerd by the Armenian community -- has a long history of Christianity.

After the division of the Roman Empire, Anatolia -- from the Greek word "Anatole" meaning "east" or "sunrise" -- became part of the Byzantine Empire. By the fourth century CE, Western and central Anatolia were overwhelmingly Christian and the inhabitants predominantly spoke Greek. A magnificent Christian civilization was established throughout centuries -- until the territory was invaded first by the Seljuk Turks and later by the Ottoman Empire.

The year 1915 marked the peak of the Christian genocide, in Diyarbakir as well. "Most of the Armenians living inside the city were trapped," wrote the Reverend Dr. George A. Leylegian, "and neighborhood by neighborhood, the Ottomans pillaged property and killed the helpless Dikranagerdtsis with nearly full-proof [sic] entrapment. The gendarmes sealed off each street and then raided the houses without reproach."

Being a candidate for the European Union has not changed Turkey's attitude towards churches and Christians. This March, many places in Diyarbakir -- including the Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic and the Armenian Catholic churches -- were expropriated by the Turkish government, as well as the Surp Sarkis Chaldean Church, the Virgin Mary Ancient Assyrian Church, and the city's Protestant church. Protestant Christians still experience serious problems establishing places of worship.

Related posts at following links:
Armenian Genocide (1915-1918)
Turkey Islamists Vote To Make Child Rape Legal