We arrived yesterday at around noon. After dropping our bags at our hotel, we spent 10 hours on the European side of Istanbul. We saw all the major sites — the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, the Galata Tower, and the great city walls — perused the bazaars and markets, and even joined evensong at Istanbul’s Anglican church (our fellow paritioners were African, South Asian, and Australian). In the evening, we met with my friend Doruk, an Istanbul native who I met when he was an ESL student in the United States last year. He and his father drove out to our hotel and took us out for dinner at a restaurant along the Bosphorus.
Doruk was an acquaintence of Ms. Curzon, and she introduced me to him last year. He’s a fun guy to be with, and we occasionally hung out and even saw The Passion together. After studying English in America he returned home to Istanbul last summer, and he now works for an American company by day and attends night school for an MA in International Business. He is a very, very non-practicing Muslim. When I asked him questions about Islam in Turkey, he laughed. He’s been to the mosque “five times — in my life!” His father also didn’t like religion, and both father and son adore Ataturk, the secular father of modern Turkey, who’s three gifts to his country were a romanized language, a republican tradition, and a secular political culture. (The longevity of this secularism is discussed in Kaplan’s Ends of the Earth. )
Are Doruk and his father the rules or the exceptions? It’s hard to tell. The family is urbane and educated. Doruk’s father is a retired Chemical engineer. Doruk works for an American country. With their comparative wealth and sophistication, they may not be in the majority.
To me, Istanbul is European, but plenty of people join daily prayer at mosques, which are everyone. The minarets broadcast calls to prayer five times a day. The ruling political party, both in Istanbul and in Turkey, is the moderately Islamist party. Is religion in Turkey on the decline, like in the rest of Europe, or making a comeback?
These are the questions I’m asking myself, and I’ll be back with more as we travel further east (contingent on a reliable internet connection!).