TURKEY-And Then We Work for God: Rural Sunni Islam in Western Turkey

By Eligür, Banu | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

TURKEY-And Then We Work for God: Rural Sunni Islam in Western Turkey


Eligür, Banu, The Middle East Journal


And Then We Work for God: Rural Sunni Islam in Western Turkey, by Kimberly Hart. Stanford: Stanford Univer- sity Press, 2013. 304 pages. 10 photos. $85 cloth; $24.95 paper.

In And Then We Work for God, Kimberly Hart examines how Turkish villagers inter- pret and practice Sunni Islam in their daily lives. She focuses on two villages - Yeniy- urt and Kayalarca - both are located in the Yuntdag region, a mountainous area north of the city of Manisa in Aegean Turkey. Hart observes that "For villagers, Islam is a path to the next world" (p. 2). Thus, the book ex- plores how villagers in the Yuntdag region "prepare for this other world by 'working for God' in this one" (p. 2). The author main- tains that villagers interpret their practice of Sunni Islam by looking at three sources: cul- tural Islamic traditions, state version of Is- lam delivered by the Presidency of Religious Affairs or the Diyanet, and Islamic brother- hoods and communities (p. 2). According to Hart, "Men find the mosque and thereby the state's official Islam a home for their prac- tice; but women, who avoid the mosque, lo- cate spirituality in places and times outside the mosque - the Ottoman past in Yeniyurt or neo-Islamist future in Kayalarca - and thereby outside the state control of Islam" (p. 15). She argues that "The mixture of sources for Sunni Islam shows that Islam it- self is in a state of flux, open to interpretation and transformation" (p. 2).

Hart observes that "Yeniyurt and Kay- alarca villages, a mere kilometer apart, dif- fer significantly in forms of Islamic prac- tice" (p. 16). The villagers in Yeniyurt take pride of their nomadic "Yörük" culture (p. 17); within this framework the author men- tions that the villagers weave kilim carpets and emphasize passing traditional kilim pat- terns to the next generation (p. 18). With re- spect to Islam, the villagers also "deliberate- ly sustain old and traditional practices" (p. 17) such as saint veneration, attachment to miracle tales, practice of preserving Sakal-i Serif (the hair of the Prophet Muhammad), and rain prayers (pp. 19, 117-34).

The villagers in Kayalarca, on the other hand, focus on "innovation - in both the economic and spiritual spheres" (p. 17). Kay- alarca villagers, who earn their lives by carpet weaving, managed by a weaving cooperation, regard their nomadic Yörük heritage as em- barrassing and a sign of backwardness. The villagers perceive themselves as "savvy busi- nesspeople" (p. 22), and they refer to their nomadic past only when it "heightens the romance of women carpets for customers" (p. 22). Unlike those in Yeniyurt, Kayalarca villagers pursue a "relaxed and open attitude toward influences coming from the outside" (p. 21). They allow "Islamic associations or tarikats to enter the village for special occa- sions, engagement and marriage parties," send their children to the Süleymanci brother- hood's Qur'an courses, hold women's Friday gatherings, make the sixth-month henna cel- ebrations, and allow women visit graves dur- ing the last day of the Ramadan (the Day of 'Arafa), while still keeping their nomadic tra- dition of rain prayers. (pp. 22-23, 134-140).

One of the major problems of the book is its descriptive nature. The book does not analyze the reasons Yeniyurt and Kayalarca villagers interpret Sunni Islam in different ways and when this divergence started. The author does not explore if there is a relation- ship between the development of carpet- weaving business in Kayalarca village and the growth of the Süleymanci brotherhood's influence among the villagers, particularly given the Süleymancis' connections to Ger- many; thus, the brotherhood's potential for providing business benefits to the villagers. After conducting a decade of research, Hart does not provide an analysis of the changes and continuities among Kayalarca villagers' interpretations of Sunni Islam and secular- ism in Turkey due to their close relation- ships with the Süleymancis. …

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