Call to prayer is a daily reminder of Turkey’s religious and political shift

For The Los Angeles Times


Five times a day, the loudspeakers affixed to the spires of some 90,000 state-run mosques crackle to life, and the Islamic call to prayer bathes the streets of Istanbul and other Turkish cities.

For the faithful, the undulating Arabic hymn, called the adhan, is a reminder of Turkey’s historic place in the Muslim world. For others, it’s an unavoidable reminder of Turkey’s turn from the secular under its current leadership.

On Tuesday, a lawmaker was expelled from his party for suggesting the adhan be uttered in Turkish again. “Chant the adhan in Turkish. I would understand it,” Ozturk Yilmaz, with the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, said on a talk show earlier in the month. “Read the Koran in Turkish. My language, if you speak it anywhere in the world, I will understand it. Why do we have this, this insult to Turkish?”

His suggestion not only sparked an immediate shouting match with other guests on the show, but also reignited a touchy topic in Turkey: What exactly did Turkey’s founders want the country to look like?

For more than 14 centuries, across the Muslim world, the adhan has been recited in Arabic, a standardized ritual akin to the Latin Mass. But it was not always so in Turkey.

Between 1932 and 1950, the state prohibited the Arabic adhan, and instead, a Turkish translation was recited. The ban was part of a series of restrictions on religion imposed under the rule of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

When Ataturk died in 1938, the CHP, which he founded, was the sole entity allowed to hold power and ruled unopposed until 1950, when the country’s first free multi-party elections were held. Lifting the ban on the Arabic adhan was among the very first laws passed by the new parliament.

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