Turks - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. More than 99 percent of the population is Muslim, and most of them are Sunnites. Estimates of the number of Shiites fall between 5 percent and 35 percent of the population. There are approximately 50,000 Christians and 20,000 Jews in Turkey today. Villagers, although they are for the most part Muslims, continue to believe in superstitions like the evil eye, which is the ancient belief in the power of certain persons to harm or damage someone else with merely a glance. Beliefs in the power of jinn and efrit, as well as other supernatural phenomena, also persist in rural Turkey.

Ceremonies. Most Turks celebrate the two most important Islamic holidays. Ramazan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar; it is the holy month of fasting. Muslims celebrate the end of the fast with Çeker Bayrami (the Candy Holiday), during which visits of friends and relatives take place, and boxes of candy are taken as presents. Kadir Gecesi (the Night of Power) is the eve of the 26th of Ramazan. This is the night on which Mohammed was given the power of prophecy, and it is celebrated in the mosques by prayers and a nightlong service. Kurban Bayrami (the Festival of Sacrifice) comes during the month of Muharrem. If Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca, they must arrive there ten days before Kurban Bayrami. The pilgrimage ends when a sheep or a goat is sacrificed, and the meat is given to the poor. The sacrifice is performed whether the person goes to Mecca or stays at home. The Muslim calendar is based on twelve lunar months and is therefore ten or twelve days shorter than the solar year. This means that the months and the religious holidays fall a bit earlier each year. The Mevlevi dervishes, better known in the West as the Whirling Dervishes, are an order of Sufis that was established by the son of the great mystical thinker, Jalāl ad-Dīn ar-Rūmī, in the thirteenth century. Every year the Mevlevi dervishes have a ceremony in which they whirl for fifteen days before and on the anniversary day of Rūmï's death, which is 17 December.

Clothing. The Western style of clothing has been adopted by most Turks in large urban areas; however, in the rural regions men and women wear baggy pants. Village women enjoy wearing bright colors and flowered prints. The wearing of a turban or a fez by any man in Turkey was outlawed during Atatürk's administration. Many conservative Muslim women wear long coats and white head scarves. Wearing a veil is not against the law, but it is not a usual practice except in some areas of eastern Turkey. Nevertheless, women in villages anywhere will often make an effort to cover their faces in front of strange men, using a corner of their scarf or handkerchief.

Arts. Seljuk and Ottoman Turkish culture is rich—and well represented in museums like the ethnographic museums in Istanbul and Ankara. They include fine examples of calligraphy, rug weaving, ceramics, metalwork, and miniature painting. The weaving of carpets is an industry that dates among the Turks from Seljuk times. Much of the symbolism in the design of Turkish rugs and kilims is pre-Islamic and shares its origins with the Turkish people in Central Asia. Nevertheless, these rugs have become an important part of the prayer ritual in Islam. Turkish culture, since the establishment of the republic, has been dominated by nationalism. Writers, authors, and musicians have left the tradition of Islam. Turkish folk music and dancing are popular. The ministry of culture was established in 1971, and the government extensively supports a national network of the arts, encompassing theater, opera, ballet, music, and fine arts, as well as popular art forms.

Medicine. Medical services provided by the government are free to the poor. Although health services are improving, rural areas suffer shortages of physicians and facilities. In 1992 there were 126,611 beds in 928 hospitals and health centers in Turkey.

Death and Afterlife. Death in Quranic terms is the beginning of a new life, which will be eternal. Muslims believe that it is a phenomenon like the phenomenon of life and is created by Allah (God). When an individual dies, according to Islamic teachings, the dead person begins a long wait that lasts until the day of resurrection. The grave becomes a garden in the garden of heaven or a well in the well of hell, depending on the life that the deceased has led. When Turkish Muslims die, they are buried the next day at the noontime namaz, or call to prayer. There are several rituals that are performed, including washing the body and covering it in a white cotton cloth. Then the body is taken to a nearby mosque and the funeral namaz is performed, after which it is taken to the cemetery and placed in a grave. The body must be attended to as quickly as possible, and people must abstain from exorbitant expenses.

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