MUSTAFA AKYOL > Ramadan, the mosque and booze

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A controversy over alcohol has been making the Turkish news since last weekend. A rock festival called “One Love” was organized in an area next to Istanbul Bilgi University’s santralistanbul campus, and the main sponsor was Efes, Turkey’s leading beer brand. Lots of young people, therefore, were expected to come, roll with the music and enjoy some beer.

Many young people came indeed. But they realized that they could not drink beer, for the organizers had decided to go “dry” because of pressure from the authorities. The pressure came from a larger camp, though: Days before the event, certain Islamic newspapers had begun criticizing the “beer festival” as an insult against the Eyüp Sultan Mosque, probably the most sacred Islamic spot in Istanbul. Since the concert was within Eyüp Municipality’s boundaries, and the time was a little before Ramadan, these “sensitive Muslims” of Turkey were disturbed. (The most agitated among them were disturbed enough to come to the concert area and protest against “alcohol drinkers” who actually found the booze thanks to local street vendors.)

In the face of all this, I wrote a column in Turkish, explaining my stance. It was wrong to ban alcohol at the concert, I argued, and “One Love” should be a place where people drink freely in the years ahead. I also noted that there was at least a kilometer between the Eyüp Mosque and the concert area, and thus it was absurd to see this as an “insult to the mosque.”

However, I also noted something else. Laws banning and regulating “public intoxication” are not unheard of in free countries, such as the United States. In fact, I explained, U.S. laws are often stricter than Turkey’s when it comes to alcohol consumption.

For example, in America, the drinking age is 21 and it is seriously checked. You can’t enter a bar without showing your date of birth on your ID. In Turkey, however, a 16-year old can easily walk into a bar in Istanbul, or elsewhere, and “get wasted.”

Similarly, in America, drinking in public is strictly regulated. One cannot simply drink on the street or in a park, and not even walk around with a visible glass of wine or bottle of beer. In Turkey, however, when the municipality of Afyon, a Central Anatolian province, tried to bring in exactly the same regulations on alcohol, the secular media reacted with the usual shariah-is-coming hype.

In the United States, there are even “blue laws” that ban alcohol sales on Sundays, which is the Christian Sabbath. A theoretical parallel to that would be banning alcohol sales in Ramadan – something that I don’t advocate, just speculate.

In short, while I see “the freedom to sin” as the inviolable right of every human being, the right to enjoy booze in public is subject to limitations even in some of the world’s freest countries. In Turkey, too, therefore, we have to develop our own regulations through deliberation and consensus.

There are two mutually opposing camps in Turkey who would disagree with that. One is the camp of the Islamists and Islamo-nationalists, who simply wish to impose their own notion of morality on each and every member of “our nation.” The other camp is the hardcore secularists, who see any regulation on alcohol as the evidence of a drift toward a “shariah state.”

The majority is in the middle, however. They understand that Turkey is a country in which one can choose to go the mosque or go to the bar, and they think that both sides should respect the other’s way of life.


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Notice on comments

Safiyah Noor Page

8/11/2012 4:56:32 PM

Is consumation of alcohol forbidden in the Qur'an or not? If it is why would Muslims knowingly advocate drinking? Using the foil of speaking of this as an argument about freedom pretending that this isn't a closeted assault on the way of life set out in the Qur'an and ahadith is false. Men are not regulating the behavior of other men without guidance from our Lord. Considering how few things are forbidden I just can't understand the laser focus on the haram.

Steven Smith

8/10/2012 8:48:13 PM

A problem here is believing that the USA is free. It isn't. Like most countries (including the UK, my home), the state removes freedoms for vote-winning purposes and religious authorities remove freedoms to maintain their own power structures. Forget respect and offence. Each should be free to live how he or she pleases, provided it causes no harm (and offence isn't harm). More education would reduce belief in faulty politics and science-denying religion, and the world would be a better place.

Socialist TRK

7/26/2012 1:14:41 PM

A comparison between the US and Turkey should not be made as we are referring to a country that banned alcohol outright in the state of NY (prohibition), and have countries in the middle each such as Lebanon where alcohol is freely consumed in streets. In Turkey everyone want their opinion to be enacted.

US Observer

7/25/2012 2:46:40 PM

Our laws are in fact stupid imho, although I understand the basic premise a 21 year old is mature enough to handle alcohol responsably. The problem is nearly everyone breaks the law and most times becasue kids like to be rebelious. I'm not sure what the right answer is but I'm inclined to think Europe has a better approach. Once religion is involved though, the punishments for breaking the law would most likely be over the top.

mara mcglothin

7/23/2012 3:15:26 PM

Yes MR AKYOL In the USA we have laws that prohibit the sale an use of alcohol in different areas for many different reasons, BUT these laws are well legislated and are not spur of the moment decisions made by a few people BUT are called for a vote. NOW is the time for the people of this area to come together and vote out the sale and use of alcohol in their area before this kind of thing happens again. Always drama! But then again you don't have votes for this kind of thing.

Sinem Terten

7/22/2012 1:36:36 PM

jafri, I am a Turkish citizen who has lived in state of Kuwait for about 3 years. I am also a Muslim but I do enjoy alcohol from time to time. Would you like to know what I've seen for 3 entire years in a so-called Islamic country? I have seen so-called Muslims ordering 10 plates of food in restaurants and only touching a few of them. You know that once the plate has been ordered, it is useless for the restaurant and it has to be thrown away. They waste food and they call themselves Muslims.

Red Tail

7/22/2012 1:29:42 PM

I just saw that PM Erdogan and the rest of the government openeda huge mosque on the Asian side yesterday. Maybe all beer drinkers and concert lovers should protest this since it seems like it will be used a way of limiting their freedoms?

Erik Johansson

7/22/2012 12:24:14 PM

(-Hurriyet, could my latest comment be corrected? Thx) Regulation of alcohol is probably a necessity, in order to prevent young people from becoming addicted or to prevent addicts from becoming too excessive in their abuse, etc. But there has to be a balance. The 95% of us or so who haven´t got a problem with alcohol, should be able to have a glass of wine to dinner without having to pay a fortune. In that quantity, it´s actually good for the heart, according to recent research.

Erik Johansson

7/21/2012 8:50:13 PM

I´m no expert on the USA and the reasons behind their legislation, but in general Christianity doesn´t consider alcohol to be sinful per se. After all, Jesus drank wine, and he was without sin...however moderation is of course the keyword here. Excessive behaviour, whether it is about eating, drinking, work, or whatever, is considered to be harmful and is condemned.


7/21/2012 6:23:40 PM

Mr Akyol, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Islamic nations all legislate against alcohol, why not mention those nations? You seem to be using America as an example, as if it's deemed the most liberated country? Who is this article aimed at exactly? Who is it that you think demands Turkey adopt a more 'American' attitude? America also has the death penalty in several states - perhaps you can work that into your next article. I'm sure someone will appreciate it.
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