An open letter to the head of Religious Affairs
TAYFUN ATAYDear head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), I write this letter neither in anger nor a complaint, but rather in deep sadness.
First of all, I would like to wish you a healthy, peaceful and happy 2015.
The reason I started to pen this letter, the cause of my concern, is your recent statement.
Your stance against initiatives to celebrate New Year’s Eve, which we have become familiar with in recent years, disappointed me tremendously.
Coming from a personality to which we all look to on such a sensitive matter, I read your statement in deep sadness. I would like to share my objections, not based on theology, but as a social scientist who has reflected a lot on how religion takes a shape in the life of people and societies.
I am sure you are also aware, as it has been said many, many times: New Year’s Eve celebrations are not religious celebrations.
I find it quiet unfortunate that just like some circles, you relate these celebrations to Christmas and confuse it with consumption, lust, entertainment and pagan cultures.
In the same vein; I find the relationship that you establish between gambling and drinking with New Year’s Eve to be unfair. Yes, these are harmful habits, but they also show themselves on other occasions, independent of New Year’s Eve.
In this country, people rush to holiday resorts, gamble and consume alcohol during religious holidays, like the Feast of the Sacrifice (Kurban) and Ramadan. So should we start a campaign against all holiday celebrations because they become occasions for drinking or gambling?
I can hear you say, “Absolutely not, holidays are an inseparable part of Islam.”
Then a question would probably follow: "Does a Muslim drink alcohol during religious holidays?"
You are as well aware as me that a sizable portion of this society feasts during the month of Ramadan, avoids over indulgence (including alcohol) during the holy month, but then goes back to drinking alcohol after the holiday celebration.
Whether we like it or not, this is how people live with religion. Religion does not perfectly fit either real life or "the book."
Of course, you might say “whatever it is, this is not right.” But as you have underlined in your statement - the “friendly and compassionate advise” you have provided about bad habits in relation to New Year’s Eve - one would expect you to also mention them on the eve of Kurban Bayram and Ramadan.
However, we know very well that the aim of the statement is to target the part of society that wants to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
By supporting the ones who accuse those who just want to add a tiny touch of joy and hope to their lives of "acting outside of religion," you are directly targeting New Year’s Eve.
You relate your objection to “consumption culture.” There are no two people who could agree more on the harms of consumption culture (or consumption capitalism) to humanity than you and I.
But both you and I know this is a problem that encompasses all - and especially the religious - people in this country. You complain probably more than me about the luxurious, extravagant fast-breaking iftar dinners.
Religious people have been celebrating New Year’s Eve for decades with friends and relatives without falling into excess.
New Year’s Eve celebrations, which became widespread in Republican Turkey as a secular, societal celebration, are an occasion in which only a small group gets carried away.
The majority celebrates it at home, seeing it as an occasion to get together and spend time with their close and loved ones. If we must identify New Year’s Eve celebrations as holidays, then it could be said that they stem from New Year’s Eve’s functionality as an occasion that strengthens the feeling of societal unity, solidarity and continuity.
In other words, in contrast to what some want to believe, New Year’s Eve celebrations are not occasions for degeneration, the exercise of excessive consumption, or engagement in a state of delirium. They are celebrated in the same spirit as our other holidays.