The cemevi issue
It would be such a constructive attitude for peace in society if the government, which is based on a Sunni conservative voter majority, could accept the cemevis [Alevi houses of worship] as [legitimate] houses of worship. But the government unfortunately cannot go beyond its adapted patterns.
What are these patterns? One is the pattern of the Sunni tradition; the other is the pattern of republican secularism.
The Sunni tradition, especially in the madrasa, has regarded heterodox interpretations of Islam as deviant. When political wars have also been involved, bitter incidents have occurred, and faith-based splits have formed in our society. The perception of unity and solidarity in the Sunni tradition assumes everyone is Sunni. It is from this point of view that cemevis are regarded as “cultural associations” today.
When it comes to secularism…
According to official definition, the place of religion is “the conscience and the place of worship.” This is so even in old verdicts of the Constitutional Court. This strict positivist definition at the same time describes the “homogenization” policy of the Republic: The belief that will be held within the conscience and in places of worship will be worship and ethics as defined by Sunni Islam, and the vision of unity and solidarity will be fulfilled.
This was clearly expressed in parliamentary debates in February and March 1924. In November 1925, when the Islamic monasteries were closed down, only the services of imams, preachers and muezzins were validated, and institutions, concepts and positions such as sheikhdom, dervishes and discipleship, which belong to Alevi Islam, were banned.
The Republic, concerned that diversity would lead to separation, wanted to homogenize all aspects of society.
Who can say that the monism observed both in the Sunni tradition and in the Republic’s secularism answers the needs of today’s Turkey?
The Sunni Ottoman sultans generally protected and supported not only mosques but also Alevi and Bektashi lodges and monasteries. Land for several of them was donated by the sultan.
The method the Republic considered suitable for achieving unity and solidarity was homogenization. However, dynamics such as urbanization, education and globalization have transformed our society. Awareness and consciousness have developed in every segment of it. In today’s Turkey, the only way to maintain social peace is respect to all beliefs and identities, and be a pluralist democracy, is it not?
Function of the cemevis
According to Associate Professor Kamil Fırat research, 70 percent of Alevis who frequent the cemevis and the Hacı Bektaş Veli Foundation regard and believe in Alevism as “true Islam.” Among those Alevis who are not members of any Alevi institution but are members of politicized associations, 60 percent define Alevism merely as a “lifestyle” without any “Islamic” reference, according to a report in daily Milliyet daily, published July 4-8, 2005.
Yes, the spiritual aspect of Alevi Islam continues at the cemevis. They are the spiritual inheritors of historical religious institutions such as Alevi monasteries and lodges. The cemevi is an institution of belonging, especially because Alevis feel isolated and lack solidarity in the city, and they regard its recognition as a matter of honor. Is it possible to disregard this?
Now, I’m asking members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP): By saying, “The only place of worship in Islam is the mosque,” aren’t you pushing Alevi Muslims outside Islam? Go and visit a cemevi, feel the spirituality power there, if you wish.
According to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), whose decisions have enabled as binding constitutionally, it is those who believe who decide what is a place of worship. It is disgraceful that politics is rejecting that.
Taha Akyol is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, in which this piece was published on July 12. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.