Two days ago we saw anti-Jewish and anti-Christian posters hanged on billboards in Konya, a city known for its conservatism. An ironic coincidence though, because it is also the same city where Mewlana Jalal al-Din Rumi, the famous figure of Islamic universalism and sufism lived and taught. Obviously they never read anything from him. For me, such an act of antisemitism, is neither a coincidence, nor a surprise.
For those who are curious about the posters, this verse is printed on them:
Al-Maidah 51: O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you – then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people.
In Turkey this verse is very famous. Many people quote it. Unfortunately, most of the time, it is mistranslated -on purpose-. If you go to a bookstore and buy the Quran in Turkish, you would probably find out that the Turkish translation is as follows: “O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as friends”. I am not a theologian but I spent quite a long time studying Islam. I had the opportunity to read various exegeses from prominent scholars and each and every one of them use the word “ally” in their translations, in spite of the word “friend”.
Some of you might ask “what difference would it make if it is “an ally” instead of “a friend?” Let me explain the context of this verse. In fact, this verse is related to the political problems that Muhammad faced during that time. After he settled in Medina, he made a treaty with Jews and Christians there. According to this treaty, Jews and Christians would not fight against Muslims and they would refrain from helping any other party that was at war with Muslims. Similarly, Muslims would neither fight against Jews and Christians nor help anyone who was at war with them. Yet the three Jewish tribes did not keep their promise and that is why this verse was revealed. In other words, Al-Maidah 51 is about an inter-tribal treaty. If you read it in this context, you can easily understand that it is about a historical event and since neither the prophet, nor the Jews and Christians mentioned in the verse are alive, this is not our concern anymore. It is about a political alliance in the past and like the Greeks say “passed and forgotten”.
Nevertheless, the crucial point here is that some people try to distort the truth and misuse the text that is considered sacred by a majority of people in Turkey in order to point the finger at Jews and Christians here. I am in no position to defend Islam, it is not my job. But for the sake of truth, we have to see that they are misusing the Quran. Those antisemites do not have the heart to openly say “I hate Jews and Christians” but instead, they say “God hates them”. Someone should go up to those people and say “No, my friend, you are the one who hate people, not God. Your perspective is wrong and you can’t use a book believed by billions of people to spread your hate. This is not a toy. You have no right to represent Islam with all the hatred and anger in your heart”.
Due to the fact that most of the Muslims in Turkey do not read the Quran even if it is translated into Turkish, these antisemites are free to do whatever they want with the text. Because they know that not many people would say “you misinterpreted the verse or you mistranslated it”. They can translate the verses however they want. It is easy, “if you hate Jews and you want to demonize them, misinterpret another verse and Turkish Muslims will believe it”.
On the other hand, you might have heard about it; during the Operation Peace Spring, all leaders of the non-Muslim communities in Turkey came together with the government and prayed. In Konya, they said we are not to be friends with Jews and Christians, right? Why do you invite these people to pray for you then? I know many people (including non-Muslim people) that support the operation. Certainly everyone has the right to support it or to criticize it. It is not about religion but political stance. The inner intention of inviting these leaders there was to show the whole world that we are united, all Turkish citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims, and we pray for “our army”. If only those antisemites who hanged the posters in Konya would be brought before a court and really be punished because of the hate crime they committed, then I can believe that you really consider non-Muslims a part of this country. This slogan (“we are united”) is not even credible in my eyes, who on earth would believe that in other countries?
I understand that these religious leaders were there partly because they had to, but also they wanted to make non-Muslims visible in public. But how about being socially accepted? Many people in Turkey still don’t want Jewish neighbours. I think we, the people who want Turkey to be a multi-cultural country have to work harder. We have to educate our people, we have to explain that everyone has the same desires in this life. Everyone wants to have enough food, a house to sleep in, happy children and to die peacefully. This is a generally accepted path in every society. In this path there is no Muslim, no Christian no Jew. There is only human. We have to make our people understand this naked truth. Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists everyone in this country, we have to work for this. Forget about the elite social circles we meet everyday, these educated elites do not have a problem with non-Muslims, it is the man in the street that we have to communicate with.
In fact, I am not pessimistic about our future. If we realize that we can not change anything by complaining about it but by only doing something new, then even if it is slow, we will see the change. I always think about Moses at such moments. Although he was afraid and reluctant when God first called him, he did go to the Pharaoh and asked him to deliver the Israelites. He actually got out of his comfort zone and took Jews out of pharaoh’s hands and walked by them all through the journey and then came the moment when God split the Red Sea. If we have the same courage to walk through the desert till we reach the Red Sea, I am sure that we will meet God there.