If you’ve been living all your life among Christians, then you cannot know exactly what the Muslim lifestyle is until you see it with your own eyes and live in their society. It’s different! It’s not worse or better, but most of non-Muslim people will find it very different. And most of the time we observe their customs and traditions and we act very surprised and sometimes even bothered by their behavior towards us, without knowing and understanding the essence of their beliefs. We judge without knowing the truth about Islam and we assume we are better and we know better.
I was lucky to have had this amazing opportunity to live this special month (Ramadan month, read more here), right in the heart of Turkey, in one of the most conservative city, that there is left. The shift of change is right on their door too, but they need to let the time pass, generations to change, before we can see any changes, or adapt their customs to the new age, which is coming for the western countries from Europe. Although there are young people that do not follow the tradition and religion, most of the times, they are invisible to the simple eye of the tourist. But you might get lucky, if you decide to visit the mall (Oh yes, there are 2 shopping malls).
I must draw attention to the fact that what may seem natural or normal in your country or culture, may be seen here as taboo or forbidden. Such topics can include relationships, love, or social behavior between lovers which are not married, alcohol use or personal development plans that the family doesn’t support. Saying “hello” should always be followed by a hand shake, no matter your gender or relationship with that person. It’s forbidden to take photos in the mosque of the people praying and all women should put a scarf over their heads, when entering a sacred place. And don’t forget to leave your shoes at the door, when you visit your Turkish friends.
And if you are a young woman (and unmarried) try not to smile too much to Turkish men, and avoid being too friendly as you would be with your friends from back home. Most of them can take it in the wrong way. So don’t call them “dear” or text them “kisses”, because they will understand you are interested in a romantic relationship.
Women in society
I’m sure when you think of Muslims, in your head immediately pops the image of women wearing a scarf over her head, or even women wearing the long black clothes, revealing nothing but the eyes.
Of course this preconception has its roots from the true Muslim essence, but nowadays women have the option of choosing how they want to demonstrate their religion and personal beliefs. On the streets are all kinds of women: the more emancipated ones, the ones who have traveled and changed their ways of demonstrating their beliefs, the traditional ones, which still wear a scarf, and the most traditional ones, that cover themselves as if it was winter time. Even the most modern ones avoid to uncover their legs, preferring long pants or skirts, but do wear t-shirts or sleeveless blouses. Shoe ware is not an issues, and there is a large diversity of choices, from what I’ve seen on the streets.
Youth and religion
You all know how big Turkey is, there is also the one city in the world that is spread over 2 continents (Istanbul, “The Door of Orient”, is a city in Europe and Asia in the same time, with a population of over 14 million) and you may have some questions about how religion and economic growth can join each other. Well, on one hand there are the western cities and influences, in cities such Istanbul, Izmir and the touristic ones, and then there are the more conservative and traditional communities, in the center and east of Turkey. Kayseri is such a city, where a huge percent of the population still relies on the religion, and some of the elders watch with a critical eye the youth and foreigners (like tourist or even us) not obeying traditions. Nevertheless the city is a wonderful mix of traditions and customs, religious women not wearing a scarf, youth praying (or not), and still believing in this divine force watching upon us all.
All in all, the experience is amazing, as long as you keep in mind that different doesn’t necessarily mean bad. I am very thankful for this amazing opportunity to experiment such a different culture and religion, and I truly believe it will help me for my future development.