Turkish Cultural Center

Houston | March 2, 2007


IMAM Mustafa Yigit

ADDRESS 5905 Winsome Lane

PHONE 713-974-1412

ON THE INTERNET interfaithdialog.org



The short answer to that frequently asked question is, “Look around you.” Of the many Muslims with whom I’ve become friends over the years, some are pious and scrupulously observant. Some are secular, having come to this country to find freedom from religious oppression. Some, no doubt, oppose U.S. policy regarding their various homelands. But none have shown the slightest sign of hostility to me, to America as a people, or to “freedom.”

I recently attended the Friday prayer service, Islam’s most important weekly ritual, with several of these friends at a two-story office building that houses Houston’s Turkish Cultural Center and two Turkish American organizations, the Raindrop Foundation and the Institute of Interfaith Dialog ( IID). Both organizations have been inspired and heavily influenced by Fethullah Gülen, a moderate social thinker and prolific writer who regards religion as primarily a private matter, rejects the idea that Islamic law (sharia) should be the basis for a modern state, and contends that believers in other religions—or in none—should not face discrimination in Muslim-dominated socie-ties. Perhaps most notably, his followers have established hundreds of modern, science-oriented schools in Turkey and surrounding countries in a concentrated effort to modernize their homeland and enable it to serve as a model for other Muslim nations.

The IID was founded in 2002, in the wake of September 11, largely by graduate students who wanted to counter negative stereotypes of Muslims and encourage communication among people of different religions in an atmosphere “free of dogmatism, criticism, oppression, and fear.” In keeping with that mission, a display rack by the entrance contained boldly labeled documents sharply condemning terrorist attacks as incompatible with true Islam and extolling the virtues of humility, modesty, and sincerity. In Houston, as in other parts of the country with substantial Turkish communities, the “Gülen movement” is led by graduate students, physicians, professionals, and entrepreneurs, all eager to demonstrate the compatibility of Islam and a modern global society. But on Fridays they gather, like their fellow Muslims throughout the world, to observe a ritual that has changed little over fourteen centuries.

Because the center’s building is not a proper masjid, or mosque, three good-sized adjoining meeting rooms are converted into sacred space by removing most of the furniture and rolling out large Turkish carpets over the floor. At the invitation of Muhammed Cetin, the president of the IID and a friend for several years, I took a seat on one of the formal couches lining the walls of the central room. As worshippers came in, some sat on the couches, but most found places on the carpet. With the exception of a half dozen or so older men, nearly all appeared to be in their twenties or thirties. Most were dressed casually, none expensively.

Muslims are expected to pray five times each day during the appointed periods, but women are not required to participate in the Friday communal prayer. In many mosques, women sit together with their children in special sections, in balconies, or in the rear of the room, usually more as spectators than as full participants. Perhaps because this facility had no such accommodation, no woman had chosen to attend this service.

As the three rooms filled, Imam Mustafa Yigit, a handsome man of thirty seated at the front of the center room and wearing a knitted skullcap and a knee-length white garment over a striped shirt and tan trousers, chanted passages from the Qur’an (preferred by Muslims to “Koran”) in Arabic, which is believed to be God’s special language, even though Arabs make up no more than 20 percent of the world’s Muslims. I was told later that Yigit had spent five years learning the complicated techniques of Qur’anic recitation at Al-Azhar University, in Cairo, and is the Qur’anic recitation champion of Turkey and probably the best in Texas, a claim I was not qualified to dispute.

The basic unit ofIslamic prayers is called a raka’ah, a brief, simple, and rigidly followed pattern of half bows, kneelings, and full bows. While performing these movements, the worshipper recites, silently or aloud in Arabic, brief passages from the Qur’an or such ritual expressions as “Allah is great” and “May Allah be glorified.” The Friday prayer service comprises

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