Portrait of an Anatolian Muslim with no schooling*

Emre Uslu
Emre Uslu


Date posted: October 26, 2013

Emre Uslu

It seems like this season is a season for losing fathers. Yesterday, like many friends around me, I too lost my father. All fathers are great, but mine was different, an extraordinarily good person.

We never had a TV in my childhood. Therefore I never had cartoon heroes.  I had a single hero – my father. Inside me, I always knew that he was my hero, but I could not confess to it; because he was unlike any of the well-known heroes. He was an innocuous peasant that never went to school, never saved the world. Yet, the size of his world was bigger than all the worlds.

He was very smart, open to the world. He had a finger in every innovation that was brought to the village. Although he never went to school, he could speak and write in Ottoman and [modern] Turkish. During long winter nights, in the light of a gas lamp, he would read history books for the curious in the house. These sessions would last quite long. I remember the nights when I would listen with curiosity and at the same time get tired of breaking chestnuts for the guests and serving them tea.

He loved listening to news. It was the days of September 12th [military coup]. If he had to go to the field during the news hour, it was my job to carry his radio alongside. He would work in the field and I would carry the radio around. Those were the days…

My father was a very generous man. Our house was near the main road. We would have many guests. Whoever would knock our door, my father would invite them inside and would host them. Especially in the winters when the roads were closed, I vividly remember that we could not find a place to sleep; we would not have enough utensils for all the guests. We were poor; yet, he would never turn down anyone who knocked on our door. He would send all my siblings to neighbors and accept the guests.  He thought that Hızır (Khiḍr) would visit our house together with the guests…
He had one “bad deed” that I knew of. He stole a Canadian poplar seedling from the imam of another village and planted it in the field. This was the only Canadian poplar in nearby villages.  It was different from hundreds of other poplars. He looked after it with great care. Whoever wanted a seedling from it, he gave it to them. Thousands of Canadian poplars in nearby villages grew out of that tree. When he cut that poplar and donated it to the mosque I remember how relieved he was as if he got rid of a major sin…

When I would visit the village while still at high school, he would tell me “There isn’t anyone besides you who goes to school, don’t walk with pride or you will become vain”.  And when he would see me succeed, he would secretly feel proud of me. Although I was doing everything that I could, he would still complain, “You are not helping enough to the people in these villages”.

I never forget the day when he took me by my hand and we went for school registration.  When the school director said, “He’s too young, let’s register him next year”, my father replied, “You do the registration, I will make him a prime minister”.  What an encouragement for a village kid that hasn’t even seen a TV. Those words got stuck in my mind forever. Whenever I felt exhausted, I would always work harder to keep up my father’s hope.
There were years when we had no money. Yet somehow he would find some money and put it in my pocket when sending me to school. Then he would say “God has blessed this son of mine with abundance”. I think he would say that not to make me feel as a burden on the family. If it wasn’t for his encouragements like “As long as you want to study, I am ready to sell my field and pay for it,” my guess is that I wouldn’t have been able to pursue education, just like my peers.

I vividly remember: when we were kids, my father would read the Quran with a loud voice after the Morning Prayer. When he would start reading the Quran, my mother would wake us up so that we weren’t disrespectful to it. “You should not sleep when Quran is being chanted,” she would say.  Yet my father would say, “They are kids, it is not a problem as long as they lie without stretching their legs”. He was very compassionate and tolerant, never was a bigoted person. He accepted everyone as they were…
My father was a mason.  He would build every house facing the Qibla.  He would do this out of respect for religion and Kaaba.  And he would consider it to be natural…

If you pray for him, he will be proud of me, I think.

He was my father, a great man…

Disclaimer: The original article is in Turkish. Slight deviations from the original meaning may have occurred due to the difficulties in translating phrases and idioms. The Peace Islands Institute volunteers translated the article.

* This article is not related to the Hizmet movement. However, it pictures briefly and well a typical Anatolian Muslim of secular Turkey, of especially earlier years of young Turkey. Such people, men and women, raised a generation of open-minded, modern and devout Muslims in Turkey. This article might be an answer for those who wonder what type of Muslims helped grow civil Islam in the country.

Source: Taraf Newspaper , October 17, 2013


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