Have you ever put someone on a high pedestal because of their position in society?
Have you ever assumed, they would not be interested in your presence or your point of view, because you really have nothing in common?
I have. For years, I considered imams to be totally out of my comfort zone. I had no wish to speak to them out of pure fear; they would see right through me and recognize my weaknesses and bad habits.
I did not want to be backed into a corner and have to admit that my lifestyle is very much selfish and detrimental to my health. I did not need an imam to point it out to me, as I was fully aware of the glaring facts.
For readers who are unaware of what an imam is, it is an Arabic word for a leader in the religion of Islam. Every mosque in Turkey has a local imam, who has an interest in the wellbeing and religious dedication of his followers.
So anyway, while I was exploring Kalkan, torrential rain started and I ducked into the nearest restaurant. At the time, I was on a solo tour and more often than not, local people would strike up conversation with me. On this occasion, they wanted to know my nationality and guesses ranged from Slovakian, Turkish, Russian and then finally English!
The conversation was in full swing until the subject became our jobs. I turned to the man sitting opposite me and asked him what he did for a living.
“I am an imam,” he said
At this point, I wanted the ground to open and swallow me up whole. I had been swearing through the whole conversation, was on my third beer and was constantly chain-smoking as I normally do when I drink.
The type of person that I had spent years avoiding was sat in front of me and I never knew it.
Had he been assessing my behavior all the time?
Did he think I was a bad wife to go on a solo tour and leave my husband at home?
Could he see right through my personality and instantly know all my weaknesses and fears in life?
Was he secretly thinking in his head “this bitch is going to hell”?
The shock and horror must have been evident on my face as he started laughing and told me to relax.
Once I realized this was not going to be a situation where I could politely make excuses and run off down the road, I decided I had to make use of the awkward position I found myself in.
The next two hours were spent discussing Islam. I relaxed, asked him if I could conduct an interview and then threw question after question at him. We talked about pork, alcohol, the call to prayer, who pays his wages and how long it takes to qualify as an imam. We discussed my bad habits without any criticism.
I had to tell him that he was not the typical stereotype of an imam. Apparently, I am not the first to say this.
He spent time in London before heading to Kalkan 19 years ago. His arrival into the village was met with great concern when he decided to go swimming in the sea. “People told me then that imams do not swim but over the years they have become used to my ways. These days’ people are a little bit more relaxed and not so judgemental”.
We even discussed opinions by some Turkish people that the government is heading towards an Islamic state, but I will not tell you how that conversation went because my blog is not about politics. It is about people, culture, destinations and traditions.
Anyway, speaking to hubby later that night, I told him about the imam I had met. His response surprised me and left doubt in my mind.
“Natalie – Are you sure he was not some random local trying it on? Sometimes you are very naive”
Hubby is a devout Muslim so his words struck a chord with me. He has met many imams in his time and whenever we travel, we always have to find the local mosque of the destination we are in.
I will never know whether the random stranger was an imam or not. I have replayed the conversation hundreds of times in my head and there was no indication that I was being played.
I told the stranger that I would publish his words on my blog and he was happy for his photo to be taken. Surely if he was fake, he would have objected then
So there is only one way to look at it. I met a random stranger who freely spoke about his life with no judgement on mine. I got another insight into the life of a Turkish person, which helps me to write about the country of Turkey and the people within it, a subject that I am very passionate about.
Whether the stranger was fake or not, my fear and obsession of running away from imams has finally been laid to rest.
Readers Question : How do you feel when you are in the presence of a religious leader of any faith? Do you feel intimidated?
Please note- I have edited this post after publishing due to a request in the comments section
Interview with an Imam in Turkey : Man of Islam
1: I have heard many different stories about why Muslims do not eat pork. Tell me why.
There are very little nutrients in pork. We do not feel that pork adds benefit to a person’s wellbeing and fitness. Yes, there is also the fact that we consider the pig dirty however the lack of good nutrients is the first concern.
2 – I have heard rumours in the past that the call to prayer is tape recorded and timed to play throughout the day
These rumours are not true. Five days a day, the imam or a member of staff will go to the mosque and perform the call to prayer. Tape recorders are never used.
3 – How long does to take to become an imam?
I started studying while I was in primary school and did not finish until I was past my teenager years. These days, the rules have changed and someone who wants to be an imam will have to study for 16 years before being placed in charge of his own mosque.
4 – Who pays your wages?
The government does. I am classed as a civil servant.
5 – You are not what I would call a typical imam? Do you find this is often said?
Yes, British people are always surprised to meet me and learn that I am an imam. They are also surprised to find out that I know English and have spent time in London. When I first come to Kalkan 19 years ago, the Turkish people were like that as well.
6 – What is the deal with alcohol in Islam?
Well first, it clouds a person’s judgement and thinking so they cannot work well or converse pleasantly with other people. Some people may drink for confidence, but alcohol simply masks their insecurity and does not solve the problem.
On the odd occasion, it becomes an addiction and then families are affected. Sometimes, children have gone hungry because their father wishes to spend money on alcohol and gambling instead of his family. Sometimes, he cannot control his temper and his fists turn to his wife. Being a Muslim is all about maintaining a healthy body and clear mind, which alcohol does not help to do.
Please note – I have not published the questions on Turkish politics as I felt the subject is a bit too heavy for a travel blog. I have also not published the discussions about my nicotine addiction and other failures!