Interview With An Imam – A Leader Of Islam

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!

Mosque

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.

Kalkan

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

Imam

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! :)

Contact me..

Natalie

Hi. My name is Natalie Sayin and I am the author of The Turkish Travel Blog. I am an eccentric,Internet addict with a passion for history.

I really shouldn't travel because I can not read maps and always lose my way! But hey, that never stops me and it is part of the fun! Leave a comment below to join the discussions.
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Comments

  1. says

    Now that’s an interesting one. Hopefully, someone from Kalkan will be able to comment and let you know for definite. :) Most of my family are religious – one is ordained as a vicar – so I’ve not got any particular feelings about religious leaders.
    Julia
    Turkey’s For Life wrote about..Fethiye: The All New Yengen – It’s Kebab Time

    • says

      I like to think that he was really an imam Julia as he was nothing but respectful. I have never had the religious presence throughout my life so maybe that is why I am more uncomfortable with the presence of religious leaders.
      Natalie wrote about..French Street in Istanbul

    • ian dunlop says

      I have a holiday home in Kalkan and can confirm that he is indeed an Imam, his mosque is down by the harbour, he has a lovely, slightly quirky, attitude – he is a really nice man. Ian

  2. says

    . . J and I have met a number on our travels, as well as our local who is a really nice chap. J and I have been together for nearly 40 years and,as she tells anyone who bothers to ask, she wouldn’t marry me if I was the last bloke standing! Neither of us smoke but a bit of booze doesn’t go amiss. We have known a few ‘religious types’ to suck their teeth, but most practice the tolerance that Islam famed for.
    Religious intolerance has been nurtured for centuries by the Christian establishment and much of the world has suffered as a result. My personal view is that religion should be confined to the dustbin of human evolution/development, that said, it is a personal matter – it doesn’t matter to me what label you or society hangs around your or my neck – treat me with respect and kindness and I’ll give you the same. never let anybody intimidate or belittle you or your personal values.

    • says

      I think that is the answer Alan – no matter what religion people are, if they can just treat each other with respect and kindness, the world would be a whole lot better off.
      Natalie wrote about.. The Colourful Greek Island of Meis

  3. says

    Good story Natalie. I enjoyed it and picturing the moment when he said he was an imam definitely brought a chuckle. Thanks for sharing.

    • says

      I squirmed when he said he was an imam. I am sure my cheeks went bright red with embarrassment as well! :)

  4. Angie says

    Hi,
    I enjoyed your article, but would really have liked to read about the questions you asked and the answers you received from him.
    Maybe you can do a follow-up article?

    • says

      Hi Angie, sorry to cut the info in half for you. If the truth be told, it become more of a counselling session than an interview.

      I have added the basic questions above for you but not published the ones on Turkish politics because then I will get every fruit and nut cake on my blog! Let me know if there is anything left that you are curious about and if it was not covered in the interview then I can certainly find out for you
      Natalie wrote about..The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul : A Photo Guide

  5. says

    Very interesting post! I know very little about the Muslim religion. Whether this man was telling you the truth or not, it sounds like you still had a good experience.
    Ali wrote about..Thoughts on One Year of Unemployment

    • says

      It was certainly an unexpected, good experience Ali. I like to believe that he was who he said he was. There was no malice at all on his behalf. I was the only one freaking out! :)

  6. says

    I don’t think I’ve ever talked to an imam in person – real or fake – so I appreciate your efforts.

    • says

      Makes a change when normally I run in the opposite direction from them! :)

  7. says

    Natalie,
    This is a wonderful post! And that gentleman does look like the genuine article to me, and I truly do hope so too, as it is wonderful to see Imams like him; approachable, modern and talk about religion just for what it is, without any hidden agenda. Really enjoyed this one!
    And I love Kalkan.. have been going there since 1997s.. it has changed alot since then and certainly got more expensive, but I love the spirit of the town, the art scene as you discovered and amazing bays..
    Ozlem’s Turkish Table wrote about..Fresh, Delicious and Fun Cooking; Turkish Food Made Easy

    • says

      I think he was genuine Ozlem and it was just hubby being over-protective. You know how Turkish men are! :)

      I also agree that is nice for someone to be modern, open and approachable about Islam – it is a small but significant step into changing peoples wrong perception that they have received from mainstream media.
      Natalie wrote about..Horse Racing in Turkey – How NOT To Blend In With the Locals

    • says

      Certainly not the typical stereotype but it was a great and interesting conversation to have. Totally unexpected but that turned out to be a good thing.

  8. says

    I’d love to read the questions and answers on politics. Travel sometimes means dealing with heavy issues. I like a little meat figuratively and literally (mmm pork).

    Besides, food can be very political!

    • says

      Lauren – if I posted the questions on politics then I would have a lot of comments to respond to. Turks are very passionate about their country and who is running it. I still have the copy so maybe one day when I am feeling brave, I can write another article on it
      Natalie wrote about..The Ghost Village Of Kayakoy

  9. says

    Natalie, From what you have written, I see no reason that you should have felt embarassment in any way. Since you have been living in Turkey for quite some time now, you undoubtedly know what behaviour and conduct in public places is expected, tolerated or apporpriate, that should be the same whether your table mate is an imam or not.

    Thanks for sharing…

    • says

      I am not sure John, I think it is a just a fear of all religious leaders really. The fact that I am so bad at following any religion make me anxious to complete discussing them, however that was a good discussion

  10. phil + Di marina gateway says

    very interesting read this one Natalie i hope he is who he says he live and let live i say and i would like to read the rest of the interview i wil have a chat about it the next time i see you

  11. 27johnh says

    I enjoyed this, Natalie and thanks. In nowhere other than Turkey have I received so many spontaneous acts of kindness. Although most of the Turks I’ve met as a tourist say they don’t practise, I believe they’re steeped in Muslim values. Perhaps as Kalkan is such a foreigner (British) holiday town it made sense to appoint a more relaxed imam? A local told me there’s no imam in the little mosque in Cirali : the calls to prayer are relayed from Antalya!
    So where is a good forum to discuss contemporary Turkish politics? I’m up for it!

    • says

      Hi John, I remember the mosque in Cirali but did not take a close look at it – If there was no imam, who was conducting the services!! Maybe the locals took it in turn.

      If you really want to discuss politics etc, Have you seen this ladies blog? http://www.journalistinturkey.com/ She tackles most of the issues in Turkey and is not afraid of saying black is black etc. She also responds to comments as well. Not a forum but I think she is just as good.
      Natalie wrote about..Interview With An Imam – A Leader Of Islam

  12. says

    Excellent post! I really enjoyed reading this. I too often feel like I’m being looked down upon whenever I meet someone very religious. Sadly, I’ve met many Christians who certainly don’t uphold the value of “do not unto others as you would have done to you.”
    Joy (My Turkish Joys) wrote about..Berry Memories in Nebraska

    • says

      Very true joy – I too, have met many christians who say that they practise but it does not seem to be evident in their daily words and actions. I also tend to take it with a pinch of salt because in the Uk most of the next generation do not even know the origins of Xmas, or easter!!
      Natalie wrote about..French Street in Istanbul

  13. says

    I’m certainly not a religious person, but I have to say that I fully agree with Islam’s importance on taking good care of our own body. I admit, I’m a little health-obsessed, very careful on what I eat/drink, I don’t drink alcol (unless this will make me very unsocial!), I don’t smoke and I look after all aspects of my lifestyle. Obviously, in my case I don’t call this Islam but simple self-respect :P
    Angela wrote about..In Sardinia, hitting the wine trail between myth and tradition

    • says

      The concept of taking care of your body is a good one and can be applied whether you are muslim or not. I am trying to try my attitude as I can not feel the effects on my health. A shopping trip now includes lots of fruit and veg. Alcohol is no longer a daily consumption. Just the dirty cigarettes to sort out though. Well done on being so good at looking after your health. I hope to get there soon
      Natalie wrote about.. The Colourful Greek Island of Meis

  14. says

    Hi Natalie – great story. Good for you for acting on the impromptu interview! I think your hubby is wrong. Gross generalization – Turks question each other more so than Americans do. I don’t think he was pulling your leg, esp his answer re pork.

    Answer to your question- I never really thought about it. They don’t phase me. I’ve seen a prior pope, although not so close. I’ve shared many a beer with priests and nuns. Of course, Americans aren’t known for swearing as much as Brits are (that was just in an airline magazine). You poor thing. He was probably a little jealous of how freely your words could flow. Don’t sweat it.
    Terry (Adventures in Ankara) wrote about..Interview with the Author: The Okçular Book Project

    • says

      It is good to hear that you think he was an imam Terry – Even those hubby thinks not, I like to believe that he was.

      I did not know that about Americans. British seem to place a swearing word in every sentence. I really do need to curb it back as well, so uncouth! Not words that should come out of a ladies mouth
      Natalie wrote about..The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul : A Photo Guide

  15. David Race says

    Nice article,
    Our village ” Hodja ” , “Hoca ” ? not sure how it is spelt, has always been very open and friendly as are all of his extended family who live in the same street as us. Unfortunately, my Turkish and his English are not good enough to have meaningful conversations but I find him to be very open and approachable. Our new English next door neighbour is an ordained Christian minister who is learning Turkish and it will be interesting to hear how their relationship develops.

    Maybe you can help me by explaining the Difference between a ” Hoca ” and an Imam ? My understanding is that an Imam is akin to an ordained priest whereas a Hoca is more of a Lay Preacher.

        • says

          Yes, same as Terry, I have always known Hodja as referring to Nasreddin. Sometimes called hoca, the term is meant to refer to wise man or teacher which fits in with what Terry knows them as ie professors.
          Natalie wrote about..The Ghost Village Of Kayakoy

  16. says

    Thanks for the post Natalie, that was very interesting. Personally I am very removed from any religion, and so organized religion makes me a little nervous.
    Jules wrote about..Romantic Getaway: Büyükada

  17. Murat says

    Was he secretly thinking in his head “this bitch is going to hell”?

    I am surprised to see you are saying this since you live in turkey and married to a devout muslim as you say it, it clearly shows that you haven’t known much of turkish people and muslims too.. I am sorry if it sounds harsh for you. I hope you don’t go to hell though.. Nobody in his right mind would want this for others regardless of religion.

    I would like to make some clarification about answers to interview questions although I am not an imam, I know my faith enough to say some words on this issue. I am not sure if these translations are exact words of the imam you interviewed or he might have misunderstood or misexplained for certain reasons. We, muslims, don’t eat pork because it is asked by the creator and we don’t drink alcohol for the same reason, not because they are unhealthy or dirty. For the same reason, Jewish people don’t eat pork too. For the health issues of Pork you may listen to Joel Osteen’s explanation on youtube.

  18. says

    Murat – The first bit is called tongue in cheek humour and if you read the rest of the paragraph surrounding it then you will understand.

    Re the issues of pork and alcohol – there were no translations mistakes. Your creator asks of you that you do not consume them. But, he asks that of you for a reason!! He does not just say don’t do it. There are reasons why Muslims are asked not to consume alcohol or pork. Maybe you did not understand the translation.
    Natalie wrote about..Horse Racing in Turkey – How NOT To Blend In With the Locals

  19. Cathy says

    Thoroughly enjoyed your article. I have pleasure in confirming he is a real, true Imam in Kalkan.

    • says

      Thanks for reading Cathy and thanks for confirming as well. I did not get any warning bells when I was talking with him so was quite certain he was. He was a very nice man

  20. Sally says

    Aziz is a friend of mine in Kalkan and I can assure you that he is the Imam and a lovely person too.

  21. says

    What a fascinating person to meet. I love that you were ‘forced’ into it as well, because you didn’t realise who he was at first. It seems that after all your worries, talking to an imam about Islam and life was actually a really rewarding experience.

  22. Chris says

    I’ve enjoyed reading this, Natalie.
    Murat (my Murat) told me that pigs are filthy animals and carry disease and that’s why they won’t eat them. And he won’t touch alcohol.
    He doesn’t have a problem with smoking though, which is probably one of the worst things people could do to themselves. Especially if they are concerned about their health and well being. Yet everywhere I went in Alanya and Elazig, I saw people smoking. Well, specifically, men. I don’t think I ever saw a woman smoking. Strange!
    As for the religious leader issue, I feel the same as you. I was brought up a Catholic and, though I turned my back on religion a long time ago, I still feel uneasy when it comes to priests. I feel a little in awe and not sure what to say.
    This goes back to my childhood in the sixties, when the priest wore a long black cassock and was a figure of fear among us kids. But he commanded respect and he got it. None of us dared answer back to Father McKenna!
    I never heard a rumour about the call to prayer being recorded. I automatically assumed that it was a tape recording! I never for one moment thought it was “live” so to speak and I still have my doubts.
    Thanks for this. I found it very interesting. I would love to have seen your face when he said he was an imam, especially after you had been swearing! I would have been equally appalled if that happened to me while conversing with someone who turned out to be a priest!

  23. yavuz says

    Hello Natalie i can confirm that Aziz ?mam at kalkan.H e is very politei person.but never ever relayed a mousque whit kas transmitted.?t is 5 times a day life and kalkan.

    • Nat says

      Hi Yavuz, thanks for that. Good to know it is five times a day and live from Kalkan. Please say hello to Aziz for me

  24. Chris says

    Natalie, you didn’t answer my post…

    • says

      I am sorry Chris, I definitely read it before so not sure why I did not answer, because I remember I wanted to respond about the smoking.

      I too have found that while alcohol is frowned upon, the same people will often smoke like a chimney and that baffles me. I know that in some of the small villages here, it is frowned upon for a woman to smoke in public, considered the action of a whore. If they do smoke, then it will be done in private only.

      Also don’t have your doubts about the call to prayer, I truly believe that is not recorded.

      Re religious figures, I feel better about them now however Aziz seems to be one of a kind. Quite a few people have got in touch to say he is a unique imam and because he speaks English, it helps him to forge bonds with the expat community. I have yet to met as priest though, so it may be my famous last words!
      Natalie wrote about..Göcek –Sophistication that is Not Part of My World

  25. says

    Love this post/interview! I learned a lot from it and think that the imam you met is really cool.

    I met one in Istanbul who made me feel pretty comfortable. I don’t remember all of the conversation because a friend was serving as interpreter. Still, I enjoyed it.

    Glad you shared this interview. I think it’s good for people to learn about people of other cultures and of other religions.
    Lisa @chickybus wrote about..Random Travel Moment #6: Meeting the Exorcist Asst. Director in Amman, #Jordan #ttot #humor

  26. zafer says

    Natalie, from the answer of the first question I can tell that you have chosen a wrong one to interview. answer is misleading. Muslims do not eat pork not because of lack of nutrients but because its not allowed. because it is banned and this is stated in Quran. this is the real reason.
    thanks generating this nice blog, I enjoy browsing it

  27. Mehmet Y?ld?z says

    Imam Aziz is a great person and a great chance for Kalkan to show foreigner how Islam is.
    He always welcomes visitors and shows around and can explain about Islam and Muslim living in Turkey. Also in his library he has lots of books in English for free delivery.

    • Nat says

      He is a wonderful man Mehmet – The people of Kalkan are lucky to have him

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