Turkish Communities in Europe

Societies Within Societies
By Djebbi Nasreddine
Freelance Writer

‘European’ Turkish mosque.
‘European’ Turkish mosque.

 The Turkish immigrant group is the largest Muslim community that has settled in Europe from the beginning of the 20th century. More than 5 million Turkish immigrants are disproportionately scattered throughout the European countries.

More than 3 million Turks settled down in Western Europe, of whom 2.3 million live in Germany, 380,000 in Holland and France, 210,000 in Britain, and 100,000 in Belgium. Two million live in Eastern Europe: 1.5 million in Bulgaria, and the remaining in Romania, Hungary, Austria, and Greece.

This huge number of Turkish immigrants has necessarily greatly influenced the structure of Western and Eastern Europe and has become one of the pressure elements used by the Turkish government to join the European Union. The Turks have settled in Europe and have formed their own special society within the Western societies, a feature which distinguishes them from the other immigrant communities.

A visitor to a Turkish mosque in Europe is always captivated by its eye-catching embellishments and its many towering minarets.

Sufism: The Turkish Stronghold

Sufism, which was sponsored by the Ottoman Empire during its last days, was the most important factor safeguarding Islam in Turkey.

The Turks managed to counteract Ataturk's extreme secularity by the self-seclusion of the Sufi orders, which kept themselves away from politics so as to neutralize part of the anti-Islamic policy practiced by the secular Ataturk regime.

That same Sufism, which shielded Turkey for almost a century, in the present time safeguards the immigrant Turks from melting away into the host societies. The immigrant Turks accordingly are distributed among the various Sufi sects.

The Suleymanis—attributed to Suleyman Helmi Tunakhan (1888–1959), who was one of the Ottoman scholars whose methodology stressed the building of strongholds of knowledge—follow the path of their master in building schools and educational and cultural centers, most of which include student housing.

The Naqshabbandya Order is named after its founder, Sheikh Muhammad ibn Baha'uddin ibn Lutfullah (died 1545), who used to work as a chiseler (naqqash); hence the name of the order, which became very famous across many different countries.

Their reform methodology, which stresses the protection of their religiosity, focuses on education and engagement in politics. Their name changes according to place, time, and interest. They practice their activities in the West under the name "Milli Gurus," attract many intellectuals, and mostly work with a great number of Turkish youth organizations active in the West. They also manage the affairs of many mosques. Not long ago they still received instructions from the Turkish Rufah party but now, as all the Turks, they are divided between the Arbacanians and the Erdoganians.

The Nurasi Order was established by Badee'uzaman Al-Nurasi (1876–1960), whose followers regard him as the reformer of his age and a scholar who developed a new methodology in reading Sufism, known as “the transition from theory to truth.” The Nurasi Sufis in the West are preoccupied by culture and the establishment of educational and cultural projects away from politics.

Al-Dyyiant, though not a typical Sufi order, tried to combine Turkish secularism and a religious foundation into one whole. This movement was chiefly established for helping the state monopolize religion but could never do so in the places Turks migrated to, where the Turkish community enjoys more freedom of choice.

Other Sufi orders, like Muluwees, Al-Qadyyria, etc., do not have large numbers of immigrant followers. Almost all Turks, especially the older generations, follow one of the above-mentioned orders. However, a new composition of the immigrant community includes in its fabric new generations of Turkish youth influenced by both Western and Eastern ideas. Their influence and number remain insignificant. The majority of Turkish immigrant organizations and their unions are located in Germany.

Easterners or Westerners?

The Turks in the East outside of Turkey are very few and consist of those who remained there after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire: those who escaped the persecution of Turkish secularism and students who wanted to fill the gap that the secularist deracination of religion created. On the contrary, the high ratio of Turkish immigrants to Europe, in comparison to their meager presence in the Arab countries, is deemed justified by observers.

The Europe-oriented and anti-Eastern secularism of Ataturk contributed for about a century to the diminution of Turkish immigration to the East. Moreover, the political and cultural rupture with the Arab countries following the downfall of the Ottoman Caliphate; the Turkish feeling that they were leaders not peers to the Arabs; and the fact that the European West attracted more workers during a Turkish economic depression, also contributed to the Westward, not Eastward, migration.

Turks, and especially women, tend to stick to their distinctive outer appearance.

The Turkish Identity

The Turks are one of those peoples who always adhere to their national identity and leave impressions on native residents wherever they settle. A visitor to a Turkish mosque in Europe is always captivated by its eye-catching embellishments and its many towering minarets.

Once you step in the outer fences of a mosque you notice its distinctive Turkish dimension: The imam with his all-Turkish turban leads the congregation, who all perform the same rituals in the same manner so you hardly notice any difference. Supererogatory prayers always precede the obligatory ones.

The mosque's structure, in addition to the private oratory for women, encompasses a special hall for kids in which they are taught the proper recitation of the Holy Qur'an as well as the Turkish and Arabic languages. The mosque also comprises a café, a barbershop, food shops, a library, and a lodge for wayfarers. Furthermore, many mosques have recently been equipped with modern means of communication like the Internet and telecommunication lines.

Turks, and especially women, tend to stick to their distinctive outer appearance. You can always recognize a Turkish woman from the way she ties her hijab. When exploring Turkish shops, one will notice at first sight how the Turkish buyers only deal with Turkish salespeople, despite the high prices. In return, the merchants are always keen on displaying Turkish goods. The shops have names like Istanbul, Ankara, Amra, Mulana, Turkeya, and display the same quantity and types of goods supplied in Turkey.

Turkish Media in Turkish Homes

No immigrant Turkish home lacks satellite dishes configured to receive homeland Turkish channels. The satellite Channel 7, TRTint Channel, which addresses the Turkish community abroad, and Channel 5, which favors the Turkish Sa'ada Party, attract the majority of immigrant Turkish viewers because they telecast discussions (iskelesenjak) on the various home and immigrant Turkish issues. These channels also transmit music and Sufi Mawaweel (songs in praise of the Prophet Muhammad, may Allah's peace and blessing be upon him), in addition to educational and historical serials.

It is noteworthy that even the official Turkish audience-oriented channels from the homeland have changed the types of programs they broadcast so as to attract more viewers and to cope with the new policy of the Erdogan government.

The TV channels also enliven the annual religious and national occasions such as the holy month of Ramadan, `Eids, and the Prophet’s birthday, a practice which fills in the emptiness the Turkish immigrant communities feel due to their being away from home and from the Turkish culture.

Beside TV channels, Turkish daily papers are delivered to most immigrant Turkish doorsteps whether for free or on subscription. Most of these papers are distributed all over Europe: the Zaman paper, funded by the Fat'hullah Ghullan’s Al-Nurasi group, the Turkiye paper, funded by a wealthy Turkish businessman, and the government-funded Horriyat paper. Other periodicals include European-language magazines and papers specialized in Turkish affairs and the Turkish immigrant community, which attract only a small number of Turkish readers.

The Turks scattered all over Europe have never overlooked the tragic events happening in the Muslim world.

Charities and Critical National Issues

Charitable works are always observed by the Turks wherever they settle. These works manifest themselves markedly in the relief organizations that extraordinarily helped the homeland natives overcome the economic and natural disasters Turkey has suffered during this last decade.

Aid convoys and social assistance were directly or indirectly sent to Turkey during the earthquake period. The Turkish assemblage under the Union of Turkish Investors and the Turkish Workers' Union has significantly helped collect donations for the building of schools and roads in Turkish villages and countryside.

In Europe, Turks also own thousands of mosques which have all been built with the donations of the Turkish immigrant community. Turks are also noted for seizing the opportunity to buy churches on sale and then transforming them into mosques.

The Turks scattered all over Europe have never overlooked the tragic events happening in the Muslim world. The Turks are considered one of the most generous donators for the relief of their brothers in Palestine, which they consider a sensitive issue and which stirs their sympathy. Their charity makes them feel they belong to the Muslim Ummah.


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