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And Then We Work for God: Rural Sunni Islam in Western Turkey by Kimberly Hart (review)
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In And Then We Work for God, Kimberly Hart examines how Turkish villagers interpret and practice Sunni Islam in their daily lives. She focuses on two villages — Yeniyurt and Kayalarca — both are located in the Yuntdağ region, a mountainous area north of the city of Manisa in Aegean Turkey. Hart observes that "For villagers, Islam is a path to the next world" (p. 2). Thus, the book explores how villagers in the Yuntdağ region "prepare for this other world by ‘working for God’ in this one" (p. 2). The author maintains that villagers interpret their practice of Sunni Islam by looking at three sources: cultural Islamic traditions, state version of Islam delivered by the Presidency of Religious Affairs or the Diyanet, and Islamic brotherhoods and communities (p. 2). According to Hart, "Men find the mosque and thereby the state’s official Islam a home for their practice; but women, who avoid the mosque, locate spirituality in places and times outside the mosque — the Ottoman past in Yeniyurt or neo-Islamist future in Kayalarca — and thereby outside the state control of Islam" (p. 15). She argues that "The mixture of sources for Sunni Islam shows that Islam itself is in a state of flux, open to interpretation and transformation" (p. 2).

Hart observes that "Yeniyurt and Kayalarca villages, a mere kilometer apart, differ significantly in forms of Islamic practice" (p. 16). The villagers in Yeniyurt take pride of their nomadic "Yörük" culture (p. 17); within this framework the author mentions that the villagers weave kilim carpets and emphasize passing traditional kilim patterns to the next generation (p. 18). With respect to Islam, the villagers also "deliberately sustain old and traditional practices" (p. 17) such as saint veneration, attachment to miracle tales, practice of preserving Sakal-ı Şerif (the hair of the Prophet Muhammad), and rain prayers (pp. 19, 117–34).

The villagers in Kayalarca, on the other hand, focus on "innovation — in both the economic and spiritual spheres" (p. 17). Kayalarca villagers, who earn their lives by carpet weaving, managed by a weaving cooperation, regard their nomadic Yörük heritage as embarrassing and a sign of backwardness. The villagers perceive themselves as "savvy businesspeople" (p. 22), and they refer to their nomadic past only when it "heightens the romance of women carpets for customers" (p. 22). Unlike those in Yeniyurt, Kayalarca villagers pursue a "relaxed and open attitude toward influences coming from the outside" (p. 21). They allow "Islamic associations or tarikats to enter the village for special occasions, engagement and marriage parties," send their children to the Süleymancı brotherhood’s Qur’an courses, hold women’s Friday gatherings, make the sixth-month henna celebrations, and allow women visit graves during the last day of the Ramadan (the Day of ‘Arafa), while still keeping their nomadic tradition of rain prayers. (pp. 22–23, 134–140).

One of the major problems of the book is its descriptive nature. The book does not analyze the reasons Yeniyurt and Kayalarca villagers interpret Sunni Islam in different ways and when this divergence started. The author does not explore if there is a relationship between the development of carpet-weaving business in Kayalarca village and the growth of the Süleymancı brotherhood’s influence among the villagers, particularly given the Süleymancıs’ connections to Germany; thus, the brotherhood’s potential for providing business benefits to the villagers. After conducting a decade of research, Hart does not provide an analysis of the changes and continuities among Kayalarca villagers’ interpretations of Sunni Islam and secularism in Turkey due to their close relationships with the Süleymancıs. She also does not provide reasons for why some villagers opt for a secular lifestyle (p. 12) instead of an Islamic one when they migrate to urban areas. Hart’s treatment of the state’s official Islam, as if it has not been in a state flux, is problematic, given that she does not take into account how various Islamic brotherhoods had successfully increased their influence over the Diyanet since the 1980s.

Yet, most problematic are crucial mistakes regarding basic facts of Turkish history and politics. Among many others, the most important mistakes can be enlisted as...


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