ANTALYA – A Turkish imam and muezzin of a small mosque in the village of Pinarbasi, southern Antalya, has come under criticism after founding a rock band with his musician friends, as religious authorities opened an investigation on whether his hobby conflicts with his religious calling.
"What I believe is that if the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was alive today, he would definitely approve of what I'm doing," Ahmet Muhsin Tuzer told NPR on Saturday, November 2.
"What I do is try to create good feelings and good thoughts in people's minds. How can this be wrong? I don't think it's wrong."
Tuzer, 42, is imam and muezzin of the mosque in the village of Pinarkoy, southern Antalya.
Controversy surrounding him started earlier this summer when he launched FiRock band with a group of musicians, including veteran Turkish rock guitarist Dogan Sakin.
The new band hit headlines when it gave its first concert at a yacht marina in Kaş last August, shortly after their first video clip, “Mevlaya Gel” (Follow the Master), was recorded.
They plan to release an album soon.
"Rock, Sufi mysticism, psychedelic rock; it's a bit like Pink Floyd," he says.
"We record sacred songs and originals. We want to embrace everyone, so we don't limit our music."
All imams in Turkey are civil servants hired and paid by the Diyanet, the General Directorate of Religious Affairs, a state institution which manages the country's 80,000 mosques.
Nicknamed the "rocking imam", Tuzer may contravene state and religious conventions with his musical career.
Last August, Antalya Mufti Ahmet Çelik said the group would be investigated.
“Being an imam is not ordinary public service. This situation could be normal for other public servants, but not for us,” Çelik said.
Message of Love
Defending his hoppy, Tuzer says he's not making money from his music and there's nothing in his lyrics that could offend anyone.
"Islam has had a bad reputation, and can seem like a frightening thing," he says.
"But the people who send me messages say, 'We like what you're doing, we need you for the enlightened future of Turkey.'”
Getting a growing attention from villagers, his music was finding support from unexpected people.
“I got one letter from an atheist, who said, 'I respect what you do and support you.' That was a big gift for me," Tuzer said.
Tuzer’s rock band is not the first challenge he takes as he got married to a Christian wife, Mara, who converted later to Islam.
"The essence of Islam is love, I believe," she says.
"As I focused on mysticism, I became more attracted to it and I decided on my own to convert. There was no pressure."
Music is an issue that has been hotly debated by scholars of the past and the present.
According to Muslim scholars, music that is deemed to be free of un-Islamic and unethical themes and messages, the same is true of musical instruments so long as they are not used for the above, have been considered as permissible.
But, Islam clearly prohibits mixed dancing of males and females.
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