02 December 2010


As usual, click on photos to see them bigger.

Istanbul, Turkey: Five times a day the voices of muzzein ring out from loudspeakers on the minarets of the more than 2,500 mosques in Istanbul. It's A Man's Man's Man's World by James Brown blares out across the city. (Click on the title to see/hear a truly bizarre rendition by JB and Luciano Pavarotti.)

Okay, not really and I shouldn't make too much fun of it as one of my favorite things in the world is to hear the Muslim call to prayer in a cacophonous multitude of voices echo across a city, town or village. I don't even mind being woken up by it. (I didn't even get sick of it having lived relatively near a mosque in Jakarta for the better part of two years. I'd wake up, appreciate it, then go back to sleep.)

Turkey and Indonesia are almost certainly the least oppressive, predominately Muslim counties for women. Women in Turkey got the vote not long after they did in the U.S. and before they completely did in Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Japan and plenty of other seemingly civilized places. Modern Turkey was founded as a secular state and has for the most part done a good job of preserving that. Although these days it is being increasingly nibbled away at by Islamic politicos - something that has made many, probably most, modern Turkish women nervous.

Still, walking around Istanbul you mostly see men. The most women you see are in the new, shopping and cafe and nightlife districts around Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi - maybe as many as 30 percent of the people on the streets are women, only about one in five or so of them with their heads covered. It's where the modern young folk hang out.
Most places, however, it is mostly men - maybe 90 percent men, maybe more. They cluster in groups everywhere: drinking tea, playing cards, fishing off bridges, just shooting the shit and kicking their shoes on the cobblestones. And in some neighborhoods as many as half, or a little more, of the women you see have their heads covered. (Though it is still rare, if less so than only a couple of years ago, to see women in full purdah and with their faces covered.)Crowd of men in front of the train station.
All men drinking tea, playing cards, hanging out.
It's all men fishing off the Galata and Ataturk Bridges - we only saw one woman out of hundreds.

While even the mosques are mostly frequented by men, women are allowed in them. During prayers they are quarantined in their own small screened off areas. Presumably to avoid having their presence distract all the guys up front with a better view.When it's not prayer time, those distracting females are let loose to maintain the proper decorum in the other parts of the mosques:
But like most of the places I love in the world, I fell in love with Istanbul in part because of its contrasts and contradictions. Here are two side by side pictures of Turkish women walking in front of the womens section of the mosque of Salim the Terrible. I took the pictures about 15 seconds apart.
More to come from Turkey over the next few days.

1 comment:

Dianne Emley said...

Great article and photos. Looking forward to more.