After the three panelists had concluded their presentations at a conference on “Iran in Perspective” (at the Universities at Shady Grove in North Potomac, Maryland, 10-13-2018), I asked the panelists the following question: what were their thoughts on the possibility of Turkey and the Islamic Republic of Iran coming together in a grand Islamic Union — economically, politically, culturally, even militarily — to stand as an international coalition against the mischief in the region perpetrated by the Zionist and Saudi regimes and Western imperialist powers? The panelist who responded was quite adamant that such a union would never come to fruition because, as he put it, Turkey was in the hip pocket of the United States and the West by virtue of its membership in NATO. I retorted that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was showing some inclination of bucking Turkey’s NATO membership by displaying interest in purchasing military hardware from Russia, which, of course, is antithetical to NATO’s reason for being. Again, the panelist reiterated that a Turkish union with Iran was impossible. He went on to give several reasons but none of them addressed the issue from the point of view of events on the ground that were set in motion just over a year ago.
The events on the ground are the list of 13 outlandish demands that the Saudi regime presented to Qatar and the almost immediate response of Turkey and Iran in coming to Doha’s aid. In June 2017, Muhammad bin Salman (MbS), the ruthless, rogue Saudi crown prince, issued a 13-point list of insulting demands to Qatar. These included Qatar’s shutting down its international broadcast station, al-Jazeera, and closing Iran’s diplomatic missions! Doha was told to comply with these demands in 10 days or face sanctions! Qatar did not budge, and with the 10-day expiration period, MbS imposed an embargo on Qatar, including the total suspension of food imports, most of which came through the Saudi Kingdom. However, Turkey and the Islamic Republic of Iran immediately came to Qatar’s rescue, shipping in foodstuffs to replace those cut off by the Saudis!
It was this immediate response by Turkey and Iran in rescuing tiny Qatar from the evil clutches of the Saudi regime that triggered the idea in my mind about the two countries coming together in a grand coalition of two great Muslim countries — one “Shi‘i” the other “Sunni” — in standing up against not only the Saudis but the ever-expanding political and economic imperialism of America and the genocidal oppression of Israel. My hope at last October’s conference was that there would be some like-minded response from the panel, but it was not to be.
The following morning (Sunday, 10-14-2018), after returning from Fajr Prayer in a nearby masjid, I sat down to breakfast with the latest copy of Crescent International as I usually do on Sunday mornings. I opened directly to an article titled “What/who will replace the US dollar” by Maksud Djavadov and began to read. Ultimately, I came to the following passage,
Despite severe sanctions on Iran, its scientific output rose 18-fold between 1996 and 2008. Putting aside the continued mistaken and deliberate misrepresentation put out by the West, today Islamic Iran is in a far better position politically, socially, and economically. Even some of its detractors admit that economically Iran is better off today than it was in 2008… Turkey, a NATO member, is also slowly drifting away from Washington” (CI, V47, N8).
“Allahu akbar,” I exclaimed! Joy after disappointment! Clearly, Brother Maksud seemed to be hinting at a move by Turkey toward a more independent posture in international affairs. Could there be an opportunity here for closer relations with Iran, a country with which Turkey shares a border? Then, I suddenly remembered I had another intellectual comrade who had also hinted at the possibility of an Iran-Turkey union. This is none other than Br. Abu Dharr, a regular columnist for Crescent International. I couldn’t remember the exact issue of CI I had originally found Abu Dharr’s comments in, but after going through my stack of back issues, I found his article titled “Saudi sectarianism: a disease characterized by hardening of the categories.” Br. Abu Dharr makes the following observation,
It should be noted here that even though there is a strong Islamic current in today’s Turkey, that current carries within it a deep-seated affinity with its Ottoman past and wants to compel a Pax ‘Uthmania (Ottomanica) wherever it can extend its Islamic influence. There is no doubt that both histories, (Persian and Turkic) had elements of a sectarian trend in them, as there is no doubt that both countries still have sectarian trends within them today. The difference is that the Islamic inclination in Turkey with all its secular foils has not been able to make a clean break from the mistakes of the past (without disparaging the accomplishments of that same past) and join hands with Islamic Iran on a post-sectarian strategy that has the very real potential of reviving the Muslim Ummah (emphasis added, CI, V47, N2).
Now, in the face of my intellectual colleague Maksud hinting at the possibility of an Islamic union between Iran and Turkey from the economic point of view and my intellectual colleague Abu Dharr articulating the potentiality of an Islamic union between Iran and Turkey from the political point of view if certain historical and sectarian problems could be overcome, it was now time for me to chime in with my own views that I had been holding to myself for more than a year. In short, I have been nourishing a particular view that I feel would facilitate President Erdogan of Turkey and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran in coming together and holding talks based upon a psychological aspect of religion that I see.
More specifically, I see both leaders’ sensitivity to Ahl al-Bayt — the House of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) — as a psychological backdrop that would serve as an important motivator to the union of the two great countries from a spiritual point of view. Before elucidating this psychological-spiritual backdrop, a brief historical review is in order.
In the early years of the Gregorian 19th century as the ‘Uthmani Sultanate was approaching the last century of its six-century rule over much of the Muslim world, a learned religious man of Kurdish ancestry, Khalid al-Baghdadi had traveled to India and had become a member there of the famous Naqshbandi Sufi Order. He rose rapidly through the ranks until he himself became a master of the Naqshbandi teachings. As a result of his mastery, he became a teacher and guide and gathered a significant number of murids (disciples) under his leadership.
Imam Khalid began to infuse his spiritual teachings with political warnings of the negative impact of encroaching European culture and colonial rule over Muslim societies. In short, he was extremely hostile to European imperialism. As a result, he dispatched no less than 116 disciples all across the Muslim world to instruct Muslims in this special politically oriented strand of Naqshbandi teaching. In so doing, this brand of Sufi teaching — a politically charged approach to spirituality — became known as the Naqshbandi-Khalidi order. In the early-1800s through one of Imam Khalid’s disciples, this teaching arrived in Istanbul, then the political center of the Sultanate and now the economic, cultural, and historic center of the modern Republic of Turkey.
By the early-20th century, the Naqshbandi-Khalidi order was firmly established throughout Turkey as the Sultanate began to fall apart. The actual fall began in 1908 with the rise of the Young Turks precipitating a revolt against it. In the meantime, Europe was in the midst of World War I. The British, in their push eastward, entered Istanbul in 1920 having already taken military control of that part of Eastern Europe formerly under ‘Uthmani rule.
In 1921, the Young Turks, now under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal, militarily confronted the Greeks, allied with the British, and defeated them at Sakarya, a region just east of Istanbul. The victory was all the more gratifying for Kemal and the Young Turks because they were seriously outnumbered and poorly equipped compared to Greek forces. With such resounding victory, Mustafa Kemal and his Young Turks were able to stand their ground and demand the removal of the British and their allies from Turkish soil, thus saving Turkish homeland from direct European rule.
By 1923, Kemal had solidified his victory by officially abolishing whatever was left of the khilafah and establishing himself as the first president of the new Turkish Republic. In 1924, he sent the last ‘Uthmani khalifah/sultan, ‘Abd al-Majid, into exile in Switzerland.
In abolishing the khilafah, Mustafa Kemal established a strict secular state. His so-called reforms were designed to abolish all outward symbols of Islam in Turkey. He even went so far as to ban the Hijab (head covering for Muslim women) and encouraged Muslims to take Turkish names rather than the Islamic names they had taken for centuries. The official state assault on Islam forced the practice of Islam to go underground for the next 25 years. During this time Islamic practice and culture survived in Turkey through the Sufi orders, principally the Naqshbandi-Khalidi Order, which had been established in Turkey more than 100 years earlier.
It must be understood that in Turkey the Naqshbandi-Khalidi Sufi Order — in conjunction with other Sufi orders such as the Qadiriyya and the Mevlitiyya — were the fertile ground, indeed the launching pad, for the resurgence of Islam in Turkey as we see it today.
It was in the Naqshbandi-Khalidi jama‘ah — or community — based at the Iskenderpasa Masjid in Istanbul that saw the birth of the Milli Gorus, “The National Front Movement,” as developed and led by Dr. Necmettin Erbakan in the mid-1960s. Under the leadership of Dr. Erbakan, the task of bringing Islam back to the mainstream of Turkish life and thus start pushing back on the strict secularist state created by Kemal, began.
The Milli Gorus began as a manifesto written by Dr. Erbakan that spoke about the need to develop Islamic moral and religious education in tandem with industrialization, socio-economic development, and economic independence. The Milli Gorus Manifesto condemned in strong terms European imperialism and colonialism, as well as Zionism. It warned against getting too close to Europe considering the European Common Market to be a Zionist and Catholic project for the assimilation and de-Islamization of Turkey. Instead, the Milli Gorus strongly advocated for the development of pan-Islamism. Its ideology, as it developed into a political-religious movement, was the main thrust behind a series of Islamic political parties inspired by Dr. Erkaban, one succeeding the other, as they were each ultimately banned for violating Turkey’s strict secularist political structure.
Erdogan, the current president of Turkey, also a product of the Naqshbandi-Khalidi Order and an early member of the Milli Gorus Movement, eventually took a different approach by softening the message of the parent organization that enabled him to eventually gain the leadership of Turkey in spite of the official secularist posture of the state. His ascendancy to power essentially revealed the basic allegiance of the Turkish people to Islam and also the importance of Sufism, particularly as represented by the Naqshbandi-Khalidi Sufi Order.
History makes it abundantly clear that the Sufi orders in Turkey protected Islam from the onslaught of Mustafa Kemal’s secularism and that these same orders acted as a launching pad for the revival of Islamic values in all walks of life. That being the case, does the Sufi practice and mindset in Turkey have anything to offer in bringing together the two great countries and peoples in Iran and Turkey that I and others such as my intellectual colleagues Abu Dharr and Maksud Djavadov see as offering a powerful counterweight to the never-ending imperialist aggression of the West, particularly that of the United States? My ensuing argument (in follow-up articles) would attempt to assert the centrality of the Turkish Sufi mindset in helping to realize a geopolitical union between Iran and Turkey.
[Muhammad Ali Alula Al-Hashimi, PhD, is a Senior Lecturer of Islamic Finance at Euclid University, (Pole Universitaire Euclid), www.euclid.int]