Turkish imam Ahmet Muhsin Tüzer has found an innovative way to reach out to the believers in his and other congregations: forming a rock band, FiRock, to sing the praises of Allah. While Tüzer has played gigs all over the world, one Muslim country has denied him entry– Saudi Arabia, which he calls especially “painful” because of Saudi Arabia’s official status as a Muslim state.
Speaking to Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News, Tüzer explained that he had been invited to Saudi Arabia to perform in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on February 18. Not anticipating any rejection from the state, he and his band scheduled the concert, but have had to cancel since his visa request was denied.
“Twice I have given concerts in the United States, a non-Muslim country. But the fact that an Islamic country like Saudi Arabia rejected my visa application is thought-provoking,” Tüzer told Turkey’s Doğan News Agency this week. While the concert was explicitly noted as the reason for his visit, Tüzer noted that the Saudi government had not given him a reason for denying his request. Like the government of Saudi Arabia, Tüzer is a Sunni Muslim.
Tüzer has made a name for himself with his musical outlet FiRock, which performs Muslim-themed songs. While described as a “rock ‘n’ roll imam,” the style of his music is much more in the modern Turkish pop style, and to American ears may come across as sound similar to adult contemporary or Christian rock in the United States. Below, for example, is the official music video for the FiRock single “Come to God”:
Other songs in his catalogue are closer to rock with Turkish influence. Speaking to NPR in 2013, he described his music as “rock, Sufi mysticism, psychedelic rock; it’s a bit like Pink Floyd.”
FiRock has performed in the United States– something Tüzer noted as evidence that his music is welcomed even in non-Muslim countries– presenting more upbeat fare at a concert in New York last October:
The rock imam has not escaped controversy in his home country, however. As the Washington Post reported in June, his case was brought up for disciplinary religious review, though it was “unprecedented… there have not been any — to date — public cases of Turkish imams forming rock bands.” Turkey’s religious authorities, under current President Tayyip Recep Erdogan, reprimanded Tüzer for comments he made against the investigation itself, but permitted him to continue making music. Under Erdogan’s increasingly Islamist rule, any sign of countercultural messaging in his music could have led to legal problems.
Following his acquittal, Tüzer’s life was made into the subject of a novel in Turkey.