Islamists in Turkey have once again taken to the streets to protest New Year’s Eve celebrations, warning that use of Western imagery such as Santa Claus and the tradition of exchanging presents is corrosive to Muslim culture.
As Daily Sabah explains, New Year’s celebrations are relatively new to Turkey, and the country has imported many Western traditions as a result. Turkey adopted the Gregorian calendar over the Islamic one in 1926, and storefronts have in the past few decades begun to decorate for New Year’s Eve using Christmas imagery. Santa Claus, Christmas trees, lights, and garland are common. Turks exchange gifts at the end of the year. The also, the newspaper notes, believe wearing red underwear to herald in the new year will bring good luck.
The fact that Saint Nicholas was born in Turkey has done little to dissuade Islamist groups from protesting “Noel Baba,” or Father Christmas.
“Muslim Eid is Tuesday. Friday is the Muslim feast. Christmas is the day Christians. Christians can celebrate as they wish,” explained protester Bulent Gurpinar in a statement before 60 protesters in front of a Christmas tree near the Maltepe Central Mosque. Turkish news reports note that similar statements in the form of signs surfaced in shopping malls that had chosen to decorate with Christmas trees. One note at a mall in Brandium read: “We are the Ummah of the Prophet Muhammad who brought prayer from his ascent to heaven, not of Santa Claus who brings presents for the New Year.”
Images of similar protests can be found on Twitter:
— BirGün Gazetesi (@BirGun_Gazetesi) December 23, 2015
In an extensive piece at Al Monitor, Riada Ašimović Akyol notes that the increasingly visible presence of Christmas protests appears to echo a change in the government’s religion authority, the Diyanet, which was far more lenient regarding New Year’s celebrations a decade ago than it was today. Akyol notes that, in 2003, the Diyanet described a New Year’s Eve celebration as part of “universal culture,” not Christian culture, and thus was acceptable for Muslims to partake in. While the Diyanet has not rescinded that statement, they have warned that overly festive occasions can sever important ties between Muslims and their religion.
Akyol notes the Twitter hashtag “Musluman noel kutlamaz” (“Muslims do not celebrate Christmas”) has grown increasingly popular among Islamists. Some have used the message to even argue that Jesus and his mother, Mary, were Muslims, and Christianity is a deviant cult founded by Saint Paul:
— Mustafa SARIYER (@msariyerx) December 21, 2015
These protests are not new, though the behavior of the Diyanet in recent years – and the increasingly popularity of Islamism under the Islamist ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) – have made many grow increasingly concerned regarding this reaction to secularism. In 2013, CNN wrote of similar protests by groups in Istanbul, in which Islamists displayed a giant Santa Claus surrounded by beer bottles and a cross to depict him as morally corrupt. “They also distributed an image of a man delivering a brutal left hook to Santa’s bearded cheek,” CNN notes.
Prominent secularists in Turkey have taken with zeal to condemning the Islamist movement against New Year’s Eve. Ahmet Hakan, a columnists for Hurriyet, wrote a scathing column this week titled, simply, “Out of Pure Spite, I Will Celebrate New Year’s.” In the column, Hakan condemns the “ignorance” of those who believe New Year’s Eve is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. ” Urging protesters to “mind your own business,” Hakan also suggests that Muslim motifs are inferior to Christian motifs and deserve their lack of popularity internationally compared to images like Santa Claus and reindeer:
Are you complaining by saying “But in these entertainments certain Christian motifs are being used?” Well then, sit down and think: Why isn’t everyone in the world imitating Muslim motifs but using Christian ones? Don’t you have a say in that?
Hakan’s column is among the first to be published since suspected AKP supporters beat him publicly in October, forcing the columnist to be hospitalized for some time. The beating followed remarks by a columnist in a pro-Erdogan publication telling Hakan he was “lucky you are still alive.“