Turkish Religious Body Denies ‘Rockin’ Imam’ Permission for Portugal Concert

TURKEY, Kas : TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY BURAK AKINCI Turkish imam and rock musician Ahmet Muhsin Tuzer poses with his guitar on April 27, 2013 in Kas. The imam from a tiny hamlet on Turkey's Mediterranean coast has run into trouble with the country's powerful religious authorities -- …

A man known in Turkey as the “Rockin’ Imam” has been denied permission to give a concert in Portugal by Turkey’s religious enforcement authority, the Diyanet. Imam Ahmet Muhsin Tüzer says his concert would have been “an important publicity opportunity” for Islam in the West.

Tüzer, an imam in the town of Kas in southern Antalya province, has become an international sensation after videos of his rock band, FiRock, performing odes to Allah spread online. He has since given concerts throughout Turkey and was even granted a visa to travel to and perform in New York. His performance at the Serralves Museum in Porto, Portugal, had been approved by Turkey’s Cultural Ministry, he says, before the Diyanet revoked their decision to allow the show to go on.

“An important publicity opportunity has been missed at a time when Turkish tourism is suffering due to [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK terrorism and the war in Syria,” Tüzer said in a statement, referring to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s ongoing efforts to eradicate the PKK. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly blamed the Marxist Kurdish group, which is a U.S. designated terror organization, of numerous bombings in Turkey’s largest cities.

“It could have transformed the dark image of Islam to a peaceful image. I was going to introduce Eastern culture to Westerners,” Tüzer’s statement continued, “I do not know how to explain this decision to those who invited me.” He is demanding Diyanet head Mehmet Görmez take a second look at the case.

Tüzer insists that his music should not be offensive to any religious authority, as a religious authority himself. “God knows there is nothing un-Islamic about the music we were going to play,” he told Al Jazeera, warning that he was open to suing the Diyanet if they did not reconsider. Al Jazeera notes that a Diyanet representative told them the agency would explain their decision on Wednesday.

Tüzer’s music is largely guitar-driven power ballads with lyrics praising Allah. He has been profiled around the world for his use of Western-infused music to present Islam as focused on Allah’s peace, rather than Allah’s wrath.

Tüzer has passed inspection from the Diyanet before. In 2013, the Diyanet placed his music under investigation and found it to conform to the standards of traditional Islam. He was let off with a warning for comments he made about the investigation, not for the music himself. At the time, a member of the Diyanet’s press team told Al Jazeera the issue with FiRock was that Tüzer “didn’t seek any permission from any of our officials, and he went ahead and recorded some video and audio clips. That’s why we are conducting an investigation.”

“The image of Islam in the world is suffering. We need to remember that one of the main tenets of Islam is tolerance; it is to accept every human being as he or she is,” Tüzer said then of his music, arguing that he was “bringing people closer to God.” He noted in a 2015 interview with Al Monitor that he has received significant support in Turkey outside of radical Islamic circles. “I have received so many positive messages from atheists, deists, not-so-observant Muslims and Ataturkists,” he said.

Conservative and radical Islamists have been less receptive to his message. In 2015, the government of Saudi Arabia denied him permission to perform a concert within their borders. “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,” he said then. Saudi Arabia denied him a visa for entry into the country, without explanation as to why.