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Volume 6, No 1, Spring 1996 [back]


Levent Baştürk

Part 1 of this article was published in anadolu vol. 5, no. 4, Winter 1995.

The Role of Media in Integrating Muslims into Consumer Culture

In terms of consumption of images as commodity, the emergence of "Muslim media" constitutes another impressive case. Muslim media has emerged with the claim to transmit the Islamic message to the masses and to confront the negative image presented by the mainstream media against the Islamic oriented segments. Although the Muslim media, whose center of gravity is the tarikat and cemaat television and radio channels and publications (dailies, weeklies, and monthlies), emerged as a counter-balance against the mainstream media, it has been an important source to introduce modern life-styles to the masses. Thus, it began to take on the role of integrating religious segments into consumer culture. [6] Consequently, "Islamization" of an aspect of modern life leads to selective adoption of the prevailing stylistic features of consumption culture.

The image of the "acceptable Muslim" presented by the "Muslim media" is the one who dresses with the favorite brands and behaves in a "civilized" manner (re-stylization of Muslim identity). Like television channels of mainstream media, talk-shows started appear on "Islamic" television channels which contributes to the presentation of a mediatic/artistic personality as an ideal type. This ideal type reflects a modern consumer identity whose consciousness is under the influence of the process of production and consumption. According to Yıldırım, a review of the Islamic periodicals, television channels, and radio stations will show how consumerism began to be widespread among the religious segments. [7] Nilgün T. Küçük, based upon her research which compares the characteristics of advertisements in two woman magazines (one advocates modern urban life-styles, the other loyalty to the religious identity) concludes that both magazines are the carriers of a consumerist ideology associated with the consumer society. [8]

Yıldırım argues that Muslim media plays the role of an instructor in the process in the formation of consumerist identity and consciousness among religious oriented masses because the colors, designs, symbols, and language used in the commercials and advertisements are, to a great extent, impose the attitudes and habits of the modern world. Various aspirations and emotions of individuals are identified with various consumer products. Thus, the leaning to consumption began to be a widespread phenomenon. [9]

Another influence of the proliferation of media which contributes to the integration of Islamic segments into the consumer culture is that the reader or the audience began to be perceived as a potential customer for the commodities being marketed. Therefore, as a side business to the media company, they established marketing companies. This furthers the process of transforming the audience who share common values into a consumer block.

In this context, the transformation of the tarikat and cemaat structures into holding companies has to be viewed with caution. Instead of talking about the worthlessness of this world (dünya), the şeyh or hocaefendi will begin to talk about the necessity of producing and making profit under the influence of modern market relations. This is obviously an Islamic version of Puritanism which opens the road for secularism. This process will also change the structure of the tarikat and cemaat and lead to the construction of a new hierarchy determined by successful business management and marketing rather than zühd (ascetism) and takva (God-wariness). [10]

Knowledge and Market

With the proliferation of the means of mass communications, knowledge has also began to be transformed into a commodity item for Islamic segments. The channels of transmitting Islamic knowledge has been changed with the influence of media. The interference of television, radio, newspapers, journals, etc. between the receiver and knowledge lessened the authority of traditional religious scholars and increased the role of modern "Muslim intellectuals" who meet their secular opponents on television debates and write in newspapers and magazines about the current intellectual matters. The proliferation of so-called Islamic media provided the Muslim intellectuals with the means to reach a large audience.

At a time when everything is under the influence of the market, Muslim intellectuals develop their arguments in accordance with what the market demands. Therefore, as we will discuss in this study later, they generously barrow from postmodernist debates in their discussions with the former intellectual center and their criticism of radical Islamic formations and their celebration of tarikats and cemaats. The market value of what they supply (knowledge) has been increased by their criticism of radical and political Islam and their advocacy of civil society based on pluralist projects and democracy. During the process which transforms values into market commodities, they preferred to be called "Muslim intellectuals" rather than "Islamist intellectuals." While they present radical Islam as a totalitarian project, they try to develop socio-political projects which assure peaceful co-existence of different world views and life-styles and celebrate diversity (as in postmodernists).

Reproduced Image of Religious Leaders in a Consumer Society

In a society in which the images began to be consumed, the tarikat and cemaat leaders revised their ways of communicating with the public. Previously those who avoid any openness to the public (except preaching) began to use media to strengthen their position began to use media to strengthen their positions and images. A cemaat leader even appeared on a television commercial of a newspaper by his group. The tarikat and cemaat leaders are presented as the genuine light and infallibility is attributed to their personality. Although elements of the folk Islam has been used in the construction of infallibility (such as being and alim who has keramet and experiences ilham) the new context in which the infallibility has been structured is completely different from the historical context which shaped the folk Islam. What is interesting is that the receivers of the image of tarikat and cemaat leaders are, in many instances, socially mobile and educated segments of society. Indeed, these socially mobile and educated adherents of tarikat and cemaat establishments are those who contributed to the growth of the popular support to their organizations during the late 1980s and 1990s. In addition, the image of infallibility has found the most fertile ground during the time when the most sophisticated intellectual debates have been exchanged between Islamic circles and their secular opponents.

At this point, I believe that commercialization and consumption of values have great role in explaining the increased popularity of the tarikat and cemaat establishments in Turkey since 1980s. Religious motives are being consumed to get satisfaction, pleasure, and status out of this consumption. For many, affiliation with these establishments do not go beyond the consumption of values. This is the outcome of an effort to channel potential religio-political opposition into safe harbors by reproduction of images. The opposition to the political system has been reduced to the criticism of Kemalism and Turkish laicism; and political demands of religious masses has been reduced to the occupation of some bureaucratic and political positions by "religious" persons.

Being a part of the tarikat and cemaat (without encouragement of any search to the right method and action toward the right goal) has been presented as the guarantee for the paradise by consumerist logic of religiosity. The followers have been encouraged to believe that the books inherited from their previous ustads (such as Said Nursi) and knowledge of their present leader (alim, hocaefendi, or şeyh) are enough to understand Islam and the world. In order to keep the adherents of the cemaat under control, these establishments have benefitted from a closed ideology which provides explanation for all possible questions of the adherents. For gaining public favor and new adherents, they use very general statements in public discourse that can be interpreted in various ways in various circumstances.

Furthermore, the leader is presented as being endowed with some God-given supra-human attributes. Nevertheless, these supra-human attributes are not explained to the audience directly. The use some religious motive causes the receiver to perceive the message. For example, in one of his preachings, Fethullah Gülen explains that, in his dream, he was standing up in front of gates of hell to prevent the people from rushing into it like a flood. In the end, he could not resist and longer and withdrew from the struggle. But Gülen, confident of himself, swears on God that none of those who listened to him as that moment were rushing into hell in his dream.

In an another preaching session, Gülen talked about the loss of the warrior spirit as the cause of the Islamic decline. But Gülen gave good news to his audience: "I was informed, I know that new conquerors (Fatihler), new Grims (Yavuzlar) will come; [11] I see them among this community." referring to his audience at the time. Gülen's certainty and confidence about being informed is strengthened by the propaganda that Gülen frequently dreams the Prophet and gets his guidance.

The closed ideology in Gülen's cemaat is strengthened by the image of his writings on Said Nursi, considered as the muctehid of the 20th century (even the last muctehid by some) as a source which has answers to almost every issue. Any criticism of Said Nursi's works is not tolerated at all. The followers are convinces that listening to Fethullah Gülen's preaching tapes and reading of Said Nursi's works will strengthened their faiths.

Such a mind set is constricted by the manipulation of the concept of alim to the extent that the desire for free investigation is killed. If a person is not an alim, his efforts will be fruitless to understand Islam. Therefore, it is necessary for an ordinary Muslim to follow an alim to be rescued form the pitfalls of his efforts in understanding the religion. An ordinary person cannot criticize an alim because his lack of enough capacity and knowledge. Therefore, almost all cemaats and many other tarikats encourage their followers to stick with certain works. Moreover, Nurcu cemaats, such as Fethullah Gülen's, argue that a careful study of Said Nursi's works for a complete year will make a reader an alim. o


Ergun Yıldırım, "İslamın Medyatikleşmesi Sorunu," Nehir, No. 17, February 1995, pp. 36-38.
Yıldırım, ibid., pp. 37.
Nilgün Tutal Küçük, "İdeolojik Bir Örtü: Geleneksel ve Modern Kadın İkiliği," Birikim, No. 59, March 1994, pp. 77. As a result of my own research of advertisements in the Islamic publications (including those of the radicals) I divided advertisements into two categories:
  1. those that encourage consumption by using religious expressions (for example, see İzlenim (monthly), No. 6, June 1993, pp. 69; İzlenim (weekly), No. 1:9, pp. 47; İzlenim (weekly) No. 1:10, 7 May 1994, pp. 34 and 63; Nehir (monthly), No. 4, January 1994, pp. 80; Değişim (monthly), No. 14, May 1994, inside cover.)
  2. those that encourage consumption with reference to gaining status and pleasure: advertisement of the Turkish manufacturer of Pierre Cardin can be seen in most Islamic publications: Nehir, No. 17, February 1995, pp. 1 (it is interesting that in this issue of the magazine, Ergun Yıldırım criticizes the consumerism of the Muslim media), Nehir, No. 7-8, April-May 1995, pp. 1; Aksiyon, No. 1:2, 17-23 Aralık 1994, back cover; İzlenim, No. 1, 2 April 1995, pp. 1. The automobile advertisement of Yeni Dünya is an excellent example of what Yıldırım criticizes, No. 8, May 1994. Most of the advertisements in Islamic magazines are in this category. Even the magazines and journals known for their critical approach to modernity and consumer culture are not exempted from this rule. Especially İzlenim constitutes a noticeable in this respect.
Yıldırım, "İslamın Medyatikleşmesi..." pp. 37.
Ali Bulaç, "Modern Dünya ile Çatışma ve Uyumdan Modernliği Aşmaya," Bilgi ve Hikmet, No. 8, Fall 1994, pp. 12.

If the full integration of religious masses to the modern relations of production is realized, the expected outcome would be the adoption of individualist, consumerist, rationalist, and secular value structure of modernity. In this context, relationship of the Motherland Party governments with the tarikat and cemaat circles were not concessions from secularism. Indeed, it was an attempt to construct the "Turkish secularism" without denying cultural features of society.

These are references to the Ottoman sultans Mehmed II and Selim I.

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