An imam in a tiny Turkish village aims to be a rock star. By day, forty two-year-old Ahmet Tuzer chants the azhan – the Islamic call to prayer - from his small mosque in the village of Pinarbasi. It's a whitewashed building serving a village of 14 households on a hillside above the idyllic town of Kas on Turkey's Mediterranean coast line.
Tuzer is one of about a hundred thousand imams in Turkey – all state employees who work in government-run Sunni mosques.
But it's his evening hobby that's attracting attention. This summer, Tuzer created the band FiRock… whose name plays off a mystical mathematical formula for creating patterns that are aesthetically pleasing.
Combining Sufi mysticism with the music of his heroes like Pink Floyd and Queen, Tuzer is spreading a message of peace, love and tolerance.
“Everything is God. Everyone is God. We believe that, and if I hurt your heart, I believe that I hurt God's heart. If we love each other, we will be very happy this life and the next life.”
It might be easy to dismiss Tuzer and FiRock as one more closet rock band, except that FiRock's guitarist, Dogan Sakin, has played with some of the biggest names in Turkish rock. And with Sakin's long, grey hair and tattoos up his arms and legs, this aging rocker is a veteran stage performer.
Sakin says they are using psychedelic rock to extend the imam's peaceful message to those who wouldn't normally be exposed to Islamic mysticism. “We could play ney and bendir [traditional Turkish instruments], but that wouldn't attract much attention,” Sakin claims. “It would be too traditional and wouldn't work. But because rock is so universal, that's what we went with.”
FiRock played its first concert to about a thousand people in the town of Kas. It got a warm reception at the show. But not everyone in the community was pleased. Tuzer says he received insults –and even threats –on social media. “Radical Islamist public, they don't like my music, my stuff because they cannot understand my opinion,” Tuzer says.
“But this is normal,”he adds.
That's not all, though. Turkey's religious directorate is now investigating the imam.
In the city of Antalya, Ahmet Celik is the mufti in charge of the mosques in the region, which includes Kas. Celik says his office is looking into Tuzer's activities. There are rules, he says, about what kind of commercial activities imams are allowed to engage in.
“We’ve got investigators looking into what Tuzer’s doing to see if it's a commercial activity. And not only that, we have certain common values in the religious directorate. And we’re trying to determine if Tuzer’s music violates these values.”
FiRock is in the midst of producing an album, so it's unclear whether a commercial release would run afoul of these religious authorities. In the meantime, the group's ambitions are far-reaching with the aim of carving out a new genre, that of Islamic rock.
Tuzer says Islamist radicals have tarnished his faith's image in many ways. His aim he says is to show that that's not the full story. “Islam is peaceful. Islam is respect. Islam is law and everything. Islam is moral – and beautiful moral,” Tuzer says. “We want to live like that.”