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Ali owns an icon and picture shop in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. If you were to ask me how to navigate to his shop I couldn’t tell you, but if you pushed for an answer I would say that from Gate 2 you take the first right at the pottery stall, first right at the lamp shop, second left at the T-shirts, third right at the carpets, second left at the fabrics and materials shop and then walk to the very end of the alley past the gold and jewellery shops.
However, I may have miscounted. Kismet brought me to Ali’s shop, not directions, not left, right, and straight on. Kismet is more than fate, more than destiny, as, from my understanding, the will of Allah is involved. This was one of the many ideas that Ali and I discussed over tea after I had purchased an item from him. I asked him how business had been. “Some days are good, some days are not, but I cannot control who comes to my shop – this is Kismet – did you know you were coming here when you entered the bazaar?” I shook my head. “How could you when there are many gates and over 4,000 shops here in the bazaar? Perhaps, right now, there is an American sitting at an airport who tomorrow will spend $5,000 in my shop.” “How do you find Americans?” “Two came into my shop recently – ‘Oh I love your country’, ‘Oh I love your chicken kebabs’, they said. I asked them if they had been to Greece and they said no. I could tell they were not telling the truth – this was not the whole story. They couldn’t be honest with me because they thought that Turks and Greeks hate each other – they thought that if they told me they’d been to Greece that I would attack them. They think that Muslims attack people.” “What are other visitors like?” “Some people like you understand. In fact you understand more than you think, but most Westerners don’t understand the way we think. People can’t accept that we think differently and that Kismet plays a role in our lives. They believe we should all think like Westerners and some people get angry about this. A man came in with a friend, I think from Belgium and asked about a certain item and I said I might be able to help him. He asked when and I said I wasn’t sure. He did not like that answer and stormed out of the shop.” “How could you have known?” “You can’t know everything; you can’t know when something will happen. You can work hard to make something happen, but that doesn’t mean it will happen. This is kismet – the will of God, the will of Allah. Only he can make this happen.” “That’s fate then, that’s destiny.” “It is but there is something else too, which is the will of Allah. For something to happen you need to work hard, very hard, but then you need the will of Allah for it to happen – it won’t happen without that and it won’t happen if you don’t work hard in the first place. It’s a combination of hard work and Kismet.” “What’s your view of the Taleban and their form of Islam, the Wahhabi sect?”
“You have to realize that the Wahhabi sect was created in opposition to the rule of the Ottoman Empire, so it had to be very different from the Ottoman’s Islam. The Koran states that we should respect other religions and yet the Taleban don’t do that. They blew up the Buddhas at Bamiyan in Afghanistan and yet those statues had been there for a thousand years – years of Ottoman rule when the Buddhas were respected so why was that – were the Ottomans bad Muslims? No, they followed the Koran and left them.” “I went to see some whirling dervishes last night in Cappadocia. There’s a contrast to the Taleban and yet they’re both sects of Islam. The dervish sect was founded by Rumi.” “Rumi yes, although his real name is Jala-al-din. Rumi just means of Konya, where he lived, although he was born in Balkh in Persia and travelled widely with his family. Have you heard of his most famous book?” “I have read some of his poems but not a book.” “His most famous book is the Masnevi and you should read that. You will find it helpful in your understanding.” “You mentioned Greece earlier; how are Turkey and Greece getting along these days?” “The Turks and the Greeks are getting along with each other better these days, but other people can’t accept this very well. We have been around for a long time as brothers. You may not know this but yoghourt is a Turkish word like baklava is. In the USA the biggest owner and producer of Greek Yoghourt is actually a Turk, but if he changed the name to Turkish Yoghourt then no one would buy it.” “Does Turkey still want to join the EU?” “The EU – we did want to join but now I am not sure – they didn’t treat Turkey very well.
You know if you want to help a man feed himself you give him a rod and teach him to fish, but the EU they just threw the rod at us. Erdogan is a good Prime Minister, but he is human and he makes mistakes but he admits it and moves on, but there are now other people around him who are very ignorant. A Turkish man wanted to impress his business associates so he went to Mecca and phoned them from there, showing he was a good Muslim. He was trying to impress them by being there and hoping they would then buy things from him. He was arrested by the police for carrying two bottles of whiskey; he showed he was ignorant. My father goes to Mecca and walks around the Ka’aba seven times and goes back to his hotel room to rest and then goes to walk again when he feels it is the right thing to do. I have been there to Mecca three times and I walk around too, but not seven times, perhaps three times. It is not a holiday it is a feeling of doing the right thing. “Where did you learn your English?” “English I can speak well and I learned a lot in the bazaar. German I also know because I moved to Germany when I was six. We were in a small village of 2000 people so I had to speak German to talk with people who were German. It is better that way – there are people who live in Berlin for many years who can’t speak German because they spend their time with other Turks in a ghetto they never leave. When you talk to them in Turkish you can’t understand them because they come from the east of Turkey and have a very strong accent. They are very ignorant people – they don’t want to know anything new. There’s no discrimination against people who were born abroad – we are all Turks in our hearts. Look at Ataturk, he was from Macedonia, but he became the father of our country.”
At this point a customer came into the shop and I decided this was a good time to leave. Ali went into the back of his shop and hunted around for something. He came back looking slightly frustrated. “I had a copy of the Koran in English, but it has gone so I can’t place it in your care – you should read this book and see for yourself.” I thanked him and left. I turned left at the stall selling Turkish Delight, second right at the spice stall, third left at the luggage stall, and headed straight on to Gate 1. I headed over to the book shop near the Cemberlitas baths and bought a copy of the Koran in English. I picked up the book and said to the owner, “I will see what this book is all about.” The owner smiled, held his hands apart, and said, “Of course, it’s the only way.”