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Turkish imam investigated for singing in a rock band

Ahmet Muhsin Tuzer, 42, is imam and muezzin of the mosque in a small village in southern Turkey and singer in a rock band in his spare time.

ISTANBUL // Religious authorities in Turkey have launched an investigation into an imam for singing in a rock band in his spare time.

Ahmet Muhsin Tuzer, 42, is imam and muezzin of the mosque in Pinarkoy, a small village of about 80 people in the southern Turkish province of Antalya. Several times a week, he hits the rehearsal room or the stage as the lead singer in a rock band after the last prayer.

The first concert of the band, Firock, in the town of Kas near Pinarkoy drew around a thousand people last month.

Alerted by media reports about the concert of the melodic rock band, consisting of a drum player, a guitarist, a bass player and its singer, Mr Tuzer, authorities started an investigation. An inspector was sent to Antalya who talked to the imam, people in his village and citizens in Kas. The inspector’s findings have yet to be released.

Turkish television stations aired footage of Mr Tuzer, who was born in Kas, calling the faithful to prayer in a formal robe inside his mosques, followed by shots of him singing on stage.

All imams in Turkey are civil servants, employed and paid by the General Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), a state institution that administers the country’s 80,000 mosques. If the investigation finds that Mr Tuzer’s hobby is incompatible with his calling as an imam, he could be fired if he does not stop his musical career.

It is not the first time that Mr Tuzer is challenging conventions. He is married to a Christian woman, in the first such union between an imam employed by the Diyanet and a Christian, he writes in a statement posted in May on the website of the Firock band.

As for his music, Mr Tuzer insists he has not done anything wrong and is planning to bring out an album with his band next month. One song is titled Mevlaya gel, or Come to God.

“I want to celebrate Allah in every place,” he told Turkey’s Anadolu news agency. “I don’t think I have caused the slightest damage to my institution,” he added in reference to the religious affairs directorate. “On the contrary, I have won the love, respect and admiration of millions of people.”

In Pinarkoy itself, people see no reason why the “rocking imam”, as Mr Tuzer has become known in the Turkish media, should be forced to give up his job or his hobby.

“He has been with us for two years or so,” Yusuf Acar, the village foreman, said by telephone yesterday. “Nobody here has a problem with that,” he said about Mr Tuzer’s fledgling career as a rock star.

But not everyone is happy. Mr Tuzer told Turkish media he received hundreds of messages containing threats and complaints after the concert in August. He did not respond to requests for an interview yesterday.

Mustafa Aydin, the deputy mufti of the province of Antalya, said this week that the investigation rested on the premise that work as an imam “is not just like any other job”.

“Things that are viewed as normal when it comes to other civil servants are viewed differently with respect to imams,” he told Turkish media. Mr Aydin’s office yesterday confirmed an investigation against Mr Tuzer was under way, but said the deputy mufti was not reachable for a comment.

Last year, another imam, who made headlines by using a tablet computer during sermons, was suspended by the religious affairs authority for having affairs with more than one woman and for taking money collected in his mosque to pay off debts.

Mr Tuzer is hoping that in his case the decision will be different. He told a Turkish television channel late on Wednesday that the investigation was completed and that he hoped the authorities in Ankara would give him the green light to pursue his musical ambitions.

“Unfortunately, there are people in this country who say that being an imam and playing rock music do not go together,” he said during the interview on TV8. The inspector sent by the religious affairs directorate had talked to many people in the region, both Muslims and atheists, he added. “They all told me later they supported me in their interviews with the inspector,” he said.

“I think it has been a very successful investigation,” Mr Tuzer said. “I hope and believe with all my heart that the Diyanet General Directorate will support [the results of] this investigation.”

tseibert@thenational.ae