Turkey, Religion and Pass The Pigs

Didim Turkey Mosque

Leaving the Kemal Atatürk Boulevard, the centre of the town of Didim was quite a contrast from the brassy tourist sea front area at Altinkum and on our way to the Mosque we passed by coffee houses where men sat and played okey, Turkish cut throat barber salons where men were being dangerously shaved and an assortment of traditional shops and cafés that were all doing brisk business until we came eventually to the Mosque.

I am not a great one for visiting Mosques I have to say which is a good thing really because non-Muslims tend not to be all that welcome to go inside and wander about.  I think we could have gone inside this one but we would have had to go back to the apartment first and get changed first because men are not supposed to go inside in shorts or women to have bare shoulders.  As I understand it there isn’t much to see anyway because they don’t have any pictures or statues or elaborate architecture inside just boring tiles and mosaics.

For those of us that used to go to Sunday school or paid attention in school assembly the origins of Islam are surprisingly similar to Christianity.  It begins with the premise that Allah (God) created the World in much the same way as the story is told in the Bible and then kept regularly in touch through the Prophets like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and so on.  The difference between Christianity and Islam really emerges in the status of Jesus who Islam relegates from Son of God to the lesser role of a Prophet and not even the most important one at that because this is Muhammad who is considered by Muslims (for the time being at any rate) as the last mortal to speak directly to an ambassador from Heaven.

By about the fifth century AD after five hundred years of Christianity people were beginning to fall out about some rather important points of interpretation of the Bible and especially about the issue of the virgin birth and the son of God story.  Basically, according to fundamentalist Christians, who didn’t accept the son of God theory, the Romans had distorted the whole Bible/Christianity thing and sort of moved it of its axis.

In the year 431 an ecumenical Church Council was held at Ephesus (in modern day Turkey and where we would be visiting later this week) chosen because this is alleged to be the place where the Virgin Mary lived out her days after the Crucifixion.  After much debate it was agreed by a majority of the Bishops present that Mary was indeed the virgin mother of Jesus Christ and that Jesus himself was therefore by definition the son of God which meant that henceforth in the Christian faith there is a belief that there is a dual deity.  Those who disagreed were thoroughly denounced and effectively excommunicated and banished from the Church.

This provoked a major schism and those who disagreed with the decision became increasingly convinced that Roman Christianity had corrupted the messages of God delivered through the medium of the earlier Prophets.  In Persia and what is now the Middle East the Church began to move rapidly in a different direction from the West.

Theotokos Mary Mother of God Divine Maternity icon

Then, rather conveniently, along came Muhammad.  One day in 610 Muslims believe that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad and delivered the last ever message from God to a mortal person and handed down a new list of rules which were recorded as the Koran, which is remarkably similar of the Old Testament of the bible and which for Muslims re-established the original monotheistic faith by rejecting the virgin birth and what they saw as the son of God corruption.

In the Islamic faith Muslims believe that they should live strictly by the Koran because it is the absolute and definitive word of God and the sole purpose of mortal existence is to worship….

… except those who don’t of course which means that strict fundamentalist Muslims sometimes fall out with the more liberal ones and in general Turkey and the Turkish people fall into this second category.  Although most Turkish people are Muslim, Islam is not an official State religion and Turkey has a secular constitution which to hard line Muslims is inconsistent with the Koran which states that it is the only source of law and cannot be subjugated to any form of civil law (think Ayatollah Khomeini for example and the 1979 revolution in Iran). Across the Islamic world Muslims have to struggle with the reconciliation of religious law versus secularism which is thankfully something we don’t have to do in the west.

We left the Mosque and as we walked back towards Altinkum I shared this simplified religious lesson with Kim and other little pearls of wisdom about Islam and we considered the issue of not eating pork.  We (except vegetarians of course) consider this to be rather odd, especially as a bacon sandwich is one of the top ten pleasures in life, but to be fair the Koran only re-establishes an instruction from the Bible and one that Christians just blatantly ignore:

“And the pig, because it has a split hoof, but does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You shall neither eat of their flesh nor touch their carcass.” Deuteronomy 14:8*

Reading this now that seems very clear to me but I used to go to Church every week and never in any Sunday School lesson or sermon do I remember the Vicar making reference to this and I doubt if it was ever read out in a Bible lesson either.  Christians you see enjoy their bacon sandwiches!


Turkey seems rather relaxed about this law as well because back at the sea front the restaurants were all offering English breakfasts with bacon and sausage, in a shop I spotted some Peppa Pig towels for sale and Turkish waiters were  openly flirting with English girls and some of them were real porkers I can tell you!

I doubt however if Turkey marks a date in its calendar to celebrate International Bacon Day which falls sometime in August or September depending on which day the U.S. Labor Day falls (like Easter it is moveable).

This liberalism didn’t extend very far beyond breakfasts however and the man at the meat stand in the street seemed a little surprised when Kim asked if there was a possibility of a pork kebab which confirmed to me that she hadn’t been listening to a single  word I had been saying.  As usual.

Later that night after evening meal and back on the balcony of the apartment and probably in blatantly open defiance of the Islamic pork rules we had a couple of secretive games of Pass The Pigs!

Pass The Pigs

* This isn’t the only bit of nonsense in  Deuteronomy that has had an influence on history, consider this at 22.5…

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth to a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God”.

It was this instruction from the Bible that condemned Joan of Arc to a bonfire because it would seem that that God through Moses was much less than tolerant than we are now on the issue of cross-dressing!


30 responses to “Turkey, Religion and Pass The Pigs

  1. Okay your rating of bacon over other activities has me a bit worried about you Andrew. Shall I tell you now I don’t eat red meat? 🙂


  2. Bacon is great about once a year and a roast pork, hardly ever on my table. No particular reason. Same with beef. I like all of these but hardly ever partake.
    Interesting perspectives, Andrew.


    • Thanks Tess. I’m not sure if you mean interesting perspectives about religion or pork. Religion is interesting not least because of the amount of conflict and suffering it has caused for thousands of years and pork is interesting because there are so many ways that you can cook it!


  3. Huge fan of pork- although, admittedly, the bacon-craze has reached a bit of a fever pitch here that I am ready to see mellow. Bacon is great, but it isn’t necessary on every dish.


  4. Thanks for the religious lesson for the simple, Andrew. 🙂 I fall very neatly into that category. And I didn’t know that Mary lived out her life in Ephesus. Ignorant too, it seems! Worse still- a pork lover. Is there no hope?


  5. Even though you mention some things about Mary that most westerner Christians are unaware of, your summary of Church history leaves quite a bit to be desired. I am not against brevity, but you manage to say very little correct in your small entry.
    Even a casual glance at a Wikipedia article on Church history could provide better, more reliable information. I suggest you take a closer look at the ecumenical councils and get a better idea concerning the issues the Church faces after the legalization of Christianity.


    • Thanks John, that it good feedback. As you said this is a ‘small entry’, I was not writing a thesis for a doctorate. I would value any further useful rather than insulting comments and perhaps some positive suggestions. I hate to think I got things so badly wrong!


  6. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Trio | Have Bag, Will Travel

  7. And here I am thinking Croats are such good Christians (Catholics mostly) when the enjoy the roast or spit piglets for religious festivities such as Easter, Christmas Day not to mention Ham and Prosciutto 😀 I reckon they skipped those pages from the Bible happily 😀


  8. A really interesting post, but the world would be better off if we just ignored all of these things. Eat what you want to, worship who you want to, keep it to yourself. and never, ever, ever, ever, read in depth about ecumenical matters (despite what Father Ted might say)


  9. Good on you Andrew. About pork. Well in Acts of the Apostles chapter ten there is a story about Peter being told by God that he could eat what he had always thought was unclean, as you said from Deut. So as a Christian I am not too concerned about that OT law. And I like girls in trouser suits.


  10. As John pointed out, the bacon issue was resolved in the New Testament, so one can eat bacon and still follow the rules. And as a Fundamentalist of the Christian faith, I can tell you we do see Christ as the Son of God and his mother as a virgin. We do not, however, recognize her as divine, accept apostolic succession, transubstantiation, the infallibility of the pope or other traditions of the Catholic Church. Islam does have many similarities with Christianity, but for a few important differences – the most important being the saving grace of Christ. However, kudos for trying to tackle such a large subject in such a small space.


    • Thanks Jane, I really appreciate your contribution. You raise some massive issues here. As an ‘undecided’ I welcome the opportunity to debate the issue with you! I would like to be the Pope and see how it feels to be infallible!


  11. I have to admit, I read this post as if it was a Marvel comic strip, and what a pleasurable one it was! But, bacon sandwiches, in my opinion, should stay in the realm of fiction. The aroma invades everything around and becomes a bit of a bully smell. I haven’t eaten one myself, though, so I understand a wonderful taste might outweigh that awful smell.


  12. Interesting post. I am presently reading “The Hand of Fatima,” which dovetails with your post, reflecting Christian and Muslim similarities and differences, as well as the barbaric acts of both during the 16th century.


  13. I really enjoyed Ephesus, Andrew… especially the ruins of the library. –Curt


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