- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2008

ISTANBUL | Two reformist theologians have taken Turkey’s most famous Islamic clothes designer to court for exploiting religion, in a case highlighting tensions between political Islam and Turkey’s market economy.

Dubbed “Allah’s tailor” by the press, Mustafa Karaduman long ago earned the wrath of Turkish secularists for his successful mass-marketing of the brightly colored head scarves and ankle-length coats that have become a trademark of conservative urban women.

Mr. Karaduman declined to comment about the case.

What angered theologians Ilhami Guler and Suleyman Bayraktar was the name of the company he set up in the 1980s. “Tekbir” refers to the core statement of Muslim belief - “There is no God but God.”

“Jesus was upset by the sight of the money-lenders in the Temple, and I’m upset by the thought of a new generation of Muslims for whom ‘tekbir’ means expensive head scarves,” Mr. Guler says.

He would have opened the case much earlier, he adds, but it was only recently that lawyer friends told him about a law forbidding the commercial use of names “imbued by society with a moral value.”

“Requests [by other companies] to use Mevlana as a brand name are always turned down, for instance,” Mr. Guler’s attorney, Yakup Erikel, points out, referring to Turkey’s most famous Sufi saint.

Thus far, Turkey’s judiciary has taken a dim view of head scarves worn in public. Turkey’s top court ruled Thursday that Islamic head scarves violate secularism and cannot be allowed at universities.

A court decision requiring Tekbir to change its name could trigger a host of cases against other Turkish companies with religious names - including Sharia Swimsuits, Medina Travel and Jihad Meat Balls.

Tekbir’s Mr. Karaduman has long been attacked by Muslim hard-liners in Turkey, who argue that the fashion displays of models wearing head scarves that he pioneered in the 1990s are un-Islamic.

But Mr. Guler says it was the heavy media coverage of the mid-April release of Tekbir’s 2008 summer collection that drove him to take action.

With white-robed dervishes whirling in the background, models - none of whom wears a veil in real life - strutted up and down to the sound of mournful Sufi pipes. At one point, they dropped to their knees and raised their hands, as though asking God for forgiveness.

Mr. Guler wasn’t the only one appalled by the display. For Ahmet Hakan, a former Muslim hard-liner turned reformer, who writes a popular column in Turkey’s most influential newspaper, it was symbolic of religious hypocrisy that has developed under the government led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP). The party has Islamist roots.

“Look at these bigots puffed up with pride because they’ve got the cash to make even Turkey’s most famous faces look as though they’ve found religion,” he wrote.

In the Islamist-leaning press, too, news of the latest court case has generally been greeted positively. But not all pious Turks approve of Mr. Guler’s action.

Hilal Kaplan, a doctoral student wearing a head scarf in Istanbul, thinks the mentality behind the Tekbir trial is uncomfortably close to the case a senior prosecutor opened against the AKP government this March for anti-secular activities.

“One is unhappy about the mixing of religion and trade, the other about the mixing of religion and politics,” she says. “What we need is debate, not bans.”

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