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Turkey Launches International Mosque-Building Program

In this 2008 file photo, Albanian Muslims pray to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Turkey is planning to build a mosque for Albanians in Tirana.

In this 2008 file photo, Albanian Muslims pray to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Turkey is planning to build a mosque for Albanians in Tirana.

Turkey currently is building 18 large Islamic religious centers around the world. The projects include a mosque in Tirana, Albania which will hold more than 4,000 worshippers. Turkey will also build mosques in the United States, Russia and Kyrgyzstan. It has similar projects set for the Philippines, the United Kingdom, the Palestinian Territories and Somalia.

Observers say President Erdoğan's goal is to establish Turkey as leader of the Muslim world. This was the country’s position during the Ottoman Empire, which ruled from the 14th century through the early 1900s.

Asli Aydintasbas writes about politics for Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper. She says the president cares very much about his historic legacy and his international legacy.

She also says he wants Turkey and the world to see him as a person who has advanced the interests of Islam and Muslims. She says this is why he so strongly supports the mosque-building project.

Yuksel Taskin is an expert on politics at Istanbul’s Marmara University. He says President Erdogan and his ruling AK Party share the goal of returning Turkey to the power of its Ottoman past.

Mr. Taskin says the party is trying to re-create the golden age of Islamic civilization. He says the AKP see Turks as the leaders of such a rebirth.

The Diyanet is the government group that administers the Islamic faith in Turkey. President Erdoğan has expanded the group’s international office. Supporting religious education is a main element in Turkey’s campaign for greater influence over Islam internationally. Turkey has offered financial assistance to foreign students who want to attend its universities. The government also supports international student exchanges.

However, Turkey is not the only country interested in leading the Islamic world. Other Muslim countries, especially Saudi Arabia are also seeking to fill the role. For many years, Saudi Arabia has been spreading its oil money around Islamic countries.

Istar Gozaydin is a professor of religion and politics at Istanbul’s Doğuş University. She says the Balkans is the main region for the competition between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

She says she thinks the two countries once balanced each other in efforts to build mosques and create communities for them. But now, she says, it is more of a competition, especially in Bosnia.

Experts say President Erdoğan may well be looking to the language of the street to rise above such obstacles. Increasingly, his speeches appear to be aimed at ordinary Muslims, in Turkey and around the world. His talks often include a strong anti-Western message.

Politics writer Asli Aydintasbas says the president is behaving as if he already leads the world's Muslims. She says she thinks Mr. Erdoğan believes he would be elected leader of the Muslim world if the community could hold such a vote.

President Erdogan is increasingly campaigning against what he considers the growing threat of Western "Islamophobia," – prejudice against or fear of the religion of Islam and Muslims. He is also demanding that the United Nations Security Council create a permanent seat for a Muslim nation.

Observers warn that such rhetoric is likely to continue as Turkey’s campaign to lead the Islamic world progresses.

I’m Jim Tedder.

Dorian Jones reported this story. Marsha James adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story


legacy n. something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past

rebirth n. a period in which something becomes popular again after a long period of time when it was not popular

faith n. belief in the existence of God; strong religious feelings or beliefs

region n. a part of a country, of the world, etc., that is different or separate from other parts in some way

obstacle n. something that makes it difficult to do something

rhetoric n. the art or skill of speaking or writing formally and effectively especially as a way to persuade or influence people

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