Religious extremists are more likely to have issues with their own government than they are to have issues with you, especially if you don't make a scene or treat their religion with disrespect.
You are much more likely to be bitten by wild animals, have your wallet stolen, or get struck by lightning than you are to be kidnapped or caught within the midst of a religious, political upheaval.
Since the election of President Erdogan in 2014, Turkey has become less secular with government and religious affairs.
However, that is not to say that you shouldn't be careful. All smart travelers know the importance of paying respect to local customs and beliefs, if only because it opens more doors and ensures that your hosts are friendly, and it would behoove you to study up on Muslim practices before you go off to Turkey. Keep your head down, be polite and you won't have any problems as you travel through Turkey.
While people in cosmopolitan centers like Istanbul and Ankara will understand if you don't know the finer points of Muslim practice and belief, people further afield are less likely to cut you slack if you accidentally misstep out of ignorance.
Read on to learn certain practices that you should always keep in mind as you travel through the country. Not only is it respectful, but it is also one of the best ways to ensure your safety against religious extremists who want to do Westerners harm.
Five times per day, speakers installed in mosques all around every Turkish city will announce the central tenets of Islamic faith and remind Muslims that it is time to pray. Practicing Muslims will then stop what they're doing, take out a prayer rug and kneel toward Mecca. The Call to Prayer is very sacred, and travelers should avoid making disparaging comments, as that may increase your chance of being targeted by religious extremists. While as a Westerner and non-Muslim, you are not expected to partake, some pieces of Call to Prayer etiquette include:
Don't stand in front of anyone praying. The point is that they are not facing you, they are facing Mecca. Stay silent for the duration of the Call.
Muslims believe in a certain level of decorum and cleanliness around meals, and there are certain customs that should be followed if you are eating a meal in a Muslim home or if you are just out by yourself and enter a restaurant. These include:
Never criticize the food. Muslims consider every meal to be a blessing, and it is not only offensive to your host, but to Allah, if you make disparaging comments about your meal. Don't eat too much. Gluttony is culturally frowned upon in Muslim countries. While you won't put yourself at risk, you will bring attention to yourself if you stuff your face every meal.
During the month of Ramadan, it will be difficult to food during the day. It is advised that you don't travel to outlying cities between May 15th and June 14th, as food will be hard to find. Even in the major cities, it is considered rude to eat in public during Ramadan. If you need to eat, do so inside a closed restaurant or in your hotel room.
Be sure to dress conservatively, especially if you're traveling to outlying towns. Western culture is associated with a sense of indecency, and you will draw attention to yourself, especially as a woman, if you are wearing things like tank tops, short shorts or miniskirts. Stick to longer skirts, pants or dresses. Men should try to wear slacks if at all possible instead of shorts.
The mosque is the heart of cultural significance for Muslims, and if you feel the need to enter one, you should show proper respect for the traditions. Proper customs include:
Men should never wear shorts inside a mosque, and women should wear headscarves and follow the rules for clothing described above. You should always remove your shoes upon entering the mosque.
If you happen to be in the mosque during the Call to Prayer, it is advised to stand in the back of the building while the faithful line the rows to pray.
There is to be no eating, drinking, smoking, talking, laughing, sleeping, reclining or sitting inside Turkish mosques. Public displays of affection are also not allowed.
If you are traveling in the tumultuous Southeastern Anatolia province, you may run into a political demonstration either by local Kurdish peoples, religious fundamentalists or some other minority interest group. The area is one of fluid politics due to its proximity to Iraq, Iran and Syria.
The right thing to do in the event of a protest is simply to move along. Don't make a spectacle of yourself by taking lots of pictures and certainly don't join the action, even if the cause is one you believe in. If you end up being seen by a rival group, for instance, you are almost sure to be pointed out and targeted.Always listen to the Turkish military, and always have your passport on hand to show to any officials, as there are often checkpoints set up along roads and in towns to try and catch terrorists. Just use your head, remember that you're there to sightsee and not make a political point, and you will be fine.
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