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The New Age of Islam


An enterprising Turkish Webzine fans the winds of change in the Middle East
by Ross Robertson
 

Dateline Ankara: On the highways and byways of the New Age, our latest item takes us not to the mystical crossroads of the etheric or the astral planes but to the earthly plains of Anatolia, where a nation of seventy million Muslims finds itself at a crossroads all its own. That country—modern Turkey—is a geographic crossroads, where the European landmass meets the Middle East; it's a religious and cultural crossroads, where traditional faith and modern secularism converge; it's also a political crossroads, where the most progressive society in the Islamic world is trying to make a historic leap into the European Union. But who knew that now, Turkey is a postmodern spiritual crossroads as well, and that the angels, astrologers, and aromatherapists of the New Age are marching from Europe and sailing from America to colonize the contemporary Muslim spiritual marketplace?

Take, as an example, the story of Hasan Celiktas, a twenty-nine-year-old from Turkey's capital city of Ankara who was inspired to pick up the banner of post-traditional, Western spirituality by his encounter with Ramtha, a 35,000-year-old “entity” channeled by a Tacoma, Washington, housewife. Last year, he and a few friends founded a popular internet magazine called derKi (www.derki.com), whose name joins the Turkish word dergi, or “magazine,” with ki, “life energy.” Since its humble beginnings, derKi's colorful and eclectic blend of online spiritual investigations and pop-culture commentary, fiction and interviews, essays and reviews has generated some impressive numbers among Islamic youth: 300,000 hits a month from 50,000 individual readers. Articles from a hundred different writers include “Yunus Emre's Humanism,” “Quantum Thought Technique,” “Top 20 Spiritual Movies,” and “Semsu Hor: A Woman-Scented, Elf-Flavoured Fairy Tale.” Topics range from renewable energy to the dangers of smoking, from lucid dreaming to high heels and the healing power of cats.

“The multicolored energy of our culture gives Turkey a great potential for adding to the world's spiritual progress and awareness,” says Celiktas. “But at the same time, many Turkish people are unaware of the fact that the world is changing rapidly and about to come to a breaking point. They don't realize the significance of our country and of the opportunity we have to help find new solutions.” With its emphasis on relatively lightweight spiritual subjects, at first glance derKi might seem unlikely to advance the evolution of human consciousness very far—at least to any Westerner familiar with the limitations of the more superficial aspects of postmodern spiritual fare. Yet Celiktas and his crew of volunteer writers are actually quite sophisticated, displaying a refreshing lack of na´veté and making incisive comments and critiques that apply as accurately to New Agers in America and Europe as they do to their Turkish counterparts.

“In Turkey, New Age spirituality is growing very fast, but we believe that much of this growth is unhealthy,” Celiktas explains. “People who are bored of their lives are chasing new identities, buying cell phone covers with yin-yang designs from a corner shop. They learn these concepts and then wear them, saying, 'I've found myself.' But when you look at what most of these people do, you see that they're trying to act like angels with artificial smiles on their faces, but they're not aware of what's going on in the world. Then one day when a shocking event happens, this fake world tumbles down and they find themselves depressed, in a deeper crisis.”

As New Age thought and culture spread further and further around the world, it's heartening to see them being met with this kind of open-minded, intelligent skepticism. After all, as Celiktas himself points out, “We like to say that real spirituality has to apply to real life, and it never promises a rose garden.” With plans to expand its English edition (available at http://en.derki.com), a recently launched internet radio station, and an international spiritual festival in the cards, derKi is doing everything it can to make sure that in Anatolia and beyond, Muslims looking for purpose and meaning outside the boundaries of traditional religion can begin to explore what the postmodern West has to offer. Even better, they're striving to filter it all through a perspective big enough to keep this latest generation of seekers from getting stuck there.



 

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December 2005–February 2006