Many Muslims claim that the Islamic month of Ramadan is not simply an exercise in fasting during the day. It is, they say, a chance for "a spiritual boost," "mental peace" or "a moral awakening."
During Ramadan, however, it often seems as if hate speech and intolerance are as rampant as ever, possibly even more -- especially with the "Ramadan TV programs," which are popular.
With the advent of Ramadan, Turkey has not opened only the season of fasting; it has also opened the season of "Ramadan Intolerance."
This frequently consists of statements which threaten or dehumanize those who do not fast. During this season, many national television channels and social media users in Turkey disgorge hatred against those who do not carry out the strictest Islamic requirements.
Turkish professor Mustafa Askar, at Ankara University's School of Divinity, said on the "Joy of Ramadan" program, aired on the state-funded TRT channel: "Those who do not do Islamic daily prayers are animals."
Askar proclaimed, on June 12, that "no beings other than humans touch the ground with their foreheads [to do sujud, the position of worship in which the forehead, nose, both hands, knees and all toes touch the ground together]. Human beings, he said, were created in a "salah [worship] ergonomic" way, and that is why "humans do sujud."
"Let me put it straight," the professor said. "Salah is not done by animals. Those who do not do salah are animals."
Yasin Ceylan, a professor of philosophy at Ankara's Middle East Technical University, reacted to Askar's statements on his social media account:
"If the claim that 'those who do not do salah are animals' comes from a professor, that could serve as an excuse for the massacres carried out by a terrorist organization such as ISIS. If killing an animal is not considered murder, those who do not do salah may be killed, too.
"Moreover, if the faith of those who fail to do salah is different from that of the professor, murdering them could even bring sawab [a reward for Islamic good deeds]. Such are the views that feed the perverse faith and doctrinal background of Muslim terrorists. The main source of violence is the judgments of minds. Is this professor aware of the fact that with this claim of his, he could cause the murder of so many innocent people?"
Askar, after being criticized by many for his remarks, told the pro-government daily newspaper, Akit:
"My words have been distorted by the enemies of Islam who almost every day hurl insults at Islam and Muslims. I have not strayed from the views I expressed. I am not taking a step back from my words. This is a scholarly evaluation. ... I said what I think is right. But I made a mistake in my choice of words. If there are those offended by my mistake, we apologize."
When journalists asked Nurettin Canikli, Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, during a press conference in Ankara on June 13, about his views on Askar's statements, Canikli said, "I shall pass on this topic."
Meanwhile, on the June 13 edition of the "Blessing of Ramadan" television program, broadcast on the pro-government Star TV, a viewer asked, "Is it vacip [a religious obligation] to kill those who do not do salah [Islamic daily prayers]?"
"Decrees about giving certain punishments do not rest with individuals," answered Fatih Citlak, the presenter of the program and also a columnist for the pro-government daily, Haberturk.
Later, on Ahsen TV -- an Islamist internet outlet that usually conducts interviews about Islamic issues with the public -- broadcast a video clip shows a child become panic-stricken after seeing his cat eat in the kitchen during Ramadan. He leaves home and starts frantically looking for his father. "Dad!" says the child upon finding him, "the cat has broken the fast!"
The father, played by Bulent Yapraklioglu, an Ahsen TV reporter, replies:
"So what is wrong with that? Don't you know, son? Animals do not fast. Animals do not do salah. Animals do not pay zakat [Islamic religious tax]. Animals do not go on the Hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca] ... So now you know."
Social media, of course, is also used to spread the spirit of Ramadan -- and the hatred of non-Muslims and Muslims who may be not-as-observant.
Hakan Arslanbenzer, a Turkish publisher and poet, declared on his Twitter account in June 2015: "There is no religious inconvenience in beating those who do not fast."
A Twitter user asked him in response: "Did our Prophet beat anyone? Was there such a practice during his lifetime?"
"He is asking me," Arslanbenzer repeated, "if they beat people who did not fast during the time of Mohammed. First show me the courageous munafiq [hypocrite] who would publicly violate fasting during the time of the Prophet!"
On June 17, Seogu Lee, the Korean owner of an Istanbul record store, Velvet Indieground, invited people to his store for a worldwide "live-streaming" event to celebrate of the release of the latest album of the band Radiohead. They were attacked by a group of men, apparently angry that they had been drinking alcohol during Ramadan -- a double sin, as Muslims are not supposed to drink alcohol altogether. It is tantamount to declaring a desire for death. If people learn you are drinking alcohol during Ramadan, they could well threaten, beat or kill you. The men, in fact, raided the store, beat those inside and drove them out. One of the attackers was heard yelling, among other threats, "we will burn you inside!"
Seogu Lee was also beaten by the assailants. The next morning, he was seen in tears, locking the door of his store as he left.
Record stores all over the world had participated in this event, but Muslim assailants did not allow young people in Istanbul to enjoy a few hours of music and drink in the store of a Korean. Apparently it is an attempt to "throw terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve." (Quran 3:151).
Intimidation by Muslim extremists against those who do not follow a strict Islamist lifestyle does indeed produce "results" -- so they keep on doing it. Physical or verbal attacks against those who do not fast during Ramadan are commonplace all across Turkey. If you happen to find yourself there during Ramadan, stay indoors if you would like to eat, drink or smoke.
Turkey is -- ironically and unbelievably -- a candidate for European Union membership and a member of NATO, as well as other Western institutions. But culturally and sociologically, the impact of religious intolerance seems to have become so institutionalized that no amount of time, or so-called relations with the West or with the rest of the world, seems to change the situation appreciably. Despite all those military, commercial and diplomatic deals Turkey has made with the West, the country still appears to promote the same historical Islamic pressures against non-Muslims -- and even secular Muslims -- as it always did.
Many Muslims nevertheless claim that other religions are just as violent as theirs, and indeed 600 years ago, during the Inquisition, some were. At present, however, there would seem no other religion that not only promotes, but carries out the violence prescribed in it to the extent of extremist Islam. If, however, one points out a discernible fact such as that, one is accused of Islamophobia, which many extremist Muslims still insist is the main threat, even though the frequency and degrees of violence against Muslims are nowhere near comparable.
Little mention is ever made -- dismayingly even in the West -- of the justifiable rationality of being alarmed by people mass-slaughtering in the name of religion, and who are promising to continue doing so.
To people who are concerned about protecting freedom, the author Daniel Greenfield asks: "We are learning to be tolerant of Islam. Perhaps, it's time to ask that rarely asked of questions, when are Muslims going to finally learn to be tolerant of others?"
Robert Jones, an expert on Turkey, is currently based in the UK.