The impact of globalisation on islamic popular culture in turkey: a consumer culture focused research on green novels

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Melike Aktaş

B. Pınar Özdemir
Islamic popular culture products have been increased in terms of variety and quantity with the gaining speed of political Islam after 1980’s in Turkey. With the emergence of an Islamic lifestyle in the cities, new aesthetics, behaviour patterns and habits have been developed, hence Islamic popular culture forms have been advanced from this basis. Being related with the society who met in Islamic thinking and practices, leads us to call this area Islamic popular culture. Besides, in these cultural forms, with different weight and quality, Islamic themes are used and the capital of these products are connected with Islamic capital.
Islamic popular culture supported the spread of Islamic movement in political arena from cultural sphere. Nourishing from cultural sphere, political Islam was desired to enforce its discourse so that it could become prevalent. From this aspect the Islamic popular culture operated as an arena in which Islamic identities was reproduced and became visible. Hence, political and cultural Islam existed in mutuality so that they could strengthen, the more they became powerful, the more they got spread and turned into popular. 1
Several studies have cited the relationship between the rise of political Islam in the world scale and globalisation phenomena. In the case of Turkey, similar link can be constructed between the elevation of political Islam and globalisation. With no doubt, globalisation is not the only reason for this escalation in Turkey but there are some related events occurring simultaneously with globalisation, supporting globalisation or nourishing from globalisation. In the rise of Islamic movement in the world scale, USA’s encouragement of Islamic movement against the potential danger of communism that might come from USSR, Iran Revolution which turned out to be a legend afterwards for Islamic groups and finally Gulf War in 1991, had real impacts. All these events have played an important role on the development of Islamic movement in Turkey as well. Nevertheless besides these affects, with the coup d’etat in 1980, in order to guard against the left movement, government

fostered the Islamic movement and the fist civil government ANAP encouraged Islamic movement by revealing its strong bonds with the religious groups. Further, during the 1980’s the implementation of neo-liberal politics in economy constructed deep inequalities between

the social groups in terms of income and wealth so that the Islamic parties’ arguments with

their stress on the “rights” and “justice”, had become persuasive.2
Besides being an notable dynamic to promote Islamic movement, globalisation had an affect on the creation and enlargement of the consumption market. The end of 1980’s were the years of integration to the global consumer culture for Turkey. After that time, identity struggle had been moved to political sphere and consumption commodities had started to become a sign of an identity. This argument is valid for not only secularist people who are close to western values but also for Islamic groups who identify themselves against to the “commodity culture of West” (Navaro-Yaşın, 2004). For instance, “turban” had been adapted as a way of describing Islamic identity. Since Islamic groups believed the popular culture, which have westernised feature, does not and will not able to reflect their identity, Islamic popular culture forms had served an “alternative arena” or in other words “market” for their needs.
As Yael Navaro-Yaşın (2004, 231) mentioned, the rise of Islamic movement and its power should not be thought to exclude from the emergence of companies specialising on islamic products and from the development of a market network for religious people. Increase in the number of people who adopted an Islamic lifestyle and desired to make it visible, have generated a profitable Islamic market. Therefore, the number of the companies producing these kinds of products, have been increased. Having close relationships with tarekats (Islamic societies), companies did not faced with serious difficulties to acquire the required capital and also, at that period of time “Muslim capitalists” started to emerge and they invested their capital to this field. While the number of companies were rising, difference in their Islamic interpretation was reflected to the cultural forms so that difference in discourses occurred, the product category enlarged as well. In this way, in early 1990’s, Islamic popular culture products had reached wide product category, from children books to music records, romances to cartoons, with differing discourses so that it gained fully commercial feature. Private television and radio channels development after the 1990’s have facilitated the diffusion of Islamic popular culture as well since Islamic capital had also flowed to these investments.
In the process of globalisation, accompanying both communication and media technologies’ improvement, cultural products such as music, cinema, dvd, internet, literature, have dispersed globally. Diffused cultural products do not end up with production of similar standard products in all over the world, however they are combined with local cultural practices and forms so that they create “hybrid types” (Tomlinson, 1999). Popular culture domain has been developing under the impact of globalisation in general. Although Islamic popular culture situates itself in contrast to Western commodity culture, its impact can clearly be seen in Islamic cultural products.
In this study, Islamic novels- most of them were Islamic romances- were researched as an example of Islamic popular culture, and consumer culture impacts have been traced in these narratives. Projection of globalisation on popular culture could not be solely limited with consumer culture diffusion. Nonetheless, with its argument of being in contrast to western commodity culture, Islamic popular culture’s “alternative” character could best be analysed in this base. Today, none of the domains, including Islamic popular culture, can isolate itself from surrounding character of consumer culture evolving with the spread of capitalism. Hence, in this context, the argument of being an “alternative”, can not carry Islamic popular culture beyond to being an “alternative consumption market”. Thus, in today’s Turkey, secularist and Islamic groups, although they are considered as two differing main groups in several researches, actually are the consumers of the same capitalist market.
In this study, the research undertaken on Islamic novels, is far from being a critical literature examination rather is a descriptive examination which regards Islamic novels as object. With this aim, 13 Islamic novel3 have been analysed. The analysis has two main parts; form and content. Under the form heading the cover and the design of the books are investigated. Under the content part, plot structure, features of the characters in the novels and finally the last but not least life style and consumption practices are examined.


Islamic novels are far from being homogeneous since they carry different interpretations of Islam. Islamic novels, in other words “green novels”4, can be distinguished in two categories by considering their level of emphasis to Islamic values. In this research these categories are named as “reformists” and “conservatives”. The line separating these two is the tolerance level to others who does not adopt Islamic lifestyle. Reformist green novels regard religion as a subject of private sphere and consider its function as filling the “gaps” modern society create. Whereas, in conservative ones, Islam is defined as the “only best way” to live and there is a low tolerance to other living options. In this study seven novels can be defined as “conservative” and six of them as “ reformists”5.

      1. Form

The covers and the paper quality of the Islamic novels are similar to the Turkish romances. In the 9 books out of 13, human figures are used as a cover demonstration. In none of the books, there is an Islamic illustration. The costumes of the people on the cover of the books are similar to western people’s dresses. In 7 books there are women figures wearing modern causal clothes such as tight jeans and short sleeved shirts, and no Islamic clothes used as an illustration. People on the book covers are portrayed similar to European people with fair hair and green-blue eyes. Design of the Islamic novels do not have any distinctive characters. Like romances, they are thin, with big letter size. Name of the books do not reflect the content in general. Rather they are formulated to evoke the interest of reader. The logo of the publishing company can clearly be seen on the book cover and back. The short summary is available on the back of the Islamic novels. The edition of the selected books vary from 2nd to 28th edition. However, their fist edition and the quantity of each edition is not available in the details of the books.

B) Content

Plot structure and feature of the characters

In Islamic novels plot structure is based on a tension to adopt Islamic lifestyle or not. This structure is established on such a cause-effect chain that may able to obtain a support from the reader. At the core of this chain, there are main characters, the actors of tension. At least one of the main characters, has already been “enlightened”, has strong faith and he/she executes all the requirements of Islam. He/she is a kind of educator. This character’s existence in life is based on his/her responsibility to educate others. This character can be defined as “religious enlightened person”. The attitudes of this person, in similar events vary according to the classification of novels which mentioned above. This difference comes from

the conception of Islam. For instance in the reformist novels, even Christian-Muslim love is presented as acceptable as long as both of the partners have faith, whereas the romantic love is presented as “sin” in the conservative novels. The illuminating character in Islamic novels does not have specific gender and age, it can be man or woman; young or old. This character is introduced as a person who is beautiful as well. He/she is a person that setting as an example for “potentially enlightened “ reader and by the help of this character one can learn what to accomplish in the case of adoption the Islamic lifestyle.
In all of the Islamic novels there is at least one character who does not know or avoids the Islamic requirements. In the end of the story this character definitely finds the “correct way” and “enlightened”. In other words he/she becomes a Muslim. In the narration structure these characters face with some difficulties and problems and at the end of this process, they find the reasons in their minds and convince themselves to adopt an Islamic lifestyle by the help of the already enlightened person.
In reformist Islamic novels there is a regard to “others” who does not approve Islamic beliefs and they are represented without marginalisation. On the other hand there is a clear cut between the people who does and does not adopt Islamic way of living in conservative ones and they are illustrated as marginal. These characters in conservative novels, had several bad habits which can not be appreciated in the society. These habits are highly exaggerated in conservative novels.

Life style and consumption practices

In the Islamic novels, conception of wealth-luxury, education-career, beauty and fashion have been investigated as an indicator of consumption. Wealth-luxury are chosen since consumer culture becomes visible in these areas; education-career are selected since they are the means, which capitalism points out, in order to reach this particular kind of consumption. Finally beauty and fashion concepts are considered as provocateur of consumption and picked up accordingly. All these concepts are available in Islamic novels although their reflection may differ between the reformists and conservatives.
Wealth and luxury have a crucial place in Islamic novels. According to Islamic belief, “halal” money is acceptable, which means one should make money by considering the rules of Islam. Whereas, in these novels, both in reformists and conservatives, the source of the money is not challenged. Even the illustration of the “other life” (the life after death) is based on profane act of consumption. In Islamic novels there is a clear cut between the poor and the rich. Being rich means to consume excessively whereas being poor means not consuming enough. Rich people have triplex houses with swimming pools, fashionable furniture, expensive European branded luxury cars in the Islamic novels. As an special interest these people like to go to abroad on holidays, visit tropic islands or doing a car race. On the other hand the portrayed lifestyle in Islamic novels has no echo with genuine everyday life in Turkey. So it is possible to argue that Islamic groups and others have similar aspirations nourishing from consumer culture.
Having a good education and career play a vital role in these novels. Main characters, are generally well educated, their jobs differ from doctor to engineer, academic to journalist. It should be noted that, these occupations promise future prospects to a person while there are no traditional and religious jobs available in Islamic novels. Besides, in these novels some of the jobs, such as being psychologist-psychiatrist and teacher, are treated functionally for adoption of Islam. Although there is an high unemployment rate in Turkey, this is not mentioned in most of these novels. When it is mentioned, reason is pointed out as being indolent or uneducated. So the unemployment case is all related with the person herself/himself. If one have a career definitely he/she will have a better life in the future. However, there are some differences between conservative ones and reformists. In reformists education and career are presented as the rights of people without considering the gender of the character. Whereas, in the conservative Islamic novels high education and good career belong to men and they work in only high prestigious jobs. On the other hand women only work if there is a strong need of money and work solely in the jobs belonging to the home sphere such as tailor or baby sitter. Hence in other words in conservative novels, the gender inequalities are reproduced.
In the Turkish society, beauty conception has some fixed codes for women, such as fair skin, large eyes with long eyelashes, narrow and arched eyebrows, rosy cheeks, red lips and having round body lines. The beauty conception of Islamic novels corresponds to dominant beauty conception in the Turkish society so that it reproduces this understanding. The concept of beauty is presented as an asset for people regardless to gender. All the women main characters are beautiful, independent from their beliefs about Islam. But the main difference between “the good” and “the bad” is keeping the beauty for prospective husband or not. In this sense beauty is presented as a “capital” for Islamic women to reach a better life. Turban or veil is a medium for hiding beauty away from the others. In both conservative ones and reformists westernised fashion and fashion conscious people are presented in a negative conception and sometimes they are the subjects of teasing. In Islamic novels there is a different fashion conception, based on Islamic understanding, such as “veil” or “turban”; but never mentioned as a fashion. Veil or turban is a sign of challenge to secularity. This conception is more obvious in conservative ones.


After the 1980’s Islamic movement in Turkey gained speed with the contribution of globalisation and enabled emergence of Islamic popular culture nourishing from the Islamic everyday life. The object of becoming popular in the society led Islamic movement to utilise from cultural domain, especially from popular culture products, and tried to enlarge its penetration in these areas.
In this study, Islamic popular culture’s “opposition argument” is challenged by consumption conception. Evidences demonstrate that, the debate of being an alternative to Western commodity culture are not reflected to Islamic novels. In these novels the core concepts of consumer culture are widely cited without any criticism so that they reproduced.
Islamic popular culture may give an idea to us what globalised popular culture will look like in the future. This is not the domain which standard cultural products dominated the market as some of the authors believe. Rather it is an area of hybridisation. With regard to globalisation cultural products diffuse widely and they transform the local ones by keeping some of their features inside so that hybrid cultural products emerge. In the process of globalisation, with the advancement in media and communication technologies, the globalised cultural products transferred the values of consumer culture to everywhere in the world. Islamic popular culture is a domain which combines consumer culture values with Islamic values and hence it is a hybrid one.


Atasoy, Gülay (2004). Ben Özgür müyüm? Nesil: İstanbul

Atasoy, Gülay (2004). Liseli Kızlar. (6th ed.). Nesil: İstanbul

Çeleğen, Nuriye (2003). Alfya. Nesil: İstanbul

Ertuğrul, Halit (2004). Gençliğin Gözyaşları. (7th ed.). Timaş: İstanbul

Ertuğrul, Halit (2004). Selim ve Hande. (28th ed.). Nesil: İstanbul

Göle, Nilüfer (1991). Modern Mahrem. Metis: İstanbul

Gülalp, Haldun (2003). Kimlikler Siyaseti. Metis: İstanbul.

Günay, Necla (2004). Dayan Kalbim. Nesil: İstanbul

Kavaklı, Ali Erkan (2001). Hicran. (2nd ed.). Nesil: İstanbul

Roy,Oliver (2003).Küreselleşen İslam. Metis: İstanbul
Tomlinson, John (1999). Globalization and Culture . . Polity Press: Cambridge

Üftadeoğlu, Mustafa (2004). Bir Öğretmenin Günlüğü. Nesil: İstanbul

Üstündağ, Hülya Yakut (2003). Gölgelerle Oyun. Nesil: İstanbul

Yaşın-Navaro, Yael (2003) “Kimlik Piyasası”. Kültür Fragmanları. Deniz Kandiyoti and Ayşe Saktanber (ed.). Metis: İstanbul

Yıldız, Ahmet Günbay (2003). Affedersin Hayat. (6th ed). Timaş: İstanbul

Yıldız, Ahmet Günbay (2004). Leyl Işıkları. (2nd ed.). Timaş: İstanbul

Yıldız, Ahmet Günbay (2004). Sahibini Arayan Mektuplar. (9th ed.). Timaş :İstanbul

Yıldız, Ahmet Günbay (2004). Siyah Güller. (8th ed.). Timaş: İstanbul

1 Political Islam-Cultural Islam difference is borrowed from Nilüfer Göle (1991). Göle describes political Islam as “revolutionary Islam giving priority to acquire the power in its practices, defending Islamic identities and independence in the counter of Western imperialistic parties who explains transformation as system transformation that evolves from upward to downward “. Whereas she describes cultural Islam with its function of “contribution to the construction of the Islamic identity and contribution to determination of the value and the view point which transforms individual and society” (p.119).

2 For detailed information: Timur (2004), Gülalp (2003), Roy (2003), Göle (1991)

3 Dayan Kalbim (2004), Siyah Güller (2004), Selim ve Hande (2004), Sahibini Arayan Mektuplar (2004), Ben Özgür Müyüm (2004), Hicran (2001), Alfya (2003), Affedersin Hayat (2003), Gençliğin Gözyaşları (2004), Liseli Kızlar (2004), Leyl Işıkları (2004), Bir Öğretmenin Günlüğü (2004), Gölgelerle Oyun (2003)

4 Since “green” is generally accepted as symbolic colour of Islam, Islamic popular culture forms are called “green pop”, “green romance”, “green love” the literature. Naming popular cultural forms with colour is very common in Turkey. For instance, soap operas are called “pink serials” and romances are defined as “white series”.

5 Reformist Islamic novels: Siyah Güller (2004), Sahibini Arayan Mektuplar (2004), Affedersin Hayat (2003), Leyl Işıkları (2004), Bir Öğretmenin Günlüğü (2004), Gölgelerle Oyun (2003); Conservative Islamic novels: Liseli Kızlar (2004), Dayan Kalbim (2004), Selim ve Hande (2004), Ben Özgür Müyüm (2004), Hicran (2001) Alfya (2003), Gençliğin Gözyaşları (2004).


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