The term cult (tarikat) means “the way/ways” in the Arabic language, and cults date back to the Prophet’s era. However, the way that they operate in Turkey today is different from how they originated. Cults changed during the Caliphate; they changed during the Ottoman Empire; they changed after the Republic of Turkey’s foundation; and cults have also changed enormously over recent decades.
Among these cults, the Naqshbandi-Khalidi groups had a particularly important role in forming Turkish political Islam. Through the AKP government, it could be said that the Khalidi worldview has become the dominant political force in Turkey.
İskenderpaşa Jamia, or The Community of İskenderpaşa, is a branch of the Naqshbandi-Khalidi in Turkey. The jamia was created by Mehmet Zahit Kotku when he was appointed as imam to İskenderpaşa Mosque in 1958. It has been claimed that important politicians, including Necmettin Erbakan, (ex-president) Turgut Özal, Recai Kutan, Korkut Özal, Ahmet Tekdal, Hasan Hüseyin Ceylan, Temel Karamollaoğlu and Nevzat Yalçıntaş all had very close relations with the jamia throughout history. After Kotku died, the jamia was headed by Mahmud Esat Coşan, and now his son, Muharrem Nurettin Coşan, is the leader.
Organising activities for school children
Today, the İskenderpaşa Jamia is organising various public school activities by acting through undercover front businesses and charities. An example of such activity is a competition called “Ufka Yolculuk” (Journey to the Horizon).
The first “Ufka Yolculuk” competition was held in 2013, with over 89,000 students registering for the game, which awards the participants various prizes such as gold coins. In 2014, more than 174,000 applied for the competition. This number increased to 265,397 in 2015; 369,712 in 2016; 595,372 in 2017; 695,026 in 2018; and dropped slightly to 537,389 in 2019.
Minister of National Education Ziya Selçuk encouraged the students across Turkey’s 81 provinces to participate in the event.
The organiser of the contest is the Server Yaşam Foundation. According to the foundation, the reason they are organising the competition is to “make the youth fond of good morality”.
The Server Yaşam Foundation was established by Server Holding in 2016. The chairman of Server Holding is Nureddin Coşan, the leader of the İskenderpaşa Jamia. It is claimed that the foundation is said to be a front organisation for the İskenderpaşa movement to infiltrate schools across Turkey.
Server Holding was founded in 1995 with a capital of one trillion Turkish lira. The chairman of the holding is Nureddin Coşan, who is also the chairman of several more prominent companies in Turkey, including the following:
Server Communication Journalism and Publishing Industry and Trade Inc., Ümraniye Medical Institutions and Trade Inc., Haksa Medical Institutions Inc., Zinde Medical Institutions Inc., Vefa Publishing Trade Inc., ASFA Education Institutitions Inc., Seha Trade Inc., Yıldız Consulting TV Advertisement Production Industry and Trade Inc., Vera Importation and Exportation Inc.
Haksa Medical Institutions Inc. is especially important because the current Minister of Health was an executive board member of the company.
Ministry of Health’s links with İskenderpaşa Jamia
It has been claimed that the Ministry of Health’s Fahrettin Koca has close relations with the İskenderpaşa Jamia. Koca, who is also the family doctor of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is the founder of Medipol Hospital and Medipol University (2009). Both the hospital and the university received support from the government and the Istanbul Municipality during their foundation.
For instance, a unique zoning plan of 220,000 square metres was made on an area belonging to the General Directorate of Highways, in order to gain permission for constructing the buildings that belong to the hospital and the university. The Turkish tobacco and alcoholic beverages company (TEKEL) building in Unkapanı became the first place allocated to the university, for 49 years from 2009. In 2019, Medipolitan Health and Education Services Inc., which is owned by Koca, was given an incentive of 220,600,000 TL from the public purse.
As can be seen in the example of the İskenderpaşa Jamia, the relations between state institutions, the government and cults in Turkey continue to be a matter of great importance.