Turan Dursun (born 1934 - died 4 September 1990) was first an Islamic scholar as an imam, and then a mufti in Turkey, before becoming an atheist during his study of the history of monotheistic religions. Dursun wrote a number of books about religion, which included original passages in Arabic and their translations and meanings in Turkish. He was an open critic of religion and was frequently threatened by fundamentalists.
He was eventually murdered outside his home in Istanbul. His writings and his library were destroyed and an Islamic book, not belonging to Dursun, was left on his bed.
Dursun was born to a religious family in the Şarkışla district of Sivas Province, a city in eastern Turkey. One of eight children, Dursun lived his childhood in the Tutak district of Ağrı Province from the age of five, when his father decided to move the family to this city to take hold of his own father's assets and manage them. Turan's father worked as an imam here to support his family.
Even before Turan was born, his father had decided that Turan would become "a great religious man, of that never seen in even Basra or Al-Kufe". Hence he would study at Islamic faith schools, attend Koran courses and receive private tuition from reputable scholars, like Sheik Ramazan, Mollah Nadir, Mollah Zahid, Çerkez Hodja and Tahir Efendi, travelling across a number of Turkish cities and small villages in the process. Most of the private education he received was free of charge.
Dursun displayed an immense will and ability to learn Islam profoundly, in ways not usually seen in clerics of Islam. By the time he was 19, he spoke fluent Kurdish, Circassian and Arabic, as well as becoming an ulema (Islamic judist), a hadith scholar an eastern ethnologist and a religious ethnologist. He also pursued anthropology studies.
After passing the necessary exams to become a mufti, Dursun was unable to officially become one as he did not have a primary school diploma. Dursun had to complete primary school exams without attending school and did so with understandable speed. His achieved mufti status in 1958.
Whilst the mufti of Sivas, Dursun began establishing himself as a mufti of a different kind. Using his position, he initiated a number of projects for the development of the area and its imams:
Dursun gained a lot of followers and enemies at Sivas and was threatened on numerous occasions. He was exiled to the city of Sinop and stayed in what he called a "broken down shack". He received help from Ali Şarapçı, a teacher who was tormented and falsely labeled as communist, as Dursun was.
His mufti career ended in 1966.
In an interview with Şule Perinçek, Dursun recounts one of the first instances, where he began doubting the existence of God. During a time when he was in love at the age of 11, Sabo, the older sister of the girl he loved, called Safi, was disabled. Dursun felt sorry for Sabo and one night during his sleep he saw God in his dream. After making him swear that he will not get angry, Dursun asked God why he created this Earth if he also created heaven and asked why Sabo was disabled and Safi was beautiful.
In the same interview, Dursun states that he was "always questioning and rebellious towards the concept of God", but the transition to atheism was an "evolving" one. Dursun discovered what he called "Muhammed's passings on" when he began learning about the holy books that existed prior to the Koran. He states: "I did previously have knowledge of Judaism and Christianity, but through Islamic interpretations. I didn't know them from their own sources. I got to know their own sources in the 1960s."
Dursun began researching into Christianity when it was planned that he would be proudly introduced to the Pope as an intellectual mufti. To prepare for this meeting and to "be able to talk with him [the Pope] with more strength", Dursun studied Christianity but "instantly" realized the "con" as he compared his already vast knowledge of Islam with Christian information.
After coming to negative conclusions about religion, Dursun became "angry" that Mohammed took away valuable years of childhood and youth. He said: "So many people can't live their childhood properly because of him. So many people are sufferers of his disasters. So many people know what's right as wrong and what's wrong as right because they think the darkness that he chose exists. Human emotions and human creations haven't progressed in many ways, because of him."
Dursun was a theist for a short period of time before he became an atheist. First, he pronounced to himself that "if there is a God, he's not Mohammed's". He began carrying out random experiments to see if God existed or not during his mental battle with him. He began believing that humans evolved over millions of years and continued learning about anthropology. He states that his theist period lasted "two or three years".
Following his resignation as a mufti, Dursun struggles to earn a living in Istanbul and even becomes a binman. The decision to quit as a mufti was a tough one, but Dursun stated that his principle was always "never to have a contradiction between what I thought and what I did".
Due to a number of friends he made as a thinking mufti, he was able to get a foot in at the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, (TRT), working firstly in basic administrative positions before taking and passing an exam to become involved in programme production.
Among his productions are, "Turks in history", "Mankind from the beginning" and "Towards the evening" (unofficially translated titles). There is also a production which has never been allowed to be broadcast, titled "Before and after the first Grand National Assembly". Dursun resigned from TRT in 1982, after 16 years of service.
In 1987, Dursun was introduced to Doğu Perinçek, a socialist politician, who was the editor of the magazine 2000'e Doğru (Towards 2000). Dursun contributed to the magazine with a column titled "Din Bilgisi" (Knowledge of religion). He also wrote for other publications such as Saçak, Teori and Yüzyıl. He wrote countless books in the 1980s, including a Turkish translation of Ibn Khaldun's Muqqadimah, collating his vast knowledge of Islam and languages of the Middle East, opening the religion to internal criticism through the mass media, perhaps for the first time in the religion's history.