Mustafa Karaduman is a profoundly pious Muslim who says he is spreading the faith through fashion. Karaduman owns Turkey's largest Islamic-style clothing chain, Tekbir Giyim, which means "Allah is Great apparel."
Stroking his neatly trimmed beard with one hand and fingering a string of worry beads with another, Karaduman explained during a recent interview at his flagship store here that he is serving God by encouraging "my sisters to dress in accordance with the teachings of the holy Koran."
In so doing, Karaduman has built a multimillion-dollar clothing empire, with 600 outlets across Turkey and as far away as Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Sydney.
Yet, in this predominantly Muslim but officially secular country, where bans on religion-inspired clothing are being enforced more rigidly than ever in state-run schools and offices, Karaduman's line of business at first seems an unlikely one.
For Turkey's military-backed government, the Islamic-style head scarf in particular is an indisputable symbol of religious militancy. When Merve Kavakci, a woman elected to parliament in April on the Islam-based Virtue Party's ticket, showed up at the legislature's inaugural session with a silk scarf wound tightly around her head, she provoked a political storm that shows no signs of abating.
Heckled by angry, secular lawmakers, Kavakci fled the chamber before taking the oath of office. Her parliamentary status remains in dispute and she is facing trial on charges of membership in an "illegal armed Islamic group" over a speech she made in the United States.
For Karaduman, 42, the incident was another business opportunity. His version of the tailored navy pantsuit Kavakci wore to parliament, called "the Merve," is selling like hotcakes.
"I love shopping here," said Senem Ozcivelek, a young medical student sporting a bright orange head scarf and a long denim dress, "because I can look fashionable and obey my religion at the same time." Like many of her fellow students who cover their heads, Ozcivelek said she had resorted to wearing a wig over her head scarf to get around a ban at Istanbul University.
Politics are a common theme in Karaduman's designs. One of his latest was inspired by another female lawmaker, Nesrin Unal, who wears a head scarf outside parliament but takes it off in the chamber to avoid the treatment afforded Kavakci. "On, off, on, off," Karaduman said as he tugged at a hood attached to a long jersey top that, together with an ankle-length skirt, forms "The Nesrin."
This year's winter collection also includes a few risque items, such as a black, sequined body stocking and a hip-hugging black satin evening gown with a gold embroidered turban. "Islam dictates that women should be appealing--perfume, makeup, everything" Karaduman said, "but strictly for their husbands."
Karaduman, who was born to grinding poverty in the eastern province of Malatya, first spotted his business opportunity when Turkey's generals began to promote Islam as an antidote to communism in 1980.
Raising money from friends (he refuses to seek commercial loans, because credit "violates the Koran"), Karaduman and his seven brothers opened the first Islamic-style clothing store in Istanbul's deeply conservative Fatih neighborhood. As the appeal of political Islam grew, and a prosperous new class of religiously conservative entrepreneurs emerged, sales boomed.
The armed forces have drastically reversed their views over the last two decades, and now say religious militancy presents the "foremost threat" to the Western-oriented, secular country. Accordingly, the military is keeping up pressure on Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's coalition government to curb the influence of religion in public life.
Imitators of the Tekbir style have mushroomed, with 200 Islamic-fashion companies now competing in an ever-expanding market. "We Muslims," Karaduman said, "fear only one force, that of the almighty Allah."
CAPTION: A model wears an evening dress sold by Turkey's largest Islamic-style clothing chain, whose business is booming in this officially secular country.