This is the story of a Turkish Imam who has brought dozens of drug addicts back from the brink.
“There were more drug addicts in this area than in the community. After prayer times, I was returning home very nervously. One day they cut me off, asked for money, and I gave it to them. When I got home, I talked to my wife about what we could do for these people. Because my salary wouldn't be enough for me if I paid them every day,” says Imam Emin Kir.
Kir is known as baba (father) to dozens of former drug addicts - and now they all take care of a mosque together and provide support to so many others with the same condition. He has been lending a helping hand in Istanbul to the needy, providing accommodation to the homeless and helping drug addicts to recover for over 15 years.
Kir is the Imam of Istanbul’s Kaab Mosque in the historic Balat neighborhood - he has assisted more than 30 drug addicts hang onto life when all seemed lost for them. Everyday he offers soup and tea at the mosque to people living on the street.
“When they come here, we don't ask about their religion, we don't ask who they are. They are humans first, we have to show mercy,” Emin Kir says.
“This is the house of Allah (God). These things should all be done in the mosque because it is the place that embraces people from all walks of life.”
In 2006, Kir was appointed as the imam of the Kaab Mosque which sits on the western side of the Golden Horn in Istanbul.
After assuming his duties there, he was struck by the amount of people using drugs and consuming alcohol around the place of worship. Kir decided the best way to handle the situation was through compassion.
“One day they intercepted me again, one of them was called Ramazan. I told them that I will make soup for them at the mosque and they agreed to join me.”
Kir convinced the community to come together and support in providing soup, meals and tea to the addicts.
The imam figured the best way to help the afflicted combat their demons was through empathy. He started addressing drug users' needs on the condition that they would not bring drugs to the mosque. His help is not restricted to just addicts but he also helps community members resolve differences with each other and provides meals, shelter, showers and clothing to the homeless.
“After a period of time, Ramazan started to stay with me at the mosque. I built a coop for Ramazan, bought chickens, we had had breakfast together every morning to help him break his mind and then he started calling me dad,” Kir told TRT World.
“I never turned my face to him. He stopped using drugs, one day he asked me to find him a job, we found a job, he started making his own money. Thirteen years later, in 2019, he asked me to send him back to his hometown, Nigde. Now he is working, not addicted any more. We talk every week, he still visits me when he comes to Istanbul,” he added.
Inspired by Ramazan’s new lease on life, in 2019, the imam - with the support of the district governor, mufti and philanthropists - decided to help even more people.
“In the last two years, we have helped more than 30 people to survive. To help a drug addict, you need to benefit from the experience of former drug addicts. The ones we helped also started helping us to reach out to more addicted people in the region as they can better understand them,” says Kir.
“First, we give these young people a warm bed and food when they come to us. When they have rest, we start listening to their stories. Then we help if they want to get rid of addiction.”
One 24-year-old former addict, Baris, describes the imam as his father.
“This man grabbed my hand, he helped me. I got rid of drug addiction, got a job and built my life, I’m making my own money now,” Baris tells TRT World.
According to the imam, without touching people’s lives, progress is impossible.
“Some people criticised me saying that some of these addicted guys have lengthy criminal records. I can't look at the background of a person who asked me for help. My religion orders me to help,” the imam says.
“Our lovely, precious prophet says religion is sincerity. So believing means to be sincere to everyone, to smile at them, to be merciful which allows you to win people’s hearts, this is what is taking place in our mosque.”
“These guys call me Dad. They came back to life. They say God bless you. Is there a greater happiness than this?”
He calls what he does a ‘duty of loyalty’.
“I've been working in Turkey for 35 years, I get paid by the state, so why don't I do extra things for my state? Being an imam is not just about leading prayers, but also to help these children and touch people’s lives. I have raised my own children thanks to the state, and now I am trying to be useful to my state, to the presidency of Religious Affairs.”
Talking to TRT World about his future plans, Kir said that he wants to build an activity village as there are plenty of addicts who need to be kept busy and channel their energies towards positive activities.
“I want to open workshops based on the talents of addicted people in the village. Drug addiction cannot only be treated with medication. That’s how I saved Ramazan and others, I gave them tasks which helped them to get rid of addiction,” he says.