Istanbul / R4BIA

Istanbul - R4BIA

With a population of over 14 million, Istanbul is the third largest city in the world. It is a city of many contrasts. Parts of the city are uber-modern while other parts resemble the greater Middle East. TripAdvisor just ranked Istanbul the most popular travel destination in the world. I guess I am somehow less interested in the vibrant parts of the city where architecture and history meets hip boutiques, cool restaurants, and design-savvy boutique hotels and more interested in street culture?

In the year 1941, during World War II, Winston Churchill popularized the "V for Victory" hand sign. It has since come to symbolize peace, especially popular in counterculture movements. The R4BIA hand gesture you see on the wall in the photograph came to existence in Egypt during the Arab Spring. Since then, the sign and gesture has taken off, and has become the Islamic equivalent of the V Sign. If you haven't seen it yet, it's very likely that you will see it soon, as the R4BIA sign and ideology has been spreading rapidly around the world. In Egypt, the sign was associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and ever since the ousting of President Morsi, it has been classified as a "terrorist sign" by Egyptian Security Forces.

"R4BIA" is a paronomasia derived from the name of female Sufi mystic Rabia al-Basri, and the similarly pronounced Arabic ordinal number fourth (4th) - hence four fingers. It is in the line of gestures like the Raised Fist which has been in existence since ancient Assyria. You might also remember the Black Power salute in the 1968 Olympics.

Gestures, salutes and signs have always been associated with group affiliations and identity to express respect, loyalty, conformity, unity, strength, defiance or resistance. As such, visual signs and gestures inadvertently serve more to divide than to unite. Review what R4BIA symbolizes, and decide for yourself. Contrast that with the universal outlook of Rabia herself: "In my soul there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church where I kneel. Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist."
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