Embracing the homeless, Istanbul imam wins hearts

Published 14.02.2018 00:00

A simple message he taped on the door of his mosque's abdesthane - a lavatory used for Islamic ablution - made Osman Gökrem a social media celebrity overnight although he did not know it. The message by imam Gökrem was advising "homeless brothers" to use free soap and water if they needed it.

"They might call you a drunk or a drug addict but we are responsible for what happened to you, forgive us," the message adds.

Gökrem, who's been the imam at Selimi Hatun Mosque in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul since 2003, says he always sought to help the needy. "I was raised as an orphan and I can sympathize with them. I installed a water heater here two years ago and started putting soap and shampoo. Whenever I come across a homeless person around the mosque, I remind them that they can take a bath here and I tell them to knock on my door if they need anything else," he said, pointing to his humble lodge adjacent to the mosque. He also invites people without access to hot water to use the bathroom.

"I know many homeless people here and always chat with them. They have sad lives and stories that bring you to tears. As a society, we are responsible for not addressing their problems. I wanted to make a small contribution to improve their lives," he added. The imam also says he advises the homeless in his neighborhood that they can buy anything they want from nearby grocery stores at his expense. He said that after a while, the stores also joined his efforts and they too don't ask for payment from the homeless.

"You taught us humanity," one social media user praised Gökrem while another user said he set an example for other imams to open their mosques' doors to the homeless.

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