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And then Allah created man

Religious scholar, shameless self-promoter or just plain crazy? Either way, Adnan Oktar has achieved cult status with his views on Islamic creationism.

Harun Yahya, a.k.a. Adnan Oktar, is one of the most widely distributed authors in the Muslim world. His glossy books and DVDs on religion and science sell in Islamic bookshops around the globe and are downloaded repeatedly on the internet. (John Dyer/GlobalPost)

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Islam's answer to a TV evangelist, Adnan Oktar, is at it again.

A few years ago, the controversial sect leader mailed thousands of copies of the “Atlas of Creation” — a lavish, 800-page book that attempts to disprove evolution — to doctors and educators around the world. Now, in addition to his local-access TV talk show in Turkey, he’s launched a media blitz to counter the buzz surrounding the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.”

Oktar in recent months has been inviting journalists to interview him in his living room-cum-television studio in a gated community in Istanbul’s northern suburbs. There the 53-year-old, who uses the pen name Harun Yahya, discusses Islamic creationism while blasting Freemasonry.

“It’s a Masonic religion,” Oktar said, referring to Darwinism during a recent interview with GlobalPost. “It goes back to the time of the Sumerians and the time of the Pharaohs and ancient Greece, this old religion that claims creation by chance. It is actually a Satanic belief.”

But while Oktar has garnered attention from media around the world, it’s unclear if he represents anyone besides himself and his small group of followers, though he reflects trends in Islam and creationism in general, experts said. Like provocative American broadcasters who seek attention, whether good or bad, to boost their notoriety, it’s hard to tell if Oktar’s message occurs in an echo chamber or if it has a real impact.

“Either way, the word gets out,” said Emre Calikoglu, an assistant who drives journalists to Oktar’s villa. “He’s sincere. You can tell.”

Oktar’s critics are less generous. “He has no grass roots appeal besides his own group of followers, which is probably 200 or 300 people,” said Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish newspaper columnist. “These are the people whom he turned into devotees when they were 15. Now they are in their mid-30s and 40s.”

Claiming he owns a construction firm — others suggest he receives backing from wealthy but secretive radical Muslims — Oktar has spent money liberally to advertise Islamic creationism, which holds that God created the Earth’s species out of whole cloth, rather than via natural selection, the theory that animals slowly mutate into new forms over millennia.

Resembling its American counterparts, Islamic creationism has become more popular in recent years as conservative Muslims have raised their voices to counter the proliferation of Western ideologies, like evolution, in the Islamic world.

Islamic creationists don’t believe the world is around 6,000 years old, based on the genealogies of the Old Testament, for example. “American creationism is actually kind of a loser thought,” Oktar said. “They lose at the very beginning because of the age of the Earth issue. It is not a scientific explanation.”