Daily Archives: April 16, 2009

Catholic-Muslim Pilgrimage – Day Three (April 15): On the Other Side of the Wall

I asked Orhan Cicek this morning whether there was any possibility that I might be able to go to the Coiffeur (ie. Barber) next door to our hotel for a hair cut and a shave. Certainly, he said, and accompanied me around there at 8:30am. The full treatment: Hair cut, trim the side burns, the moustache and beard, shave with a cut-throat razor (something I believe is very rare these days due to the concerns of blood contamination), and even “burning of the ears” – using a small flaming torch to remove the hairs out of my ears! I felt like a plucked chook having the pin feathers burnt off! Then a wash and dry, and all done. Orhan had a quick trim too while waiting, and kindly paid for the whole experience.

The result was that we were running late for our first appointment this morning, which was at the Istanbul Town Hall with the Vice-Mayor. This was a good conversation on the present issues facing the city and nation. The discussion underscored the significance of our joint pilgrimage in terms of civil relations – we have tended to focus on the interreligious benefits.

The Vice-Mayor said that he would like to see Istanbul as a model of Interreligious Dialouge. Truth be told, however, there are not many minorities of other religions in Istanbul. There are the Jews, the Armenians, the Orthodox, and the Italian Catholics – all in very low numbers. Most of the interreligious activity of which the Vice-Mayor was speaking was in international relations with nations like Spain, and conducted on a civilisational or cultural basis. Nb. Istanbul has been chosen as the International Capital for Culture for 2010.

We were then taken to a new museum which had been built since my last visit to Istanbul: the Panorama 1453. I wasn’t expecting what we finally saw after a short line up, but you can get an idea from their website here: http://www.panoramikmuze.com/eng_index.htm. The Panorama is a circular painting with real three dimensional objects in the foreground and sky like dome over the top that gives you the impression that you are standing in the middle of the invading Ottoman army during the battle of 1453. To this is added a sound track of the battle. I asked a member of our Catholic team what their reaction to this was and he replied with one word “Terrifying”.

What struck me was the perspective of the Museum. I have long been aware (since attending a 550th commemorative conference in Melbourne in 2003) of the conflicting interpretations of the event we call the Invasion of Constantinople and the Turks call the Conquest of Istanbul. The perspective of the panorama was quite definitely outside the walls. What was going on inside the walls was anyone’s guess. Bishop Prowse commented that we had been to the battle of 1453 and found ourselves on the “wrong” side.

It reminded me of the time I was last in Turkey – for the Anzac Day (April 25th) Gallipoli celebrations in 2007. Then too I saw for the first time artistic depictions of the battle of Gallipoli (or Cenakkale, as the Turks call it) from the Turkish perspective – ie, from up on the hills looking down on the invading ships in the bay, rather than from the usual perspective that I had seen it in all my school text books from the ships in the bay looking up at the hills. The point of perspective depends entirely upon what side you were on at the time. We can’t expect the Turks to view either Gallipoli or 1453 from the same perspective that we do, any more than we can expect the Australian Aboriginals to share the perspective of the European settlers (or vice versa). More about this later.

We then went to a new school of the Gulen Movement called “Burc Koleji”, where we had a comparitively light lunch, during which we discussed the technicalities of slaughtering animal for halal food. Fr Denis keeps bantams for eggs and for meat, which led to a discussion of the mass slaughter of halal chickens. The certification of Islamic food is one of the areas in which Ikebal Patil specialises. Afterwards, we had a tour of the school, including a “fake ice” ice-hockey rink (I had a go at skating on it, but it was like greased ice – no grip what so ever). In the gym there were a bunch of half a dozen guys playing soccer, so after watching for a while the Muslim men of our pilgrimage (and Fr Denis playing goal keeper) challenged the boys to a quick scratch match. Much fun ending with tea handed round for refreshments.

Next we visited a richly decorated and much revered tomb of one of the Prophet’s companions. There were many faithful Muslims gathered around the tomb praying and reading the Koran. Poor old Max couldn’t enter the tomb because he was wearing shorts. “Don’t try that at the Vatican, Max”, I warned him.

While the Muslims conducted their afternoon prayers, we went to a nearby coffee shop for tea and scrolls. Bishop Prowse had not yet tried apple tea, so I recommended it to him and had a glass myself. Gwenda and Charlotte lit up their cigarettes, and once again I found myself without my pipe. Grrr.

There was a bit of a festival going on in the square in relation to the week long celebration of the Prophet’s Birthday. We couldn’t quite understand the explanation that Orhan gave us why this celebration should be taking place now, when the rest of the Muslim world celebrated it five weeks ago, but we were not complaining when the the people in the streets began offering us Turkish delight to eat and to wash our hands with Rose water.

We then caught up with the Muslims who had returned from their prayers. Fatih (the president of the Queensland equivalent of the Australian Intercultural Society) had bought a bag of carob beans for YTL10 per kilogram. I had never tried to eat unprocessed carob before, but found it a pleasant light chocolate taste without bitterness or sweetness. Just don’t try to eat the seeds inside or you will need a visit to the dentist.

Orhan then took us up to a cafe high above the Golden Horn overlooking the ancient city with great views. We were served a hot drink called “saleb”, made from milk, starch, and wild orchid roots, and topped with cinnamon and nutmeg. John Dupuche thought that we might introduce this very pleasant drink into the Archdiocese.

Back at the Hotel, we celebrated Mass in Bishop Prowse’s Room once again and then went out to the final event of the day, dinner with local businessmen at Fetih College. The college caters from kindergarten to final year of high school. A very large u-shape table arrangement sat 50 people (including us) and His Eminence (= associate of Fetullah Gulen, the founder of the movement) Mehmet Ali Sengul was present as our guest of honour.

After dinner almost everyone got a chance to say something. Bishop Prowse, Ikebal Patil, Stewart Sharlow, a businessman associated with Pierre Cardin, and 2 senior goverment appointees to the department for Interior Affairs were also present. The senior government person said that at first he thoughth that it was “weird” to have Catholics and Muslims travelling together, but then he changed his mind as he began to see the benefits.

Here is a precis of what Bishop Prowse said. After describing his experience at the 1453 Museum, he said:

I thought that I was on the wrong side of the wall. Then I realised that we see everything from where we stand. If we look at everythng only from a Christian point of view, we will be too narrow. If I may be so bold, I will also say that if we look at everthing only from a Muslim point of view, we will be too narrow. But when we look at the world from the view of God we can recreate society in the eye of God – made for peace . The must never be another battle of Constantinople, nor must there ever be another war between Muslim and Christians, because if there is, that will be the end of all of us. We are condemned to peace.


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