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

  1. maddy

    hi Dad
    we came back from mamas and grandads
    on wednesday .We stayed and cleaned up
    for a while. Thanks for the rosaries. I think they smell lovely!
    love you
    Maddy

  2. Mia

    dear dad
    Yesterday we went to the post office and i got two packets of stamps with 50 stamps in each one. One was a packet of cat stamps and the other was a marine one. Mama also gave us a big packet full of stamps from Eric McGee. We’ve been sorting them out this morning. The biggest lot is from the USA. Please can you get us some stamps from Turkey if you can. love from Mia

  3. Susan Peterson

    You shouldn’t put the wrong, as in “wrong” side, in scare quotes. It was and is the wrong side. They were there looking down on “invading”ships in the bay as a result of their conquest of the Holy Roman Empire over a period of several centuries.

    Christianity was given a mandate to preach to all nations and baptize them.
    Islam came along and drove Christians out of ancient Christian Sees, getting in the way of and reversing some of the progress of Christianity towards converting all nations. They are opposed to God’s expressed will that all should know Jesus as the Divine Son of God. This isn’t an issue in which you can just not take sides.

    I am sure the people you played soccer with are decent fellows. I even believe that sincere worship of the only God they know, may actually be accepted by the true God, as CS Lewis has Aslan say to the worshipper of Tash who is killed in The Last Battle. But Aslan (Jesus) is the true God, and there either is no Tash, or Tash is a demon.
    Surely Mohammed, the result of whose life is that so many are either seduced or more likely coerced, from the true faith, could only have been moved by the forces of evil. It is not like a totally unrelated religion like Buddhism, but a perversion of Judaism and Christianity.
    And this perversion, this mega-heresy, took over the Christian middle east by force. Of course they have their own point of view. But I don’t think you should try to twist yourself into seeing from it.
    Susan Peterson

  4. As I said to someone else, Susan, we should not confuse our Christian view with the view of God. To be sure, we Christians believe that the revelation we have received through Jesus Christ is true revelation. We do not acknowledge the revelation that is claimed by the Muslim believers to be authentic. However, both the Christian and Muslim “views” are from earth level, not from heaven level. Re-read the Tower of Babel story – in which God has to look a long way down from heaven to see what is going on on earth – if you don’t get what I mean. Our ways are not your ways, etc. I could quote other passages.

    God was not viewing the breach of the walls of Constantinople from within the city. Nor was he viewing it from the outside. He was viewing it from heaven, and at the same time intimately involved in the soul of every participant – both Muslim and Christian – in the engagement.

    In addition to this, you are overlooking the political element in this history. Faith is one thing, politics another. The events of 1453 were not simply Christians against Muslims (although that is one perspective), but the Ottoman empire against the Roman empire. No empire, no matter how much “of God” they may be, has a complete claim on divine protection. Think of the fall of the Davidic Kingdom to the Babylonians. Who were the good guys and who were the bad guys in that engagement? Judaism was the true religion – not the Babylonian idolatry – but God was the one who gave Jerusalem (including his temple) into the hands of the Babylonians. Remember God’s perspective is not our perspective, whatever religion we might be.

    And consider too, how much of the world’s violence would be avoided if we were able to see the world from our enemies perspective.

    There is just so much in your comment, Susan, that calls for further reflection. I don’t want to suggest that for the Christian world, the fall of Constantinople was not a great disaster. Yet at the same time, great changes in world history came about because of it. For instance, neither the Catholic Church nor the Protestant Churches would exist as they do today if it were not for this event. The fall of Constantinople also had direct repercussions for the Russian Church. You could even argue that the vibrant evangelicalism of the Church in our own day is due in part to the fact of the existence of Islam. I don’t know. I don’t have God’s perspective on this one.

    And the coming of Islam was not a complete disaster for true religion. There is much that is good, true and holy in Islam, and throughout the world it has brought many millions to faith in the one creator God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – and yes, the God of Jesus Christ. It is not the fullness of truth, but – except where it replaced Christianity – it brought the worship of God in the place of the worship of idols.

    I think that Lewis’ point about Tash and Aslan is interesting in relation to their respective worshippers, but clumsy and inaccurate as an analogy between Allah of the Muslims and the Trinity of the Christians. Allah is not a demon. Allah is simply the Arabic name for God. It is the name that both Muslim and Christian Arabs call upon. It is not the name of a demon.

  5. Clara

    And some could argue that the fall of Constantinople was inevitable due to the internal divisions of Christendom and the distrust between the churches of the East and of the West over hundreds of years.