Catholic Muslim Pilgrimage – Day 6 (18 April): "I'm going back again to Istanbul…"

We were actually woken at 4:15am to catch the plane for Istandbul. We had to go through several bag checks at the airport, and I was sick of this, so I put a lot of my hand luggage, including my camera, into the checkin so I didn’t have to carry it.

Back in Istanbul at dawn, Jan (our bus driver) drove us to our breakfast at an education centre run by the Gulen Movement. At the Hagia Sophia we ran into a traffic jam due to works on the tramline. Jan backed out and went on a long circuit back to the same point from another direction, and got through by actually driving down the tram line, past the works and out the other side. He is a genius!

At the education centre, we were fed breakfast in an upstairs canteen. This is an interesting idea. Downstairs in this centre, there was a lecture going on with a famour Sufi teacher. There was also an extensive bookstore for the publishing company Tughra books. The canteen is to provide the people who come to the education centre with a meal before the lectures. This seems to me to parallel the Workers Associations that were so common in the 19th and early 20th Centuries among Catholics.

After breakfast, we were introduced to our host Hakan Yesilova, the Senior editor of the magazine The Fountain. He spoke excellent English, which allowed us to engage fully with him. He introduced us to Dr Mehmet Ergene, the author of a book which we were all given called “Tradition Witnessing the Modern Age: An Analysis of the Gulen Movement”. Dr Ergene did not speak any English, so Hakan translated for him. You can read much of the book here at this link.

We are able to question Dr Ergene and Hakan about this book and about the Gulen Movement in depth. In many ways, this book illustrates some of the difficulties we have in understanding what this movement is about and in the ways in which the Movement itself fails to totally connect with the western ways of scholarly thinking. The translation, for instance, is a committee job and that has not produced the greatest result. On top of that, it is clear that most of the western ideas and western history with which the book tries to engage has been gained through secondary sources, not all of them accurate. For example if you follow the link above and read pages 66ff, you will find that it (like much of Gulen’s own work) subscribes to a view of the relationship between the Church and science that is far from accurate or just to the Church’s role in the development of science in the Western context. I hope that this ignorance of the true place of the Catholic Church in the history of Western civilisation might be corrected at least a little by the next leg of our pilgrimage to Rome.

Nevertheless it is also true that Gulen is on about many things that Benedict XVI has addressed, such as the compatibility of reason and faith. For instance, there is quotation from Gulen on a page not included in the Google books extract in which Gulen laments the almost complete lack of metaphysical knowledge and understanding in modern Western rationalism which seems to deny the very soul of the human person. I believe that the language barrier is largely to blame for the fact that Gulen and his disciples are unaware of the ally they might have in the Holy Father for their goals and aims.

Despite the weaknesses of this book from a scholarly point of view, it is never the less the most complete treatment of Gulen that I have yet found. It is one book that will be coming back with me to Australia, despite the addition to the luggage weight.

At the end of the session the others looked through the bookshop while I went to the bus to get my camera out to take some photographs of the stunning views of the Topakai Palace from the room in which our session was held. When I opened my bag, I found no camera. “Is gone!” as Manuel would say. Somewhere in transit between Konya and Istanbul someone in the airport luggage handling had helped themselves to my (actually, the Commission’s) camera. Stolen. Gone. Finito. Thank God/Allah that I had downloaded all my photos the night before, despite being very tired.

I called the QBE insurance office in Australia to report the loss. They said that they had logged the report, and that all I needed to make a claim when I returned to Australia was a police report. I consoled myself that we needed a new camera for the Commission anyway – the old Kodak now being woefully outdated and taking inferior pictures especially indoors. I thought too that I might be able to pick up a new camera cheaper in Istanbul than back home.

We returned to the hotel for some 2 hours of “free time”, but I spent it in the following activities:

1) Visit to the police station with Jan. This was an interesting experience. At the door was a policeman in military like uniform with a semiautomatic machine gun. He took an instant dislike to Jan for some reason and spoke agressively to him (all in Turkish – no English so I had no idea what was happening other than it was not good). Jan tried to explain that I needed a police report but all he got in return was more agro. Eventually, virtually at the point of a gun, we were turned away. Jan instantly got onto his mobile phone to Orhan. Just walk away, I thought. Jan has it all in control…

2) Jan took me to a post office to buy stamps for the girls. The office was as unlike any Australia Post outlet as it could possibly be. It was completely bare of any sign or decoration or poster or anything for sale. There was only one small poster on the wall with a set of the latest stamps (showing scenes of Istanbul) for sale. I pointed to this and asked if I could have two of them. No, they don’t sell those here. In the end, the provided me with only two different kinds of stamps (one with a mosque on it) so I bought two of each. They did not have enough change so gave me what they had. Only a lira or two short…

3) then a short visit to a pharmacy to pick up cold and flu tablets – yes, my worst fears are now coming true and I am coming down with something just as I have to take over the organisation of the Pilgrimage in Rome…

4) Back at the Hotel, Orhan explained to me that from his conversations on the phone with the police, he had ascertained that the Police report could only be obtained in the place of the theft – ie. Konya. Great. “Don’t worry, my friend, we will sort it out”. I am sure he will. He has the determination to get this sort of thing done.

5) back in our room, Max pointed out that we had a large private balcony with full sunshine. Yippee! a chance to get some washing done. So I washed all my dirty clothing in the shower basin and hung it out with my travel clothes line and coat hangers.

6) finally, a shower, a shave, and I was ready to go with the rest of the gang to the Gulen Movement inspired TV station on the Asian side of the city.

When we dropped the others off, our guide, Kadir, and his brother-in-law, took me in his little Renault to a camera shop to buy a new camera. Travelling in a car in Istanbul traffic is even more exciting than travelling by bus, especially when your driver is using one hand to talk on his mobile phone! When we got to the shop, I went straight in and found the camera I wanted to buy. It was just like the one Cathy and I had recently purchased at home, but was listed at 745TL. Given the almost equal exchange rate, I thought this a bit pricey, so I used their internet connection to look up what the camera cost back in Melbourne. Discount Cameral Warehouse had it listed for $335. So, no new camera in Istanbul. Not to worry, as Greg Barton had offered to loan me a spare camera he had brought along “just in case” for the rest of the trip. This will be an opportunity to visit Greg when I return for a cup of coffee at his office in Monash and a catch up. So all that is sorted too.

After the TV station (where everyone was having a lot of fun in the studios pretending to be on national Turkish TV), we travelled to the headquarters of the Fountain publishing group high up on a hill overlooking the city. Here were were met by Hakan once again, and shown over their library and other facilities. Again there was an opportunity to engage with questions about the movement – this time directly with Hakan himself. He was able to answer a lot of our questions, such that Bishop Prowse said “That man is really good.” I discovered too that this trip is a lot different from my previous visit to the same centre, as the Muslims amongst us knew exactly what questions to ask in order to increase our understanding of the Gulen Movement.

After this visit we went for dinner to a private house nearby on a hill overlooking the Bosphurus. I had visited this home two years ago for the same purpose. Then it belonged to a dried fruit and nut merchant who was a supporter of the Movement. Unfortunately this lovely and dignified gentleman had passed away last year, but the four storey villa was now in the hands of his two sons and their families. I wish I had my camera when I arrived, because the house was guarded by a “small bear” as Emre (who was now with us, having flown in from Melbourne just a few hours before) called the German Shepherd chained, and barking and snarling at us as we entered. It reminded me of a certain policeman I had recently encountered… The next dog on guard was a smaller version, another German Shepherd, not quite as agro as the first. Then there was a boxer who yapped at us from his kennel, finally followed by a little spaniel who sat quietly waiting to be patted. The young boy of the family informed later that this dog was called “Hund” (the boy likes to practice his German!). The whole thing reminded me of the Hans Christian Anderson story of the Tinderbox, but only in reverse.

The meal was delightful, with many fine and exotic dried fruits for dessert. The family was especially honoured to welcome Christopher – I doubt they had ever met a bishop before let alone had one in their house as a guest. We returned happy and relaxed to our lodging for the night. All sensible people when straight to bed, but I did the usual thing of checking emails and writing the blog. Bed time now, before they lock the door of the terrace on me.


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