Sunday, April 5, 2015
Easter with an Imam along the Silk Road to Konya
Today was as unique an Easter morning as we could ever imagine. We spent the morning in a fourth century Christian church, now a mosque, visiting with a Muslim imam and learning about his faith and his role in the community.
Our tour group woke to a glorious Easter morning and boarded the bus to our next stop in the ancient Cappadocian town of Guzelyert. By mid-morning, we arrived in the Monastery Valley below the town. Within this 3.4 mile (5.5 km.) valley, there are 28 churches and ancient monasteries, two underground cities, and hundreds of cave homes, chapels, and stables carved into the cliffs. This ancient valley provided a refuge for 2nd and 3rd century Christians, who used its secluded location and rock-carved dwellings to escape persecution by the Romans, who controlled this territory from 17 A.D. until Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity.
|A map of Monastery Valley|
|The village of Guzelyurt sits perched on the cliffs above the valley.|
|The spring blossoms were in full bloom.|
|This scene of a little stable built into the rocks made me think of the stable in Bethlehem.|
|Guzelyurt Church Mosque - formerly St. Gregorius Church|
In 1924, when the Greek population left this area in the Greece-Turkey population exchange, the church was converted into a mosque. Paint now covers the original frescoes and Christian decorations,and a minaret now stands in place of the old bell tower. Traces of the old Christian heritage can still be seen inside, however, with an old wooden pulpit still overlooking the sanctuary and the cross shape of the nave.
|The single minaret of the Guzelyurt Church Mosque|
|The old Christian pulpit still remains in the mosque...|
The village imam, Emir, greeted us outside the gates to the courtyard. He was delightful...a young and handsome man with a gentle and pleasant manner. Our tour guide, Mert, had told us that Emir resembles George Clooney, and he wasn't far wrong!
|Mert introduces us to Emir.|
|Our group gathers in the mosque courtyard.|
We women covered our heads and both men and women removed our shoes and entered the simple room to sit on the colorful prayer rugs covering the floor. Our group asked Emir many questions concerning Islam, about his role in the community, about the education of the children of the village, women’s rights, and more. Mert translated our questions and Emir’s answers. He confirmed what Mert had already taught us…that Turkey is a secular nation and tolerant of all religions. Emir said the moderate Muslims of Turkey (and around the world) are angry about the acts of the radical extremists, as they do not represent the beliefs of billions of Muslims and are giving Islam a bad name. He feels much of the problem arises from ignorance and illiteracy because the uneducated are vulnerable and dependent on the leadership of tribal leaders who do not correctly interpret the lessons of the Koran.
|Our group had many questions for Emir.|
|Mert translates for Emir, who shared his beliefs and the life of a village imam.|
|The ladies listen to the fascinating discussion.|
|Mert and Emir|
A highlight of the morning was listening to Emir sing the call to prayer, which we heard broadcast from loudspeakers five times a day. It was much more pleasant to hear it sung in person than by the usual loud and distorted recorded versions emanating from the minarets in the cities we had visited. I did not record his call to prayer, but I did remember to switch to video mode when he also sang some verses from the Qur'an for us. Click this link to hear Verses from the Qur'an
After the discussion, we gathered in the courtyard to say our thank yous and get some photos. This visit was one of the highlights of our trip!
|Joan and Rob with Emir|
|Our great fellow tour members with Emir in the courtyard of the Guzelyurt Church Mosque.|
|Joan and Rob on a stretch break during the long drive to Konya.|
|Mert kept us informed - and amused - with his bus lectures.|
|Sultanhani Caravanserai - Marco Polo slept here!|
|Entering Sultanhani Caravanserai|
|The huge entrance doors into the couryard|
|The entrance was lavishly decorated with stone carvings|
|And, of course, the caravanserai came with a resident cat or two!|
|Joan and Rob in front of the mosque tower|
|Rob climbs the steep steps to the top of the tower.|
|Lee and Jean made it to the top. (It was trickier than it looks!)|
|Stairs to the lookout posts on the outer walls|
|Walls of the inner compound|
|The interior chambers where weary travelers would rest during their journey|
|The interior rooms were huge|
|A modern stadium on the outskirts of Konya|
|Another modern building as we approach Konya|
Once again, we women donned our headscarves and entered the outer courtyard of the mosque where we had a very sweet experience with two groups of students. Mert read some of Rumi's teachings and told us a bit about the history of Rumi and his philosophy, along with a description of the building, which used to be the courts of Konya. As we listened, a group of young schoolboys around 10 to 12 years old approached us to practice their English. The boys were shy at first, giggling and ducking their heads, but soon opened up as we showed a friendly interest. As we were still talking to them, we were approached on the other side by four lovely young women who also wanted to have the chance to practice their English. They were delightful…all pre-med students about to take their exams to qualify for dental school. Konya is the most conservative city in Turkey, so most of the women we saw had their heads covered, including these four girls. Mert told us that back in the late '80s and early '90s, Turkey was very strict about its secular stand and women with their heads covered would not have been allowed to study at the university. The government is much more tolerant now.
and I were impressed with Rumi's philosophy. His poetry and writings emphasize tolerance for all who believe in God. His teachings are
followed by the famous Whirling Dervishes, who can be found throughout the
world. Every movement of the dervish's dance has profound meaning. The dervish whirls into a meditative trance, the right
hand extended up to God with the left hand facing the earth. He keeps
one foot centered and rotates in a counter-clockwise direction with his head
tilted at a 22 degree angle, to mimic the rotation and tilt of the earth. As he spins, he gathers the love from God in his right hand and rains it down with his left hand onto all the world.
|Joan outside of Rumi's Mausolium|
|This sign was very interesting. I'm not exactly sure what it is asking us to do!|
|Our group enjoys a conversation with some adorable school boys|
|Konya school boys|
|These young pre-med students wanted to practice their English with us.|
Instead of removing our shoes, as we had done at the Blue Mosque, we covered our shoes with little booties and entered Rumi's mausoleum. Elaborate designs, vivid colors, and calligraphy decorated the walls and ceiling. We observed the faithful praying behind a barred wall, men and women in separate rooms. A Qur'an from 1544 A.D. was on display; its pages were decorated with calligraphy by Rumi's own daughter. Stylized turbans topped the tomb of Rumi and some of his disciples, and we learned that the turban had a practical purpose. Muslims are supposed to be buried quickly in a burial shroud, and the turban was their burial shroud, carried with them just in case they died unexpectedly while traveling.
|The entrance to the mausoleum|
|Jim and Jane cover their shoes to enter Rumi's Mausoleum|
|The tombs of some of Rumi's disciples|
|13th century Seljuk reading desk on display in the mausoleum|
|Decorative plaque in the entry hall|
|Pages from the Qur'an (from 1544 A.D.) with calligraphy by Rumi's daughter|
It was lovely to discover that one of my favorite hymns in my own Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship is actually a poem by Rumi. The verse below is the poem as written by Rumi, and the link below that is a YouTube video of the song as sung in a round by a UU congregation.
“Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
It doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.
Come, yet again , come , come.”
Come, Come, Whoever You Are
|Our group is capturing the love from heaven and sharing it with you!|