Travelogue from Interfaith and Intercultural Trip to Turkey 2008

Travelogue from Interfaith and Intercultural Trip to Turkey 2008

Hyderabad has close cultural and historic ties with Turkey and I always wanted to visit it. So when the trip was being planned with Indialogue Foundation I was very keen as I have lived in Arab countries and Iran, but my experience of the Middle East was incomplete because I had never visited Turkey.

When the trip materialized with Indialogue Foundation I was very excited as not only did Indialogue Foundation offer local hospitality but personally took us, guided us and showed us what a visitor on his/her own, however well prepared he/she may be can ever hope to see. It takes insiders to show the sights of a place, which sterile trips with professional guides can never match.

The visit to Turkey with Indialogue Foundation was remarkable at different levels:

As we descended from the coach the sight that greeted us was a bed of flowers. This was symbolic as the rest of the trip was indeed flowers all the way. I thought the flowers were camellias but no they were roses, red, big, and perfumed. The restaurant with water lapping on its shore not only gave us a fabulous breakfast but also a taste of things to come. The first impression was thus of hospitality. We had many lunches and dinners breakfasts and teas with families who pulled all stops to serve us their delights. Most endearing was the way of their mehmannawazi, their khulus. We would all be seated,

(no buffets here), and  members of the family would pass the food round. Not only all family members, but neighbours came in to serve. I was totally bowled. Can we imagine ourselves going to neighbours homes to help them entertain their guests? No the custom is uniquely Turkish. It comes from deep breeding, bonding and fellow feeling.

Eating with Turkish families led to meaningful interactions with them. We discussed current problems, women’s role in society, freedom of the press and how educated Turks were leading the way to building schools, colleges, universities to spread education. We saw here Fatheullah Gulen’s mission as practiced in Turkey today of talking, sharing and understanding and respecting different cultures and religions. Gulen says “civilized people solve their problems through dialogue” and this was a foretaste of it.

As Maulana Rumi who has inspired Gulen says:

The difference among creatures comes from the outward form (nam)

When one penetrates the inner meaning (ma’na) there is peace

O marrow of existence! It is because of the point of view in question

That there has come into being differences among the Muslim Zoroastrian and Jew

The tourist aspect was full of wonders we had anticipated but also full of many surprises. The splendid sights of Istanbul with its monuments perched astride two continents and overlooking the Bosphorus are a combination of man made and natural marvels. The mosques, the palaces, the villas, the gardens, the wide streets and narrow lanes that recall a bygone age, were things we had read about particularly in Orhan Pamuk’s books. But what was charming was the way everything was kept, how the modern and the ancient dwelt side by side, how well preserved items of rare artistry were and how masterfully they were displayed. We were lucky indeed in the guides we had and lucky that in our group we had connoisseurs who would point out the unique treasures that the mosques and palaces held especially exhibits from the early Islamic period, dating back to the Prophet (pbuh) and relics of ahle bayt, astounding specimens of calligraphy, swords such as zulfiqar and later items of textiles, carpets, jewels and coins.

In Ankara again we were bewitched by its wonders like the massive antique fort with its crenellated wall and a fabulous view of the city of Ankara, the tea house within the fort, and fascinating bazaar leading to it. Then a fairly new and huge mosque built in the 1990’s but in the Ottoman style with stained glass windows.  The grand finale in Ankara was its Museum which has treasures from the cave and Neolithic ages (8000 BC) to Islamic times. There are for instance 20, 000 tablets of Assyrian writing and Lydian coins which were the first to be minted in the world. The Ankara Museum was judged as the best Museum in Europe recently for its richness, for its display and for its upkeep. As a very senior old guide who showed us the marvels himself said we were indeed lucky to go round with him as few guides could show what only he knew.

Our trip was very well planned. In one week we were also able also to visit the impressive Fatih University, and the important organization of the Zaman Newspaper. 

The Spiritual aspect was the highpoint of our experience of Turkey. To visit the shrine of Maulana Rumi was everyone’s dream and it came true when we visited Konya. The tomb of Maulana Rumi displays art in its most refined form.  Verses of the Quran, names of the Companions, and of the twelve imams adorn the awe inspiring interior. We felt a spiritual sublimity as we approached the tomb of Maulana and his memorable verses sprung to my mind of the message he spoke from his heart and soul.

Be like the sun in compassion and mercy.

In hiding other’s defects be like the night.

In anger and irritation be like the dead.

Be like flowing water in generosity and offering help.

In tolerance be like the ocean.

Be like the earth in humility and humbleness.

Either seem as you are or be as you seem.

The trip to Turkey ended but its magic remains. Other trips abroad have been wonderful and beautiful but this one had the spiritual in it as well. Turkish friends showed us how the message of Gulen is lived and practiced not only in his home but, as we learnt, in many places of the world. The interaction will not be complete until group of Turks come and visit us, stay with us even as we stayed with them. We will then have an opportunity to make our interaction more meaningful. 


Prof. Ismat Latif Mehdi


17th September 2009