I wasn’t planning on writing about religion, politics, the death penalty, or gun control until I felt more established here in Ankara. These are subjects that will offend. I know that. You know that. But after only one week of writing this blog, I have decided to give the readers what they want.
First let me tell you a little about me so you will know where I am coming from. I was baptized and raised a Catholic. My mother is Catholic. My father was a non-practicing Protestant. I went to Catholic grade school, high school and college, sixteen years. My sister is a Baptist. Another sister is a Seventh-Day Adventist. My brother-in-law is Buddhist. In addition to Christian friends, I have dear friends who are Jewish and some who are atheists. My husband and his family are Muslim. So, I would say that when it comes to religion, I am rather well-rounded.
In college I had a theology professor whose who introduced me to Islam. More recently, I took a short continuing education course/seminar at Temple University (TUCC) that compared and contrasted Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It was quite enlightening but rather short. I have read a few pamphlets on Islam, watched documentaries, and asked questions. I have learned that I have a lot to learn.
I don’t claim to know much about Islam. But I will tell you what I do know and what I know about the practice of Islam in Turkey.
According to my research Ankara is approximately 97-99% Muslim. I have found (although I have not yet visited) a couple of Catholic churches here. I believe there are also a few Protestant churches. I will let you know when I confirm this and anything else I find about the practice of other faiths here.
Ankara, like all Turkish cities, is peppered with minarets – tall slender towers above mosques. It is from these towers that the Imam (also known as the muezzin) recites the ezan (also known as the adhan), or the call to prayer. The call is sung five times a day. At these times, devout Muslims kneel to prayer.
The holy day in Islam, runs from sundown on Thursday through sundown on Friday. Very devout Muslim men attend mosque every Friday. Women do not attend Friday services. I do not know why, other than it being tradition. On other days, men and women do attend mosque together, although I believe they pray in separate areas.
This past Friday was a government holiday in Turkey. ( We spent the day shopping for cars.) It was my first time using the subway here. We entered just like you do in most U.S. cities – taking the stairs underground.
As we entered a large hall, I noticed men everywhere, kneeling on small rugs, heads bowed in prayer. Right there in the middle of the subway station! Man, I really wanted to take pictures but I knew that was a big no-no and intrusive. I was able to find a pic of the prayer at the Kizilay Station online. I am providing this pic because I find it fascinating and think you may too. I mean no disrespect to my Muslim friends.
According to my resources, the mosques in Kizilay, the major downtown business district, are small. The mosques overflow on Fridays so the metro station allows locals and visitors to drop a mat and pray. This is similar to having a chapel in a hospital. As strange an experience as this was for me, an American, it was truly quite beautiful. The men in prayer were not disturbed by the travelers passing by. (Although I must admit, I was a little uncomfortable stopping to purchase a subway card in the middle of it.) Prayer is a mainstay in their lives. It is their daily bread.
Not all Muslims are able to get to the mosque to pray – no different than other religious folks in the U.S. And although I don’t have more than 50 cable television stations, I find it safe to say that there is no Turkish version of Jerry Falwell broadcasted into their homes. One could argue that there is in-home broadcasting. Opening my windows, I can listen to the call to prayer from the comfort of my living room couch. In many neighborhoods, one will simultaneously hear more than one Imam calling from multiple mosques. At first startled by it, I am now at ease with the ritual ezan. It has become music to my ears, as the sun rises and sets. The songbird sings.
Those who can’t make it to mosque pray in the privacy of their homes. Each home has small rugs, known as “seccade,” that are used specifically for this purpose. Seccade are also offered to house guests should they wish take a moment to pray while they are visiting.
When I started this post, I promised I would tell you what I know about Islam. But as my windows are open, the sun is shining, birds are chirping, geraniums are blooming, and I am finding myself a bit distracted. I don’t claim to know much about Islam. But I will tell you what I do know and what I know about the practice of Islam in Turkey. It will just have to be on another day!