Tuesday, June 02, 2009


I spent my flight listening to the In Our Time podcast for the seige of Vienna, and then the recording of the Mamno'oon programme from al Jazeera on Saeed al Noursi, so that was a fitting way to begin my trip in Istanbul. It is a strange city, it really is between East and West in so many ways. I was surprised to know that the official weekend is Saturday and Sunday and not Friday. In fact, up until the last ten years, Turkish officialdom was viciously anti-Islamic but things have been improving, especially with the slowly slowly approach taken by Erdogan. Went to one of the castles that the Ottomans built on the Bosphorus to help conquer Constantinople. Amazingly they built that fortress in only about 4 months, in 1452. Their grandeur still lingers around the city. Went to a small mosque near the fort when the time to pray began. There were about six people...but I hear that Friday prayers are absolutely packed in spite of the difficulty of taking time off work.

Went to the market yesterday with an aunt to buy vine leaves so that she could make me some delicious Yabrak (stuffed with rice and cooked with lamb cutlets). The seller asked me in Turkish where I was from, and I told him I was from Syria. He smiled brightly, shook my hand and then he muttered something to me under his breath about Islam and I pretended to understand, nodding my head knowingly. My aunt pretended not to hear as she inspected the leaves. She told me that he said Islam was a magnificent religion. Most of the poor in Turkey are Muslim and very religious. The girls are not aloud to wear a Hejab when they go to University, so what they do is either take it off on campus and then put it on when they leave, or they wear the most awful wigs (on purpose) so that they do not attract attention to themselves. The decadent and seedy club lands of Bodrum which I see on the television seem a world away from the humility of these people. In Mecca, my aunt noticed more people from Turkey around her than there were Arabs.

Finally, the call to prayer in Istanbul is absolutely beautiful, perhaps even more than in Damascus in fact, or maybe it is because I have not heard it in a while. It is so refreshing to come back to a place where I can hear that throughout the day.


jimmy said...

Ardogan is taking a slowly slowly approach indeed. One that makes every great egalitarian, free thinker, or humanist shake in their grave.

I am an addict of In Our Time since 2006! I listened to the Siege of Vienna yesterday and I was amazed by the section where they discussed the bewilderment of the oriental in europe, and the confirmation that orientals were mistreated there as far back as in 1680s, while the europeans visiting the east were treated like members of the family.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you're having a good time here. It's a great city. I'll be quitting my job this weekend and I'm really excited to actually have the time to explore, which has been sorely lacking due to a six-day work week. I'm quite looking forward to moving to Syria in August, myself.


What exactly is Erdoğan doing that "makes every great egalitarian, free thinker, or humanist shake in their grave"?

ayman said...

It is so interesting that you see in Istanbul what I see, a more tolerant way of Islam. It is so far removed from the Wahabi inspired approach that it is startling. I love Turkey's version of Islam inspired by Rumi and Ibn Arabi, and not Ibn Hanbal. The fact that I'm an Ottoman Syrian may be behind my affinity for Islam as it is practiced in Istanbul.

Maysaloon said...

Most egalitarians, free thinkers and humanists that I know of have been Muslim. Your comment leaves me as puzzled as Midwinterspring is.

Thank you for stopping by. Still I am perturbed by how similar our discourse can be,yet how truly divergent our interpretation of the same terms can be. I'm an Ottoman Syrian too (in the sense you refer to) though I continue to see things very differently to you.

Lirun said...

too bad i didnt know u were visting the middle east - i would have reminded you to visit us over here in israel..