This was my second trip to Turkey, a country and people I very much admire and appreciate. Of course, on my second trip I learn how much I have not learned about Istanbul and Ephesus and Mary's place and Ottoman history.
It is impossible to relate all that happened on this trip. So I have picked out seven specific episodes and hope these may be thought-provoking as well as encourage you to plan a trip to Turkey, the home of Fethullah Gulen and Hizmet.
I roll over in the single hotel bed, listening as my roommate Harry Weller gives out some snores and 'harrumping' night time sounds. I look at my watch in the faint light. It is 4:00 in the morning. I must get up, take a quick shower and shave, then head down the hotel stairs and out into the morning coolness, along the dark cobblestoned street, and turn the far corner.
The mammoth Eyup Mosque is ahead of me, named after one of Mohammad's main companions. Already I see figures of men ahead, going through the mosque outer door.
I also enter the large courtyard and then step onto the rug in front of the inner entrance door. I take off my shoes and find plastic bags sticking in a clump on the wooden table. I stuff my shoes inside and then enter. I will step gingerly up the step and onto the huge carpeted prayer floor. I find a building pillar in the left rear, a steady place where I can go down onto my wobbly knees and then afterward brace myself against the stone and rise.
I had always wondered how the men in a mosque can stand in such perfect formation, dress right dress. Well, there is a design in the carpet whose straight lines run parallel to each other and cross from one side of the carpet to the other.
As I sit down on the carpet and lean against the pillar, others enter. I notice one man whose right hand holds the small hand of his son. They walk together up the left side. Soon the room is filled. The imam enters from the back and makes his way to the front through this crowded floor. He begins the prayers and soon all are together kneeling and bowing, their heads touch the floor. Then they stand with heads bowed. Again they kneel and bow.
So why am I here? Why also did I visit these places of prayer from the world-renowned gigantic Blue Mosque all the way to a small prayer room beside a restaurant along the highway? I make at least ten such visits during this trip.
I am a Roman Catholic and I firmly accept all the Church's teaching from opposing abortion as an attack upon a new human life to the dogma that a marriage celebrates the union of one man and one woman. But I do admire much in Islam including the practice of praying five times a day, including those early morning sessions I attended at the mosques.
Of course, if somebody cannot make it to the mosque, they can fulfill their obligation by stopping their daily work, turning toward Mecca, and offering prayer. But believers do pray five times a day. I contrast this with us Christians who barely pray once a week.
The other thought that circles through my brain as I kneel among the others in the Eyup mosque. There are probably more men praying this morning in this one mosque than the number of all men together who are praying in all the churches of America for this morning.
It is time to leave the mosque for the hotel. But I am stuck here sitting on the floor. I mumble my thanks as somebody in the mosque comes over to give this old man a hand as I struggle to get up.
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