Istanbul during Ramadan 2016

I travel on a very limited budget. The down side of that is I seldom discover the art of fine dining in the places I visit. The good side is that I often end up sitting in a park, eating street fare, amongst the local color. Or in some hole-in-the-wall where a bored waiter decides to talk to me. And that’s a real plus in my book.

Although it’s all over the news, I never really grasped the tension amongst the Turkish people with the direction their government is taking them. Many citizens feel the ruling party, the ones they elected, has not stayed true to their campaign rhetoric. “They’ve turned too conservative on us,” seems to be a common complaint. And although their Constitution declares Turkey a secular state – separation of state and religion – many feel the ruling body is now enforcing a more traditional Islamic influence and thus, fewer human rights. There’s even talk of amending their Constitution to remove the secular verbiage.

In the 2013 the government lifted a ban on females wearing a head scarf, or hijab, in state offices, hospitals and in schools. Although in America we seem to be moving toward allowing folks to wear their religious garb, some Turks feel it’s a way of sneaking more Islamic influence into their daily lives. They’ve also limited alcohol sales and made efforts to do away with mixed-sex dorms at state universities. More importantly, they are cracking down on media freedoms. One young man told us, “the government is trying to limit Facebook and twitter!,” fighting words amongst the youth.

Those with whom I’ve spoken are young men who are adamant that the change is wrong. They, like many youth in America and everywhere else, I’m sure, are testing the religious and political lines that hamper human rights.

I am encouraged by all this. I like seeing our youth – both here in Turkey and in America – engaged, speaking their minds, and moving our world forward in a healthy direction. It spells “Hope” in my book.

————————–  Istanbul during Ramadan 2016 (click here to hear the prayers)

istanbulIn 1935 the Hagia Sophia was secularized and converted to a museum. Some of the Christian mosaics were carefully uncovered and restored, but there are few. Crosses once carved out of columns are now filled with concrete. Christian-style altars converted to those more traditional for a mosque. As a Christian I felt a bit violated by the sight of this historical destruction. I understand that I am in a country which is 97% Muslim and they are certainly not responsible – and because of historical events the Arabic calligraphy and Islamic religious symbols would dominate. But I am still saddened that both religions couldn’t have been represented…and existed in harmony.

I am proud that as American people we are moving closer to understanding and honoring the individual and each of their religious practices. We are beginning to see extremists for what they are, no matter which religion they claim. And although I cringe to see the barbs on Facebook, the divisive rhetoric slung about by our politicians, and the undercurrent of belief than those outside the majority are not equally divine, I do see a big shift toward a more universal understanding of what real faith, hope and love really is.

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