December 9, 2012

Symposium: If we are not familiar with each other, we become foreigners

On September 28-29, 2012, a symposium organized by the Intercultural Dialogue Platform (IDP) (a platform within The Journalists and Writers Foundation) and institutions affiliated with the Turkish Catholic Community was held at St. Etienne Church in Yesilkoy, Istanbul.

Symposium on Muslim Christian Dialogue

The message that pervaded the international symposium rested on the belief that people groups will be alienated from one other if they do not seek to know about different cultures, ethnicities and religions. The final statement read: “If we are not familiar with each other, we become foreigners.”

The topic of discussion at the symposium, traditionally held every September under the title “Muslim-Christian Dialogue, was “Being a Foreigner and Dialogue With The Other.” Personal experiences as well as academic perspectives on the topic were discussed by prominent speakers from all around Turkey and the world.

Prof. Suat Yıldırım delivered the opening speech of the symposium, pointing out that the affiliated groups have been organizing dialogue projects as a team since 1994. Furthermore, despite what people might think looking in from outside, dialogue in Islam is not a recent phenomena-it was practiced by the Prophet Muhammed (PBU).

Yıldırım said,“Some acts of bigotry and heedlessness have caused some values to be forgotten. We are just trying to revive those values.” He continued his speech by citing the example of the Prophet Muhammed (PBU) marrying a Jewish woman named Safiye. Safiye, who was a rich woman, left all her belongings to her Jewish nephew when she passed away, which made a healthy dialogue possible between the Jews and Muslims at the time. The next speaker, Monsinyor Louis Pelatre, declared, “May God give us strength and an enlightened mind and heart, so that we may understand each other.”

Dialogue is Essential for Living Together

A faculty professor at University of Santo Tomas, Dr. Lilian Sisian, claimed the unity in the world is desintigrating, and delivered a lecture regarding the oppression of minorities in the Philippines. Sisian said, “To live together, we must first start dialogue with each other.” She continued by saying, “Blood of Muslims is being spilled in Burma. These events are disturbing for the honor of humanity. The oppressing forces are trying to force their ideas.”Sisian stated that the conclusion activists and academics inthe Philippines have reached is that the cruelty of Buddhists upon Muslims can only be resolved by dialogue between them.

Dr. Sisian ended her speech by saying, “Conceptually or philosophically it doesn’t matter, dialogue is reaching out to humanity and humanity needs it. The security of ’the others’ should be our problem. These problems can only be resolved with dialogue. Forgiveness and justice are our common values. We should respect differences and embrace the foreigners as we would embrace our friends.”

A Filipino expert on East-West Relations, Prof. Alfredo Co, stated that Turkey had been an important location for Christianity, Islam, and Judaism to spread and is a very important location for dialogue because of the geographic location of Anatolia lying between East and West.

Fethullah Gulen Started Dialogue Projects in Turkey

The last speaker in the opening speeches, the Assyrian Catholic Patriarch nominee Korekispokos Yusuf Sag, touched upon the fact that dialogue began when God created Adam, and continued by stating, “Dialogue has to be common on the streets. Dialogue is not possible with 50 people in a symposium. These programs, which are done every 5-6 months are very nice, but are not enough for dialogue.” He concluded his speech by saying, “Fethullah Gulen Hodja was the one who started dialogue in Turkey and the leaders of non-Muslims have been very helpful towards his work.”

The opening speaker in the first session, Prof. Frederic Manns, who works in the Jerusalem Holy Book Studies, said, “Dialogue between countries depends on dialogue between people.”

After the first session was finished, a session titled “Negotiations” took part where the audience stated their opinions and questions. The following conclusions were reached:
  • If you are afraid of your opposition, you try to silence them.
  • It is vital to know the difference between cultural and religious teachings.
  • We shouldn’t always talk about ourselves, we should learn to listen.
  • Dialogue is about taking care of each other’s problems.
  • Dialogue will be pursued with the help of God. The essence of dialogue is in the holy books.
The general secretary of Turkish Jews, Rabbinate Yusuf Altintas, pointed out that being a foreigner isn’t always experienced by foreign people, it is possible for a person to be a foreigner to himself.

Altintas pointed out that every religion makes ‘the others’ foreigners; however, what is important is that one can “be able to meet the foreigner.”The Director of the Dominican Studies Institute in Istanbul, Professor Claudio Monge, spoke on the “Quranic and Biblical Interpretations of Being a Foreigner and Dialogue with The Other” in a session and stated, “Differences separates us from each other. God wills that we meet with each other.”President of the Tevere Institute, M.Cenap Aydın, reminded listeners of the example of the Ensars and the refugees and said, “The refugees were foreigners to Medina. Dialogue took place between the Ensars and the refugees.”

There is No Alienation in the Holy Quran

Theology department Assistant Dean of the University of Erzincan, Assoc. Prof. Mustafa Alıcı, spoke during the last session of the first day and stated, “There is no alienation in the Quran.”

Vice president of GYV Cemal Uşak delivered the opening speech on the second day and said, “Dialogue is not for people who are familiar with each other. It is a duty of a Muslim to protect the differences originating from creation.” He reminded the audience that in the Quran it is stated that “different languages and colors are from God’s will.”He carried on his speech by saying , “We have to respect His will. God wills to see his manifestations on Earth. He wanted to watch and show us different aspects of his beauty by creating different kinds of beauties.”

Faculty of Marmara University theology department Assoc.Prof.Ismail Taspinar gave a speech on “Society and Being a Foreigner in it.” He stated that from an Islamic perspective, it is a virtue to live as a foreigner under harsh conditions. The moderator of the session, general Secretary of IDP Dr.A.MuharremAtlığ, said, “Being a foreigner and a stranger are feelings deep within the self.”

First Human Being and then Muslim, Christian or Jew

As a representative of St.Jesuit Community, Prof. Jean Marc Balhan stated that Turkey is the only country where people take care of each other’s problems. He continued by saying, “In this country, Muslims are disturbed by the problems Christians are facing and Christians are disturbed by the problems Muslims are facing.” Balhan also suggested that “we should say, ‘I am a human being and then a Muslim. I am a human being and then a Christian. I am a human being and then a Jew.’”

In a session titled “Sharing Experiences,” Dr. Katharina Zimmerbauer from the Austrian Catholic community St. Georg Christian-Muslim Dialogue stated that “It was said after the collapsing of the Berlin Wall, problems would vanish. However, the real walls are in people’s minds.”

Deputy Mufti Kadriye Erdemli expressed that she had prepared her speech according to the questions received about non-Muslims. She covered a variety of topics from marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims to the possibility of baptizing a child if one parent is a Muslim. She noted, “There are a lot of misconceptions about our religion.”

Austrian Catholic Community pastor Gerda Willlam, who observed that the two days of the symposium proved a need of dialogue, said, “We need to be in a state of communication with people for our atmosphere to be bright. People with good intentions need to collaborate to make the world a more just place.”

Friday Prayer and Christian Ceremony Together

In the symposium that lasted for 2 days, the Christians joined the Muslim Friday prayer and the Muslims joined a Christian ceremony the following day.

Published on Intercultural Dialogue Platform, 02 October 2012, Tuesday