Turkish expectations from Pope Francis’ visit
We can drive forward an agenda of change and progress between Christians and Muslims at a global level
Istanbul, dubbed “The City” for centuries by many civilizations, one of the capitals of Christianity and the last capital of Islam, and the blessed home of many holy relics of the Prophet Mohammad, will be hosting this weekend the leader of the Catholic Church.
As a Turk, I am delighted that Pope Francis is visiting my country. I don’t think I am alone in this feeling: most Turks and Muslims feel deeply honored to receive the leader of the world’s billion Catholics. Why? Turkey is an ancient civilization, a pluralist society and a modern, Muslim-majority country that will treasure this public dialogue with the pope. This, we hope, is only the beginning.
We hope that the visit marks the beginning of deeper ties between Turkey, which has been at the heart of Islam for centuries, with the Holy Roman Catholic Church.Ceylan Ozbudak
There is much more work to be done. We hope that the visit marks the beginning of deeper ties between Turkey, which has been at the heart of Islam for centuries, with the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Together, we can drive forward an agenda of change and progress between Christians and Muslims at a global level. There are areas that require our urgent attention and we would ignore these at our peril.
First, centuries of corrosive human thought have crept into the theology and observation of both our religious traditions. The Catholic Church is in need of re-evaluation, as is contemporary Muslim discourse. From gender equality to secularism to re-interpreting scripture free of bigoted approaches to eradicating terrorism, there is a raft of issues on which we need to co-operate much more closely through high-level meetings, but the implementation of change would be through our respective global networks.
Second, religion and religious communities face a renewed onslaught from a new, militant atheism and Darwinism. From Dawkins to Sam Harris to even populist American comedians such as Bill Maher now have a free license to attack and denigrate the most sacred elements of what is most cherished to us: our faith. It is rightly unacceptable to insult black people for their skin color, but we believers and our way of life is open season for extremist atheists. As Catholics and Muslims, we need to respond intelligently and compassionately to this new line of atheist extremism.
Christians of the Near East
Third, the plight of Christians in the Middle East is lamentable. The pope sought to draw attention to Turkey as a country, home to 120,000 Christians (not counting the thousands of Christian refugees), and the headquarters of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople by visiting Istanbul. The AKP government of then Prime Minister Erdoğan passed laws to return previously confiscated state property to Christians and allow Christians religious classes in schools. In the history of the Turkish republic, churches and synagogues were only repaired during the center-right AKP government. Our Arab and Iranian neighbors must learn from this example. But we need to highlight this and other examples of religious freedom for Muslim-majority countries so that Christians can live freely in the lands of the prophets.
Fourth, rising levels of anti-Muslim sentiment across Europe are deep causes for concern. Is Islamophobia the new anti-Semitism? Europe has a dark history of persecution and intolerance of religious communities. Together with Turkey, and its pluralist form of Islam, we can help steer Europe’s Muslims away from more hard-line interpretations that are currently popular, which in turn feed the frenzy of far-right groups that mobilize against banning veils and mosque minarets. The model of Islam practiced in Turkey is in majority compatible with European values, modern, and authentic. We have something that is desperately needed in Europe.
Fifth, the strongest message that Europe can send to its 30 million Muslims that the continent is a home to pluralism, and not an exclusively Christian club, is to stop the obstruction and admit Turkey into the European Union without further delays. The pope is unrivalled in his position to call on Catholics and fellow Christians to end the centuries-old European hostilities toward Turkey, admit Turkey to the EU, and send a message to the world that Islam and the West are not at war. Islam and Europe are one and the same – this would be a powerful message to the Muslim world, and further undermine the ideology and narrative of Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
Fifth, the strongest message that Europe can send to its 30 million Muslims that the continent is a home to pluralism, and not an exclusively Christian club, is to stop the obstruction and admit Turkey into the European Union without further delays.Ceylan Ozbudak
Finally, the above levels of deeper coordination and cooperation at a level of scripture, theology, common defense of our faiths, and recognizing Turkey as fully fledged member of the European collective of nations would allow us to lean more effectively and credibly on the Arab-Israeli conflict. For how much longer will we see our shared capital of Abrahamic faiths held hostage by extremists? We must assist our brothers, both the Jewish people, who believe in the oneness of God and Muslims, to live in peace and security in the Holy Land. Achieving a lasting peace between this Abrahamic family of faiths is the jewel in our crown and religious leaders are most suited to carry their constituencies to a place of peace, co-existence, and respect. Politicians alone cannot do this work. They have been failing, not least because they do not understand the power and depth of reconciliation that exists in our channels of communication. We need to marshal these strengths – and soon.
The Papal visit can create a momentum for this global agenda of change, renewal and modernization. I know that my people, my government and faith leaders are willing to work with the pope to create the changes I listed above. If we can respond to the challenges of our time, future generations will look at this weekend’s visit as a moment when history changed.
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak
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