|Ancient City of Ephesus
Photos by Rev. Thomas V. Wolfe
Syracuse students from three faith traditions journeyed to Turkey during spring break to learn how Muslim, Christian, and Jewish people have coexisted there for centuries. The trip, Three Faiths, One Humanity: An Interfaith Travel Study Experience to Turkey, was conceived by the Reverend Thomas V. Wolfe G’02, dean of Hendricks Chapel. Turkey, with its predominantly Muslim population, was chosen as an ideal destination because, as a place where two continents meet, it has been heavily influenced by both Eastern and Western cultures. Today Turkey is a secular democratic state in which all three traditions are honored. “We wanted to go where we could engage with contemporary people, not just visit historic sites,” Wolfe says. “We wanted to put a human face on issues related to how diverse-faith communities historically shared and continue to share life together.”
In preparation for the trip, students visited religious sites in Syracuse representing each faith tradition, attended lectures by SU professors on Turkey’s history and contemporary culture, and had discussions with members of the Syracuse Area Middle East Dialogue group, a community organization that advocates a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.
The students toured significant religious sites in Istanbul and Izmir, visited charitable hospitals and kitchens, and met people of different spiritual beliefs and practices to learn how they coexist with one another. The group also participated in seminars at Yildiz Teknik University and Marmara University Theological School, discussing issues of religion and society, interfaith interaction, and academic freedom. “The trip was an invitation to the hard work of continuing dialogue, cooperation, and respect that is a lifetime experience,” Wolfe says. “The goal is for students to bring home their knowledge and become agents of transformation—in Syracuse, and in any community in which they will live and work.”
Amphitheater at Ephesus
The following are
written by the
travelers in Turkey
Detail of mosaic
We arrived in Istanbul on schedule. Because it was Friday, the day ofJumu’ah prayer for Muslims, we traveled by bus to Suleymaniye Mosque, with a brief stop to view the ancient walls of Constantinople. As we arrived, the call to prayer was sounding from the minarets as thousands of Muslims from all over Istanbul were gathering. The Muslim members of our group prepared for prayer and entered the mosque. After prayers, we toured the mosque, which was built in the 1550s.
Our hotel, located in the heart of the old Istanbul, is a short walk from all the major sites. Walking distance is important, as tomorrow is Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, and we as a group chose to walk so our observant members would be included in all aspects of the day. Everyone settled into their rooms and freshened up after the long flight. We gathered at 5:45 p.m. and Rachel Dudley, assisted by the other Jewish students, led us in lighting candles to usher in Shabbat. Everyone participated, and the leaders taught us the prayers and spoke of their own family rituals around the candle lighting.
After dinner, we attended a Sufi music concert and Whirling Dervishes ceremony. The Whirling Dervishes are members of the Sufi Group of Istanbul Galata Mevlevi Lodge. One member spoke about the spiritual practice and what it means to him. The whirling is a type of meditation formed out of an awareness that the entire created order whirls: galaxy, Earth, wind. To whirl is to enter contemplation and to experience oneness with God and then to be a channel of God to others. This is signified by the raised hands. The right hand is lifted higher and thus to God, while the left hand is raised slightly lower and thus is oriented toward humanity. The Whirling Dervish is a means of bringing God to humanity.
We are off to a good start. Despite the fact that it has been only a half day of touring, we are already deeply immersed.
—Rev. Thomas V. Wolfe G’02, dean of Hendricks Chapel
People of Faith
Today’s trip to the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox churches revealed the true diversity of Christian practice. The Catholic service, relatively contemporary, was in a largely African parish...but the church obviously serves a very diverse group. A small Italian mass was beginning as we prepared to leave. At the Armenian Orthodox church, we entered a completely different world—clouds of incense, candles, a small circle of men singing in a clump in the front, and a surprisingly simple sanctuary. Then to the Greek Orthodox church, complete with jeweled crown vestments, intricate movement patterns for congregation and priests, and extravagant robes.... To try to understand “Christianity” in a universal context after today’s activities seems next to impossible. Curiously enough, every priest sent us out with fond regards, reminding us all that, despite our faith differences, we were all moving in the same direction as people of faith.
—Krista Lampe, public administration graduate student, Maxwell School
UC Horon Armenian Church
A member and host of the Uc Horon Armenian Church gives the Syracuse group a tour and answers questions after the mass.
Call to Prayer
The first voice I ever heard was that of my father whispering the call to prayer (adhan) in my ear when I was born. I’ve heard it for 20 years now, and yet, I cannot get used to it. One of the first things we heard when we got to Istanbul was the call to prayer. I could feel it travel through my skin and go straight to my heart—and what it did to my heart can never be put into words. As we walked toward the prayer area in the Suleymaniye Mosque, I was overwhelmed by its grandeur. The beauty of theadhan is clearly reflected in the architecture of the mosque. And through these two forms of beauty, I was able to experience the magnificence of Allah at a deeper level.
—Sama Beg ’08, biology major, College of Arts and Sciences
The Majesty of Turkey
We did not have to wait but a few hours after our arrival to encounter some of the rich and majestic experiences Turkey has to offer. Our first stop was a beautiful, ornate, and inspiring mosque (known in correct Islamic terminology as a masjid), where the Muslim contingent attended the Jumu’ah service. The impressivemasjid inspired awe and wonder at the great things that even sultans, high and mighty as they were, have done for the worship of God and for people to worship God and learn and grow in their faith. As a Muslim American on this trip, the experience of being among fellow brethren-in-faith was unbelievable.
—Khadija Mehter ’07, political science major, College of Arts and Sciences
A Sign of Unity
After Sunday’s Roman Catholic service, the Nigerian priest spoke with us briefly. His message was later echoed by the Armenian and Greek Orthodox priests: Our interfaith trip is a progressive sign, and our differences in worship do not preclude the notion that Jews, Muslims, and Christians all worship the same God.
—Jonathan Preston, speech-language pathology Ph.D. candidate,
College of Arts and Sciences
SU graduate student Sundiata Salaam cleanses himself at the abdesthane (a place of ritual cleanliness) before entering the mosque for Jumu’ah prayer.
The House of Mary
The House of Mary, mother of Jesus, in Ephesus, is revered by Christians and Muslims.
Neve Shalom Synagogue
Being moved to pray by the marble post where Jesus was once tied [Column of Christ’s Flagellation in Istanbul’s Church of St. George, worldwide headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Church], I recognized for the first time the universal love that [Jesus] has spread to all Christians, regardless of their denominations. I also now understand the passion of others to protect and hold onto what they believe are holy sites and items. The physical helps us transform faith into our daily lives. The question is, what price are we willing to pay to protect these symbols of faith from others? How we answer this question is a measure of our humanity.
—Alejandro Amezcua, public administration Ph.D. candidate,
A Holy Place
We spent the day visiting the House of Mary, Ephesus, the Temple of Artemus, and St. John’s Basilica. Mary’s house presented some very interesting history. It is believed that she lived on the top of a mountain at the edge of Ephesus. For centuries, the local people have recognized the site as the holy site of Mary, but not until the last few hundred years have the Catholic Church and other Christian groups come to lay any claim to such statements.... [Today] local, domestic, and international visitors from Christian and Muslim faiths come to visit the site. Mary is an important figure in Islam, as she is both a representative role model of female piety and the mother of the prophet Jesus.
As a Protestant Christian, I have been raised in a church where there is much less emphasis placed on Mary as divinely inspired, but leaving this site I think I must now recognize her as the mother of the church. She has greatly defined the concept of the feminine in the church today.
—Krista Lampe, public administration graduate student,
For me, the most significant parts of this experience have been the conversations we have had, both in formal group reflection time and informal discussions. Last night, several of us went up to the rooftop restaurant and had tea and talked about everything…from Sufism to metaphysics to belief in God to predestination versus free will and everything in between.... It was powerful for me to hear from people my age about their personal struggles with God and beliefs. I was able to explore my own beliefs and gain so much perspective about issues I struggle with. Discussions like this would probably never have come up without this trip, and I am grateful for this opportunity to widen my knowledge of different perspectives and strengthen my own.
—Rachel Dudley ’09, religion and music dual major,
College of Arts and Sciences and College of Visual and Performing Arts
Going in Peace
“We are all trying to establish something, something that is peaceful.” We heard these words from the rabbi at Neve Shalom. In many ways they are the same words we’ve heard from each religious leader we’ve spoken with. It is as if they are engaging in a dialogue through us, and, subsequently, we through them.
—Mollie Ring, public administration graduate student,
A member of the Sufi Group of Istanbul
Galata Mevlevi Lodge performs in a
Whirling Dervishes ceremony.
Living in Harmony
Since coming to Turkey, my eyes have been opened to many different things. I realized firsthand that it is possible for three religious traditions to live in harmony with one another. This is especially important in a country that is predominantly of one religious tradition.... As a Christian, I realized I have much more in common with my Jewish and Muslim friends than I thought.... Unfortunately, this seems to get lost in everyday conversation. That is why interfaith dialogue is so crucial.
—Garret Pustay ’09, international relations and broadcast journalism dual major, College of Arts and Sciences and Newhouse School
Jelaladdin Rumi, the great Sufi philosopher and poet known in his Anatolian homeland as Mevlana, is famous for his words: “Come, come! Whoever you are, whatever you may be, come! Come as you are!” Prior to coming to Turkey, we were a group of 23 individuals, who not only represented three different monotheistic faith traditions, but also came from diverse ethnic backgrounds, cultures, and understandings of each other’s religions. After days of living, eating, and sharing [close quarters] with one another, we have been able to create a “safe space”—a space that has proven to us the oneness of our humanity. This comfort, combined with the excitement of learning, observing, and experiencing one another’s ways of life, has helped us to tolerate and respect one another and share our feelings in a nonjudgmental environment. We have experienced a transformation that has touched us for life, and it could have only occurred during a trip as special as this one.
—Sarah Sahraoui ’08, biotechnology major,
SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and Duden Yegenoglu, public administration graduate student, Maxwell School