A Mosque Revival

When the tour guide first said it, I didn’t believe her. So naturally, I Googled it.

Inside the Haggia Sophia

Turns out she was right. (Professional tour guides usually are.)

The nation of Turkey is, in fact, 99.8% Muslim. Meaning that for every 1,000 people you pass on the street, exactly two of them are Christians… or something else non-Muslim. To put it another way, if you filled Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City to its advertised seating capacity of 77,000 die-hard Turkish Chiefs fans, 154 of that gathered throng would be Turkish Christians.

Given that reality, it was inevitable that our eager band of 24 American tourists would stop in at one or two mosques during our Rick Steves’ Best of Turkey tour. 

These were not the first mosques I have visited in my life. As a card-carrying Christian, however, I have not had the opportunity to hang out in a ton of them. 

But still… as we entered our first mosque there in Istanbul, I knew a few things I could expect to see. I knew, for example, to expect to be required to take my shoes off before entering. I knew to expect a wide open, carpeted area in the center of the room with horizontal lines on the carpet so that the kneeling worshipers would be oriented toward Mecca as they prayed. I knew to expect an elevated area for the reading of the Quran and a different spot at the front of the room (equipped with a microphone) from which the weekly sermon would be delivered. I also knew to expect to see a separate, set-aside area where female believers would gather to worship. 

For all that I expected, there were nevertheless a couple of things that really caught me off-guard. I was not – for some unknown reason – expecting to experience the warm, welcoming hospitality we were greeted with. Neither was I expecting to feel the same sense of hushed reverence I associate with ornate Roman Catholic Church sanctuaries. And I sure as heck was not expecting to feel – despite the many and significant theological differences between the Muslim and Christian faiths – the strange sense of kinship with these dark-haired, brown-eyed worshipers that pulsed through me there in central Istanbul. 

For reasons I could not immediately fathom, being there in that space with those devout followers felt more familiar than alien. 

I saw flawed, fragile people. I saw those same flawed, fragile people daring to turn and face an often-baffling universe. And I saw them facing that universe with a determination not to yield the day to cynicism and despair. I saw them doing their level best to carve hand-and-footholds in the sheer rock face of mystery with the primitive, time-honored tools of prayer and thanksgiving. 

Finally, I saw surrender. The meaning of the word “Islam,” after all, is “surrender to the will of God.”

No. I don’t believe these fragile, flawed, humble, faithful, surrendered people are the people I need to worry about. Though they practice an utterly different form of faith, I came to recognize them as my spiritual brothers and sisters.

As I ponder the future of this world, I find a greater cause for concern are the people who already have it figured out. In whom there is no room for mystery or humility. The people whose entire arena of concern is themselves and maybe the three feet of space surrounding them. The people whose knee never bends because it can’t.

As we are reminded in 1 Peter, “And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5, NRSVU).

Today I wake up and find myself grateful that I have the ability and means – for now – to travel. Because it is in traveling that I truly encounter the height, and breadth, and depth, and wonder of this magnificent, miraculous, God-imbued world. 

Abundant blessings;

10 Responses to “A Mosque Revival”

  1. October 1, 2022 at 12:30 pm

    Thanks Russell. I find your experiences encouraging and refreshing. They challenge some of my traditional Christian views – but that can only be good!

  2. October 1, 2022 at 2:17 pm

    Thank you for this post. I was able to vividly picture the whole scene and it took my out of myself– which is just what I needed today.

  3. 6 Charles Morris
    October 2, 2022 at 1:52 pm

    Hi, Russell – enjoying your trip from afar. Is the quotation from 1 Peter or from James? We just had this as a memory verse at COR 2 wks ago in Adam;s sermons on James. or did they quote each other?

    • October 2, 2022 at 7:00 pm

      Thanks, Charles. This quote is 1 Peter, but it doesn’t surprise me at all to see the same wording showing up elsewhere. It is quite common to see words, phrases, and entire sentences repeated in different places in the Bible.

  4. 8 Bob Nolop
    October 2, 2022 at 3:28 pm

    Good one Russell

  5. October 3, 2022 at 5:25 pm

    Beautiful! Thank you for this thoughtful post on our shared humanity and our shared need for the Divine.

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