Friday, December 30, 2005

Christmas Ceremony at "the Garden of Religions"

The Turkish government built a Garden of Religions with a church, a mosque and a synagogue in Antalya. It's good to see it getting put to good use:

"The Christmas ceremony was directed by father James Bultema.

In the ceremony held at the church of
''the Garden of Religions,''
Bultema read prayers from the Holy Bible. The ceremony was attended by local Christians and foreign tourists.

Hymns were sung at the ceremony."

Christmas Ceremony Held At The Garden Of Religions

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Christmas in Turkey

"I began my first Christmas season in Turkey - a nation which is officially secular but 99% Muslim - I feared that any spirit of the holiday would end at my apartment door. But I was surprised to find a surprising number of signs of Christmas - or at least in Turkey's capital city of Ankara.

The store windows are full of trees and Santas, and signs that say, "Merry Christmas." (In fact, banners and signs saying "Season's Greetings" or Happy Holidays" were few and far between. Fox News hosts Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson, take note: The war on Christmas is in full retreat on this far-off front.) There are no explicitly Christian symbols like mangers or angels, of course - but just about everything short of those. And Turks take a peculiar pride in Saint Nicholas' origins in the village of Patara in southern Turkey.

But perhaps more significantly, acknowledging, if not celebrating, Christmas seemed like a big deal to the Turks themselves. Perhaps this is a sign of Turks' efforts to emulate Europe as they aspire to membership in the European Union. Every Turk I know took steps to wish me a "Happy Christmas." Even a taxicab driver had heard the phrase from a friend, written it down on a note card, and read off a "Meh-Rek-reesmuss" as I departed. It's a small gesture, but appreciated - and a sign that an intolerance for other faiths does not mark every corner of the Islamic world."
Christmas in Turkey - December 29, 2005 - The New York Sun - NY Newspaper

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Antioch’s “small, extraordinary Christmas miracles”

"Every year, they tell us that if we – like the shepherds and the magi – are capable of placing all our vanity, presumption, pride and obstinacy at the foot of the manger, then we too, like Mary, will be able to say: ‘The Lord has looked down on my lowliness: my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit exults in God my Saviour’. It will be Christmas for us too, the real Christmas that fills the heart with Peace and Light."

"Christmas, then, is the feast of the Lowliness of God, a feast in which the small, extraordinary miracles of everyday life are celebrated.

If this is really the case, I am sure, then, that it was Christmas for Leyla, a poor Muslim widow who, with generosity, care and affection, prepared handmade biscuits in “industrial quantities” for her neighbours’ 12 children – even poorer than herself – so that they could celebrate the birth of Jesus with joy.

And it was Christmas for the 10 Christian children who gathered to pray around Baby Jesus in a crib they made from coloured paper throughout Advent. As they prayed, their peers played ball in the neighbourhood alleys, just like any other day, unaware of the great event unfolding.

And then there was the group of youth and elderly people, children, men and women, Christians and Muslims who defied the rain and cold of the night to celebrate Christmas Mass in ‘St Peter’s Grotto’, gathered around the bishop of Anatolia, Mgr Padovese. I certainly believe they relived the anticipation felt by the shepherds, that they too experienced the need for the goodwill and peace of God – even if perhaps they did not have a pre-tailored, precise idea of what to expect. Did the Light of Love enter their open hearts?"

"And who knows how many other Christmases – here in Antioch, in this corner of Turkey, and in the whole world – passed unnoticed by man, but certainly seen by God…

Small gestures, perhaps miracles which will not change the course of history, but surely they will leave their mark in the hearts of those who know how to guard them and pass them on."
>>> <<< Antioch’s “small, extraordinary Christmas miracles”

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Property sale to foreign nationals passed by commission

"Parliament's Justice Commission has passed a bill on the sale of property to foreigners that is soon expected to be discussed in the General Assembly.

There were serious arguments during the passage of the bill last Tuesday, with Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy from Malatya Muharrem Kılıç arguing that a new clause was being introduced to alleviate concerns over the sale of property near military zones but saying that it was far from satisfactory."

How is this relevant? Read the following:

"Foundations, associations, cooperatives, groups and religious communities will not be able to purchase property. If officials prove that the law was not adhered to or that the land purchased is not being used for the specified purpose, the Finance Ministry will set a deadline for the owners to sell it and if not will make the sale itself and return the proceeds to the owner."
Turkish Daily News - Property sale to foreign nationals passed by commission

Sezer: We Share The Excitement And Happiness Of Our Christian Citizens For Christmas

"Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer has issued a Christmas message to Christians in Turkey today.

Sezer said that he joins in the celebration of Christians over Christmas. ''We share the excitement and happiness of our Christian citizens for Christmas. Christmas reminds our multi-religious society about the historical ties that exist between all of us with warm feelings. Christmas carries new hopes of love, peace and brotherhood,'' stated President Sezer."
Sezer: We Share The Excitement And Happiness Of Our Christian Citizens For Christmas

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Is playing the lottery a sin?

A Muslim columnist talks about the lottery:

"The top story of daily Vakit was very interesting. According to Muslim theologians, playing the lottery is a sin. If that’s a fact, it's obvious that Turks don’t care what some theologians say."

"Certain individuals who are said to be experts on Islam are arguing that playing the lottery is a sin. They say that buying a lottery ticket can be considered gambling and that that is why it is a sin for Muslims.

I don't believe playing the lottery is gambling. It is a game played to have a good time.

What made me think about this was something else. If experts think like this and we continue to buy lottery tickets, doesn't this mean their influence over the nation has diminished to zero?

Don't you see the rush to buy lottery tickets? The number of people buying the tickets increases steadily every year.

What will happen now?

Will we start saying, 'We're losing our religion' or will we say, 'People no longer listen to religious experts on what they do.'

It's up to you."
Turkish Daily News - Is playing the lottery a sin?

Turkey, Christmas in St Peter’s grotto

"A community of people – Catholic, Orthodox, Muslims, believers and non believers – come together on Christmas Eve to invoke the Light which enlightens all men."

"A winding passage in rock on the slope of Mount Stauris. It is blackened by the smoke of candles lit during the festive season, in glaring contrast with the tattered white of the plasterwork, once the background of now barely visible frescoes, which used to cover the entire wall. On the floor are confusing traces of mosaics, indecipherable remains of Byzantine figures.

This is the grotto of St Peter in Antioch, described as the oldest church in the world.

On the night of 24 December, the small Christian community of the city will gather to celebrate Christmas here, in this grotto simply decorated for the occasion: a few carpets, an icon of Mary tenderly embracing her baby, and a candle here and there and some flowers."
>>> <<< Turkey, Christmas in St Peter’s grotto

Turkey Has No Plans to Amend Freedom of Expression Law

"Turkey’s justice minister said yesterday that the government has no immediate plans to amend the freedom of expression-curbing law that was used to charge renowned writer Orhan Pamuk, a case that has soured relations with the European Union. The EU, which is pressing the country to do more to protect freedom of expression, has criticized the law which makes insulting Turkey, “Turkishness” and state institutions a crime.

“If we’re going to make changes to the laws according to your or my understanding then there will be no stability left in the judiciary,” Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said. “It would also damage the unity of the laws.”
Turkey Has No Plans to Amend Freedom of Expression Law

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Turkish writer goes on trial for insulting nation

"The trial of Turkey's most celebrated author on charges of insulting the nation got off to a chaotic start in Istanbul Friday as militant nationalists heaped abuse on him inside and outside the court.

As he entered the building Orhan Pamuk was met by about 100 banner-bearing nationalists accusing him of being the "son of a (Christian) missionary" and an intellectual who had "sold out" to the Christian West."

"Inside the courtroom, packed to the rafters by about 100 people, prosecution lawyers repeatedly attacked those responsible for "provocations" among the public.

"The people present here are those who say it is the Turkish legal system which is currently on trial," said one of them pointing at the European delegation.

"I protest in the name of all the jurists of Turkey against their presence."
Japan Today - News - Turkish writer goes on trial for insulting nation - Japan's Leading International News Network

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Christmas in Europe, Where's Santa?

Interested in how the different European countries celebrate Christmas? Here's a good list with just the basics:

The majority of the population in Turkey is Moslem but we are a secular country and even if we do not directly celebrate Christmas, we share this custom with our Greek Orthodox and Armenian neighbours who are a minority, especially in big cities. We have Christmas trees and exchange gifts for the new year. Islam as a religion recognizes all prophets of the monotheist religions. Therefore we celebrate the New Year and we recognize Jesus as one of our prophets. The birth place of St. Nicholas is in Turkey, near Antalya (Myra-Demre)."
SourceWire | Press Releases - Christmas in Europe, Where's Santa?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Turkey's religious communities need fundamental reform of their status

"Turkey's Law on Foundations plays a central role in the country's religious freedom situation, as it directly affects religious communities' ownership of property. Proposed amendments to the Law – which includes provisions governing "community foundations" for non-Muslim religious/ethnic communities – are facing a tortuous process. It is not even clear if the Ankara parliament will ever approve them."

"The existing Foundations Law is limited as it covers only some non-Muslim minority communities. The Roman Catholic Church, Protestant Churches (whether historical Churches or free Evangelical congregations), Jehovah's Witnesses, Baha'is and other non-Muslim groups have no such foundations – and are unlikely to be allowed to have any."

In December 2000 the Altintepe Protestant Church in Istanbul gained foundation status, which was confirmed by the Supreme Court. However this is not to the liking of the Directorate-General for Foundations, which cannot overturn a Supreme Court decision to grant foundation status, but which has since blocked foundation applications from at least two other Protestant churches."

"The government has been reluctant to resolve existing problems caused by the regulations governing community foundations, as it fears it might have to return all the properties seized from Christian and Jewish community foundations since the 1930s."

"Because religious communities in themselves cannot get legal status (in theory the Law on Associations does allow it, though courts are unlikely to accept this in practice), they cannot own any property. Someone who does not exist cannot own property. As long as religious communities like the Alevi Muslims, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Baha'is and Jehovah's Witnesses have no legal status they cannot organise themselves administratively (they cannot even run bank accounts), and this even impacts on them spiritually. Moreover, the state can interfere at any time."
Forum 18 Search/Archive

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Moves to Limit Alcohol Use Intensify Debate in Turkey

Turkish Prohibition:

"Efforts by this nation's Islam-rooted government to broaden restrictions on the sale of alcohol have sparked accusations among secular lawmakers that it is seeking to strengthen the role of religion in daily life.

The debate began this year when municipalities run by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, set in motion plans to move businesses that serve alcohol to "red" zones outside city centers."

"A pious Muslim who does not drink, Erdogan recently blamed drunk driving for 80% of Turkey's traffic accidents. Police statistics quoted in the Turkish media set the figure at less than 1%.

Since taking office three years ago, the Erdogan regime has steadily raised taxes on alcohol. Industry sources say taxes on beer have risen a whopping 450%, more than three times the average of the countries in the European Union, the steadfastly secular alliance that Turkey hopes to join. EU officials have been concerned about Turkey's suitability for membership because of the ruling party's religious background.

Suspicions that the increases were meant to discourage drinking deepened this year, when Finance Minister Kemal Unakitan told a Turkish newspaper: "We can hardly tell them not to drink, so we discourage citizens by raising taxes."

""Their claims that that is a health and safety issue are completely false," he added during a telephone interview. "If they were serious, they would start with a campaign against smoking, which is a far greater health hazard in Turkey."

Under the secular system introduced by the country's founder, Kemal Ataturk, in 1923, Turkey has evolved into one of the most Westernized nations in the Islamic world. In keeping with the legacy of Ataturk, who downed liberal amounts of raki, the aniseed-flavored national drink, freedom to drink alcohol is embedded in the Turkish vision of a modern society.

Although alcohol is shunned in the conservative rural heartland, Erdogan has said the state has no plans for an outright ban. He has accused the opposition of deliberately misrepresenting the government's aims."
Moves to Limit Alcohol Use Intensify Debate in Turkey - Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Turkish Daily News - Ozturk: Every new mosque harms Islam

"People's Ascent Party (HYP) leader and famous theologian Yaşar Nuri Öztürk said on Tuesday that every new mosque built did not help Islam but instead actually harmed it."

"Religion was being used by outside forces to harm Turkey, he said, adding: 'Every adverse development that harms Turkey is supported by the fundamentalists within. Those who govern Turkey are selected from those who will accept this destruction.'

He called for immediate measures to prevent religion being used against the people."
Turkish Daily News - �zt�rk: Every new mosque harms Islam

Sonic Flood in Istanbul!

Sonic Flood, in Istanbul to film their new music video, gave a great concert in Taksim last night. Look for their new video coming in 2006, This Generation, a call for this generation to rise up and reach the world.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

In Turkey, discussing what once was taboo

"The 10th-century Akhtamar Church, its stone facade alive with vivid images of birds, animals, saints and warriors, dominates a small island just off the southern shore of Lake Van. For nearly a millennium, this spectacular Armenian monument was a seat of great religious and political power.

Then the Ottoman Empire expelled and wiped away the Armenian population here in the massacres of 1915, and the church fell into near ruin. Its condition symbolized the abysmal relations between many Armenians, who believe their ancestors were victims of genocide in 1915, and the Turkish Republic, which rejects that claim.

This fall, at Turkish government expense, restoration workers began repairing the church. They have cleaned the exterior and replaced the collapsed roof, and plan to return next summer to work on the interior.

Although this is an act of historical preservation and tourism promotion, it also reflects something much larger. To the horror of conservative nationalists, there is a new sense of freedom taking hold in Turkey. The government is promoting democratic reforms that will one day, it hopes, allow Turkey to join the European Union. In the process, old taboos, like admitting the possibility that the Christian Armenians were the victims of genocide, are falling."
In Turkey, discussing what once was taboo - Europe - International Herald Tribune

Turkish Authorities Harass Protestant Communities (02.12.2005)

"Turkey’s Protestant Christian minorities experienced fresh harassment this past week from both security police and the judiciary, along with an attempt by vandals to set on fire one local church, reports the Christian news agency Compass Direct (CD).

Last Sunday, November 27, members of the Agape House congregation in Samsun, a city along the Black Sea coast, were disquieted by a large, white minibus parked in front of their church as they came to morning worship services.

Church members suspected someone behind the van’s darkly tinted windows was using a video camera to film everyone entering the church.

The apparent filming continued after the service concluded, when church leaders checked the van’s license plate and confirmed it was registered to security police headquarters. Pastor Orhan Picaklar promptly called the police and demanded an explanation.

Two police officers soon arrived on the scene, one in uniform and the other a security official. Apologizing and urging the pastor to "cool down," the officers promised to remove the van immediately.

"Under what law are you doing this?" Picaklar asked them. "Why are you taking these recordings? By chance are you trying to harass us?"

Despite police promises, the van remained parked in front of the church building until 6 p.m., when some of its occupants, who were frequenting a nearby coffee shop, returned and drove off.

Located in the city’s Atakum district, Samsun’s Agape House has just become the third Protestant church granted formal “association” status by the Turkish authorities. A year ago the mayor had vowed he would never allow the congregation, now numbering 35, to open a church there."

Meanwhile, in the resort city of Antalya along the Mediterranean coast, unknown vandals tried to set afire three windows of the St. Paul Cultural Center in the early morning hours of November 28.

According to the Rev. James Bultema, an American pastoring the English-speaking congregation at the facility, a neighbor woman across the narrow alley heard flames crackling outside her window at 1:40 a.m. Calling the fire department, she quickly woke up her husband and son, who with a water hose and buckets managed to douse the flames before firemen arrived 20 minutes later.

"If they hadn’t gone right to work, much more damage would have been done," Bultema said, noting that the building has wooden ceilings. "As it was, about US$1,100 damage was done."

Bultema said the arson attempt appeared to be an amateur job by the assailants, who from the street could only access the three ground-floor windows of Paul’s Place, the center’s coffee shop. "Three windows were set afire, but only one was really burning," he said.

Opened initially as a coffee house and prayer chapel in 1999, St. Paul Cultural Center was the first new Christian congregation in Turkey to gain government recognition as an official "association" in August 2004. Both English- and Turkish-language congregations use the office facilities and garden, worshiping in the second-floor sanctuary."
APD - Turkish Authorities Harass Protestant Communities (02.12.2005)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Mustafa Akyol on Intelligent Design on National Review Online

Mustafa Akyol, a muslim writer based in Istanbul, has become one of the most vocal proponents of Intelligent Design. He spoke at the recent trial in Kansas. Here he makes some good arguements for ID and the impact it could have:

"When President Bush declared his support for the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) theory in public schools along with Darwinian evolution, both he and the theory itself drew a lot of criticism. Among the many lines of attack the critics launch, one theme remains strikingly constant: the notion that ID is a Trojan Horse of Christian fundamentalists whose ultimate aim is to turn the U.S. into an theocracy."

"In a furious New Republic cover story, "The Case Against Intelligent Design," Jerry Coyne joins in this hype and implies that all non-Christians, including Muslims, should be alarmed by this supposedly Christian theory of beginnings that "might offend those of other faiths." Little does he realize that if there is any view on the origin of life that might seriously offend other faiths — including mine, Islam — it is the materialist dogma: the assumptions that God, by definition, is a superstition, and that rationality is inherently atheistic."

"Phillip E. Johnson once said that the ID debate is about the question whether the U.S. is a nation under God or a nation under Darwin. We Muslims see the latter as a plague; we have no problem with the former. We might have disagreements, but we agree on the most fundamental truth of all — that there really is a God out there, and He is the One to Whom we owe our very life and existence."
Mustafa Akyol on Intelligent Design on National Review Online

The Growing Church of Turkey

The latest survey of evangelical churches in Turkey shows growth to the point that there are now about 2700 Turkish Christians meeting in 95 churches. This is up from a little over 2000 Christians in 71 churches in 2002.