FaithWorld

Hillary Clinton seeks to smooth Islamic defamation row with OIC

(U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu (L) in Istanbul July 15, 2011/Murad Sezer)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed with a major global Islamic organization on Friday to pursue new ways of resolving debates over religion without resorting to legal steps against defamation. Clinton met Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the head of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), in Istanbul to help set up new international mechanisms both protect free speech and combat religious discrimination around the world.

“Together we have begun to overcome the false divide that pits religious sensitivities against freedom of religion. We are pursuing a new approach based on concrete steps to fight intolerance wherever it occurs,” Clinton said.

Under heavy U.S. pressure, the OIC agreed in March to set aside its 12-year campaign to have religions protected from defamation, a step which allowed the U.N. Human Rights Council to approve a broader plan on religious tolerance. Western countries and their Latin American allies, strong opponents of the defamation concept, joined Muslim and African states in backing without vote the new approach that switches focus from protecting beliefs to protecting believers.

Ihsanoglu underscored that the OIC’s aim was not to limit free expression, but to combat religious intolerance which he said was spreading dangerously around the world. “Our cause, which stems from our general concern, should not be interpreted as calls for restriction of freedom,” he said. “We believe that mutual understanding, tolerance, respect and empathy should also be accompanying components when we advocate supremacy of freedom of expression.”

Istanbul celebrates carnival after nearly 70 years

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(Istanbul celebrates carnival, 7 March 2011/all photos by Jonathan Lewis)

Istanbul’s tiny Greek community has revived an all-but-extinct tradition by celebrating Bakla Horani, an evening of carousing at the end of carnival ahead of Lent. About 300 masked, painted and costumed revelers paraded on Monday through the streets of Istanbul’s Kurtulus district, known as Tatavla when it was home to Greeks decades ago.

The procession ended at a local hall where musicians performed rembetiko and cranked a laterna, a Greek mechanical piano. Partiers were served raki, the aniseed-flavoured spirit, and meze that featured beans. (Bakla Horani roughly translates as “eating beans,” referring to the austere Lenten diet that looms.)

For 500 years, Bakla Horani was celebrated in Istanbul, now a mainly Muslim city, and pre-Lenten street parties would run for weeks ahead of the 40-day period of self-denial Christians observe ahead of Easter. Lent began today, Ash Wednesday.

Masses mourn at funeral of Turkish Islamist leader Erbakan

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(Mourners surround the coffin of Turkey's former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan at his funeral in Istanbul March 1, 2011/Osman Orsal )

Turks, including the country’s political leaders, paid their respects on Tuesday to former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, the founder of the country’s modern Islamist movement, who died on Sunday.  Sombre music poured from loudspeakers outside Istanbul’s 15th Century Fatih Mosque and street vendors sold scarves emblazoned with the message “Mujahid Erbakan”, celebrating the Erbakan as a holy warrior, as mourners chanted “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is Great”.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, proteges of Erbakan, joined other leaders for prayers in front of the coffin, laid out in the mosque’s courtyard and draped in green cloth adorned with Koranic verses. The streets, rooftops and balconies of houses surrounding the mosque were crammed with men wearing skull caps, and women, either veiled or wearing head scarves — marks of respect. Some mourners carried Palestinian flags.

Amid row with Israel, Turkish officials attend Istanbul Holocaust Day

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Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva and Istanbul Governor Avni Mutlu light a candle at Neve Shalom Synagogue to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day/Murad Sezer

In a rare show of unity with Istanbul’s dwindling Jewish community, government officials attended the country’s first official commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Nazi concentration camps.

“For generations in Istanbul, we have lived together with love, tolerance, fraternity and without discrimination, and we are extremely determined to continue living this way,” Istanbul Governor Avni Mutlu said before lighting a candle with Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva at Neve Shalom Synagogue on January 27. Neve Shalom was one of two temples targeted in a 2003 bomb attack in Istanbul that was blamed on al Qaeda. Twenty-one Muslims and six Jews were killed, and hundreds more were wounded.

Dracula goes dry as Turkey’s new drink rules bite

draculaGuests at the Istanbul premiere of a new vampire film were among the first victims of new curbs on alcohol that have raised secularist fears Islamic strictures may be encroaching on everyday life.

The rules, announced earlier this month by the tobacco and alcohol watchdog, tighten up licence requirements for serving alcohol, impose restrictions on alcohol marketing and limits sales to designated areas in stores. (Photo: Dracula souvenirs at Bran Castle, also known as Dracula’s Castle, in Romania, May 19, 2006/Bogdan Cristel)

But the move has revived secularist accusations that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government is interfering in people’s lifestyles and imposing Islamic values. The Ankara Bar Association — part of a judiciary that has become a last bastion of Turkey’s secularist old guard — said it had lodged a challenge to the new regulations in the country’s top administrative court.

Allah’s tailors gaining profile in Turkey with chic headscarves

headscarves (Photo: Women in headscarves in the Taksim area of Istanbul July 13, 2008/Morteza Nikoubazl)

Along Istanbul’s busy Eminönü waterfront, women swathed in dark coats and scarves knotted once under the chin jostle past others clad in vivid colors and head coverings carefully sculpted around the face. Two decades ago such a polished, pious look scarcely existed in Turkey. But today it has the highest profile exponents in First Lady Hayrünnisa Gül and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s wife Emine, and the brands behind it plan ambitious expansion.

The headscarf remains one of Turkey’s most divisive issues. Everything from the way it is tied and accessorized, to the poise and demeanor of the wearer, is laden with meaning in this majority Muslim but officially secular country of 74 million. From a simple headcovering, stigmatized in the early days of the Turkish Republic as backward and rural, it has become, in the last decades, a carefully crafted garment and highly marketable commodity, embodying the challenge of a new class of conservative Muslims to Turkey’s secularist elites.

“It was hard to find anything chic for the covered women 10 years ago, but fashion for pious women has made huge progress in the last 6-7 years,” said Alpaslan Akman, an executive in charge of production and marketing at Muslim fashion brand Armine.

Turkey’s dwindling Christians fear end is approaching

turkey christian (Photo: Andreas Zografos at St Nicholas Church in Heybeliada island near Istanbul October 10, 2010/Osman Orsal)

Andreas Zografos left Turkey in 1974 amid economic and political turmoil to find work in Europe, but he always knew he would return home. “The ties of this land are strong. I was drawn back by the blue of the sea, the colour of the sky,” he says.

A Greek Orthodox Christian, Zografos, 63, and his wife today tend to the 19th-century St Nicholas Church, where his grandfather painted vibrant icons, on Heybeliada, or Halki in Greek, an island off the Istanbul coast.

Heybeliada was home to a few thousand ethnic Greeks when he left, Zografos says. About 25 remain, part of a dwindling community of 2,500 Greeks in Istanbul, capital of the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire until the Ottoman conquest of 1453.

Room with a view: Orhan Pamuk explores Istanbul’s double soul

pamuk (Photo: Orhan Pamuk at the International Book Fair in Guadalajara, November 28, 2009/Alejandro Acosta)

From his Istanbul window, the Nobel-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk sees a city in flux.

Gleaming steel towers that signify Istanbul’s new economic power rise in the distance, rivalling more familiar views of old mosques and palaces, home to the former Ottoman dynasty. Teeming suburbs spread across hills.

Pamuk, Turkey’s most celebrated artist, has explored his country’s struggle with tradition and modernity and its identity as a land that straddles East and West in novels infused with “huzun”, a Turkish word that refers to melancholy or spiritual loss.

Catholics and Orthodox report promising progress in latest round of unity talks

cathorth 1Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians reported promising progress on Friday in talks on overcoming their Great Schism of 1054 and bringing the two largest denominations in Christianity back to full communion. Experts meeting in Vienna this week agreed the two could eventually become “sister churches” that recognize the Roman pope as their titular head but retain many church structures, liturgy and customs that developed over the past millennium. (Photo: Metropolitan John Zizioulas (L) and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn in Vienna, 24 Sept 2010/Leonhard Foeger)

The delegation heads for the international commission for Catholic-Orthodox dialogue stressed that unity was still far off, but their upbeat report reflected growing cooperation between Rome and the Orthodox churches traditionally centred in Russia, Greece, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

“There are no clouds of mistrust between our two churches,” Orthodox Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon told a news conference. “If we continue like that, God will find a way to overcome all the difficulties that remain.” Archbishop Kurt Koch, the top Vatican official for Christian unity, said the joint dialogue must continue “intensively” so that “we see each other fully as sister churches.”

Art show in historic Istanbul Orthodox seminary stirs hope of reopening

halkiAn Istanbul seminary closed in 1971 is hosting its first public event in 40 years, raising hopes it may shortly be reopened by Turkey and once again educate priests for the Greek Orthodox community.

The European Union and the United States have pressed EU membership hopeful Turkey to reopen the historic school, which occupies a beautiful and commanding site at the top of the island of Heybeliada, or Halki in Greek, off the Istanbul shoreline. (Photo: Empty classroom at Halki seminary, September 18, 2006/Tom Heneghan)

“Tracing Istanbul,” an exhibition of works by Greek artists inspired by the city, has filled the school’s evocative, abandoned classrooms with paintings and brought life back to the corridors.