Dear Turkish Friends,
Last week the Chora Museum in the Fatih quarter in Istanbul was converted into a Mosque. The building was first erected in the 6th century CE and for 1,000 years it was a monastery animated by monks.
You might say: What business is it of yours? It’s an internal affair of the state of Turkey. But no, we must not take it as easy as that. Your Imams, the Turkish Imams working in Austria, have often cited to me the Hadith, the word of the Prophet (peace be upon him): ‘The best believer is s/he who does good to his or her neighbour.’ They publicised this word on posters in the streets of Vienna. The responsibility for our faith does not stop at the borders of countries.
The Chora Museum was originally a monastery. Then, after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 it was converted into a Mosque. But in 1945 it became a Museum. That it is now converted back into a Mosquesaddens us Christians. For many it is painful. The mosaics displayed in the building, much appreciated by Christians, show stories of Mary’s and Jesus’ childhoods. There are also depictions of Mary’s passing. It is therefore not any church but a sacred monument of Christian history. Does it not matter to your Islamic faithwhen you know that your neighbour is sad and hurt?
Christians generally welcomed the conversion of the Chora Church, or Chora Mosque (Kariye Cami), into a museum. They saw this development in 1945 as a good turn in history. In its wake all Christians, Muslims, and generally all people could visit the place and feel respected and accepted. I myself have often visited ittogether with Muslim and Christian friends. On these occasions we often spoke about the different ways of God with us humans. We felt grateful that Turkey respected both ways.
What has happened now is a shift. I know that many Muslims are happy and rejoice. I know that they perceive it as a blessing. But how can it be a blessing when the neighbour is weeping?
Forgive me when I ask the critical question: Do we Christians now have to leave Turkey? We are only a tiny minority of less than one per cent of the population of Turkey. Is this the plan that is supposed to be revealed by the conversion of the Chora Museum? That our Christian history is to disappear from Turkey?
In the last thirty years I have often visited Turkey. Many Turks proudly spoke of the tolerance of their faith. We were grateful for being able to live together with believers from other religions. We have learnt a lot from each other. I too have learnt a lot from you, from Turks, from Turkish Muslims.
How happy I am to remember the venerable El-Hacc Yakup Baba Efendi, Yakup Koyuncu, Seyh of theMevlevi Derwishes in Fatih, Istanbul, close to the Chora Museum. He writes in one of his books that the inner way to religion is a way of love. Love to God and love to every human being; for all human beings are created by God. Yakup Baba once gave me a Takke as a present. I wear it often, grateful for his friendshipand pleading in my prayers for the reconciliation of Christians and Muslims. Thank you, Yakup Baba, for the many Sema evenings you allowed me to attend.
Dear Turkish friends!
I know that you can also blame us Christians for many things. We know the history. But this past is not a good concept for the future. We have the inner strength for a common future. I know you have a warm heart. That is in what I believe. And for that I pray. Amin.
Pfarrer Martin Rupprecht