ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Çağrıcı: Arguments can occur in a democratic society. But these arguments shouldn’t be made over religion. We all have a shared asset. So it is not right that religion be used as a instrument by some circles for their own calculations
Çağrıcı: The person who is not respectful of another is sabotaging his respect for himself. A person who respects his own religion has to respect the beliefs of other brothers of man, their religious values and religious symbols. He cited the example of the Prophet inviting a Christian group that was visiting him to share in the prayer service as that hour had come
Asked about the issue of noise pollution, Çağrıcı acknowledged that there was such an issue but he wasn’t sure whether the people involved who were members of the mosque assembly were against the call to prayer or were just trying to shorten it
The Greek Orthodox Theological Seminary on Heybeliada, just outside of Istanbul has been closed since 1971. Çağrıcı is not someone involved in political issues and the decision over the closure of the seminary is in his opinion a political one. He responded, “Personally however as a man of religion and an academician, I support the reopening of the seminary.”
Islam has from the time of the Prophet Mohammed been tolerant of other religions. Çağrıcı points to Jerusalem which was for centuries under Ottoman rule and all religions lived in peace. He described the city was a garden of peace
The politics of religion is a sensitive and murky subject in Turkey, but Istanbul’s top provincial cleric is a strong supporter of education and tolerance and said he sees the controversy around the Halki seminary clearly.
“I am not involved in political issues, but the decision to close the seminary, in my opinion, was purely political,” said Mustafa Çağrıcı. “As a man of religion and as an academic, I support the reopening of the seminary.”
The Greek Orthodox Theological Seminary on Heybeliada, an island just off Istanbul, has been closed since 1971.
Çağrıcı earned a doctorate and took on a professorship at Marmara University on his way to becoming Istanbul’s mufti. A mufti is a Muslim legal consultant who “constitutes a living bridge from pure Islamic jurisprudence to everyday Islamic life.”
Although slight of build with graying hair, Çağrıcı soon impresses with his intellect, thoughtfulness and tolerance. Born in Sivas in 1950 in a village with no school, he beat the odds to go on to study and earn his doctorate with a thesis on “The Philosophy of Ethics According to Ghazali.” He has spoken at numerous universities in Europe and became a professor in 1996 at Marmara University. He has also written hundreds of studies. In 2003 he was appointed as Istanbul’s mufti.
Perhaps Çağrıcı’s background in overcoming a lack of educational facilities has been the impetus for the push he and his office have made in the field of education. Even while studying at what is today’s Marmara University’s Divinity Faculty, he worked as an imam (religious leader) in Balat and then Eyup for six years so he knows the problems from the bottom up.
In an interview with the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review, Çağrıcı was asked what had changed in Istanbul over the years since he came to office and he pointed to the educational programs. Çağrıcı’s office oversees around 4,000 mosque personnel in Istanbul and for example last year some 1,500 of these people participated in educational courses. There are two subjects that are covered. One is competence. He cited the example of the muezzin, the man who recites the call to prayer from the mosque minaret. He said these educational courses show the muezzin how to better use his voice and how to do a better job reciting the call to prayer.
When asked how these muezzins can overcome the fact that their voice may not be very good, Çağrıcı pointed out that actually a number of people from various music conservatories and professors who taught religious music in the religious faculties come and give lessons. But still, with 3,039 mosques in the city, it’s impossible to find enough people to fill all the places needed. At present the mufti’s office is trying to determine which of the present muezzins have a good voice and which do not. Those mosques that don’t have a muezzin with a good voice will be included in a central system. He thinks that might be as many as 2,000 mosques while the remaining 1,000 or so will be able to have their own independent muezzin.
There is also the issue of volume and the tinny sound that comes out when a muezzin cannot recite loudly enough and complaints that come from people who live near a mosque. Çağrıcı has given instructions that each complaint be evaluated. He even invites people to send in their complaints because it’s impossible for his office to inspect every single mosque. Sometimes a mosque will be located between two tall apartment buildings and nobody in the back of the buildings can hear the muezzin. But he pointed out that the muezzin is there to let people know the time of prayer but in today’s world people have watches and don’t need to hear the muezzin any more. They are working on trying to get over the issue.
As for the issue of noise pollution coming from the muezzins, Çağrıcı said: “My expression might bother some people but we haven’t been able to get over an understanding of a coarse religiousness. There is such a problem. There are people who are sewing discord with a series of hurtful dirty words but are they against the call to prayer or are they just trying to shorten it? It’s a pity for our personnel caught between the two sides. On the one side we, as management, are trying to control the volume while on the other side stronger requests are coming from within the assembly.”
Religion and politics
Turning to the issue of using religious concepts to cover up political calculations and quarrels as some publications do, Çağrıcı admitted that it was natural for their problems and arguments to be in the media. “We don’t support these things but from time to time we have to. Arguments can occur in a democratic society. But these arguments shouldn’t be made over religion. We all have a shared asset. So it is not right that religion be used as an instrument by some circles for their own calculations. It is sacred. Love is an area; let’s keep it in a secular area. I have been insisting on the following: If someone were to decide to use religion to support these kinds of political arguments as his own, naturally he would want to ruin the group opposing him. He would want to weaken the strength on which you relied. If you use religion for support, religion will be harmed. Anyone who says he is religious first and foremost has to show that he is not using his respect for religion as an instrument.
“I always have said and will say again. In recent times, thank God, we have made great strides on this matter through our efforts. Look 20-30 years ago I knew the mosque pulpit very well. If it’s necessary to speak the truth about those pulpits, religion was used as a political instrument and politics were always spoken from those pulpits. There were places where political speeches were given and as it went on this process began to straighten out. And today our people on duty – look, Ramadan has come - in our 3,039 mosques and on every one of God’s days the sermon is given, the lesson is read but we have never gotten a complaint that any mistakes were made.”
Çağrıcı again insists that his office needs to know if there are imams engaging in politics. He says in the five years that he has been the mufti they’ve only received one or two complaints about an imam engaging in politics.
“What I’ve said before is that our work is an educational effort. We mustn’t make religion a political argument, material for an ideologically debated topic. I am saying this as we are men of religion, as the servants of religion, as the servants of this road and from before, the servants of goodness. We are an assembly that has to be the servants of goodness. This is our historic name. Because of it we must always be good and beautiful. God says peace is good in the Koran. Peace is the best he says and if we’re on the side of peace then we are on the side of good.
“Our job is to resolve quarrels. Way back to the time of the Prophet, men of religion were the ones who provided community service and this religious function because of the service aspect became the number one religious function. When there are quarrels between people, it is the duty of men of religion to intervene. However much love, peace and friendship develop we strengthen our religion at the same time. And we increase respect for men of religion. I am sure that today as compared with 10 to 20 years ago respect for men of religion has increased. I see this openly. Our men show me much greater respect because I have been laic. Because of my position as mufti or as an academician of religion I am happy not as an individual.
“Because of this we have to keep religion far from polemics. Here duty falls on everybody but in all these subjects the first duty falls on us, that is on us as men of religion.”
Çağrıcı also emphasizes the need to respect each other. “The person who is not respectful of another is sabotaging his respect for himself. A person who respects his own religion has to respect the beliefs of other brothers of man, their religious values and religious symbols. He cited the example of the Prophet inviting a Christian group that was visiting him to share in the prayer service as that hour had come. This is such marvelous tolerance and a historical horizon-opening attitude toward representatives of other religions that the whole world should know about it. Jerusalem was for centuries under Ottoman rule and all religions lived in peace. The city was a garden of peace. In Spain some 800 years ago under Muslim rule the Muslims might quarrel among themselves but there were no quarrels between Muslims and Jews, between Muslims and Christians.”
Turning to the visits of US President Barack Obama and Pope Benedict XVI and how they left Turkey with good impressions of the country, Çağrıcı replied, “We are the descendants of a very great history that comes from a very high culture. So these world leaders, yes, the countries and civilizations that they represent are valuable but I’m valuable too. With my religion, culture, society and historical identity I always behave with my historical identity and personality in the back of my mind. We aim at doing better things with a psychology that trusts itself.”
When asked about the possibility of a special mosque being opened for women, Çağrıcı said: “We don’t have any special project for a mosque for women. But in our mosques we are taking measures to have the space set aside for women more orderly and more suitable for perceptions of modern life.”
There would have to be a special place for women performing their ablutions before going into the mosque. “In the mosques that are being newly made we are taking a number of measures. Inside the mosques various places can be assigned. But in our historical mosques we have a problem about the ablution places. We can’t renovate them because they are historical places.
“Of course we have difficulties there with the Antiquities Council. We can’t touch the older mosques but we are trying to get around these difficulties. Turkey is living through a change in mentality. We have to consider in religious services how women are organizing in the modern world and how to reach them. One of the serious mistakes in our history was pushing our women away from community life. It is a very big deficiency of ours. But with time as in other fields in the religious field we are doing what we can in order to move women toward laicism in the field of religion too.”