Fatih Sultan Mehmet Vakif University

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Last Friday the IES group visited Fatih Sultan Mehmet Vakif University for a lecture. It was founded in the 1590s by a Sufi order as a religious school, and while it is still religion-oriented, students study 'civilization studies.' It is a very prestigious school; only twenty students are admitted every year, and half of them must be non-Turkish. Students must learn at least three languages, and they study civilizations from different perspectives such as history, literature, science, etc. In total forty nationalities are represented in the student body.

The professor who gave our lecture studies Islam as an open civilization. Basically, he said that Islam accepts all other religions and it was this acceptance that enabled Islam to spread so rapidly. One of the commonly held misconceptions about Islam is that they're intolerant of other religions. On the contrary, Muslims believe that Abrahamic religions worship the same God, but that their holy texts aren't accurate because they were written by humans. In Islam, the Quran is the true word of god. The professor also discussed Islam's tolerance of Buddhism and Hinduism, though the Quran forbids marrying or buying meat from somebody who is a polytheist. It was thanks to this tolerance that allowed the Ottomans to manage their religiously, ethnically, and culturally diverse empire for several centuries.

He argued that Western movements such as nationalism dissolved the tradition of an open, accepting civilization and has turned the Muslim world into a closed civilization.

It was very interesting hearing this perspective of Islam, and many Muslims (such as the directors of the IES program), always emphasize that Islam accepts Judaism, Christianity, etc. However, it seems like the concept of an open civilization aligns more with the Sufi tradition than Sunni traditions. Like any religion, Islam has many nuances and means different things to different people. It's fascinating learning about Islam in an Islamic culture and from people who actually practice it, as opposed to learning about it from a Western perspective as it often misconstrues, or completely leaves out, certain details. Not to mention the rampant Islamophobia so prevalent in our society.

One more fun fact: Muslims have vacation Quran camp.

Where the Whirling Dervishes perform. They still perform here, and unlike the many troupes in Istanbul, those who participate at this school still perform as a way to worship God.

The kitchen. Working here and serving others is a way to make a person more humble.

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