Friday, April 24, 2009

My Journey to Turkey Part III

Friday August 1, 2008
The Houston delegation visited Miniturk Park which is the equivalent of two football fields filled with models of the historic sites of Turkey and a museum.
We appreciated this attraction because it allowed us to see many important points of interests that time and logistics prevented us from visiting during our stay.

One interesting aspect of this stop was the park’s museum featuring a mock up of the Battle of the Dardanelles along with pictures and quotes from the father of the modern Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The museum serves as a solemn reminder to both visitor and citizen of the sacrifice of the Turkish people to preserve their nation and independence during and after World War I. []

We then visited the Zaman Newspaper and Media Group. According to Mr. Erkan Sismanoglu, the newspaper’s Public Relations Manager, Zaman is the number one newspaper in Turkey.
Zaman distributes 800,000 copies daily and control 11% of the print advertising market. The paper is a family oriented media source that is printed in both Turkish and English.

The newspaper’s workplace has a part time doctor, gym and shower, barber, and offers free breakfast, lunch, and dinner for their employees. Women were visible and present in all areas of the building we visited.

We were introduced to Mr. Okan Bassey Udo, a Nigerian who has served as the paper’s Sports Manager since its inception. Upon learning who we were he inquired excitedly about Minister Farrakhan: “Is he here?” We informed him that the Minister was not present and that he would have to settle for us. We had a loud and hearty laugh together afterward.

Zaman newspaper has won several awards for their cover designs and featured articles. The newspaper was started to print the “truth” as they understood it and not be limited to propagating the message of the status quo. This visit reinforced the importance of The Final Call Newspaper or a media outlet to express our own perspective or point of view. []

After leaving Zaman, the delegation proceeded to the Sultan Fatih Mehmet (The Conqueror) Mosque complex for Jumah prayer service.
After Jumah prayer service, the Imam gave us the history of the Fatih mosque which is currently under renovation.
Sultan Fatih Mehmet conquered Constantinople in 1453 and renamed the city Istanbul. It is difficult to find a place in Turkey that does not have a person, street, building, or institution that is not named after Mehmet the Conqueror. He has an elaborate tomb on the grounds that is visited by a constant stream of
Our tour of the Fatih Mosque was followed by a visit to the Kadim Dialogue Center for Intercultural Studies for a meeting with Harum Tokak, the President of the Journalist and Writers Foundation. We engaged in a lengthy dialogue about Islamic history, the Nation of Islam in the West, and the Gulen movement past and present.
Mr. Tokak urged us to visit the schools they have set up, particularly in Africa stating: “they are your schools.” He said that education over the last 50-60 years has taught us to be enemies of each other. The movement establishes the schools, teaches, and then turns them over to the locals. He further explained that the concept of dialogue was necessary for humanity to find forgiveness and for conflict avoidance. During our discussion, Mr. Tokak said the Nation of Islam reminded him of the early history of Bilal and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

He said he believed we are the ones to call the entire Nation (Ummah) of Islam under one roof.
This was further illustrated by his explanation of the red color found in the tea cup set design he sent as a gift to Minister Farrakhan. Mr. Tokak said the red represented the blood and suffering of our people. The cup and plate design is made by placing them in fire and taking them out to create the beautiful print. So it is with our people in America – we are destined to lead the world after suffering slavery just like Bilal, he said. We were joined briefly during the dialogue by Mr. Reha Camuroglu, a member of the Turkish Parliament and Brothers Hamza and Faruk who were movement members operating in the Far East (i.e. South Korea). The dialogue session was very lively and thought provoking. []

The scheduled activities concluded with a boat ride on the Bosporus Straits. We viewed both the European and Asia Minor sides of the great 4,000 year old city of Istanbul. Istanbul, with a population of 14 million people, is the 9th largest city in the world. It is as cosmopolitan and modern as any city to be found on earth.

This historical city is unique because it is the bridge between East and West, Europe and Asia Minor, occidental and oriental, ancient and modern, Islam and Christendom. Although Ankara is the capital of Turkey, Istanbul serves as the commercial center and is its largest city.

The boat ride helped the delegation place Istanbul into a proper geographical perspective. More importantly, it served as a metaphor for the beginning of our transformation from mere tourist and sightseers to participants in the making of history. Although the water relaxed our minds, the significance of our journey weighed heavily on our hearts.

It crystallized more so than at any prior moment on the trip that we represented the Nation of Islam in the West and everything we did would have implications beyond our limited understanding. Our greatest concern was that no one back home would believe how well we were treated by our hosts and what we had witnessed and participated in. We wondered out loud if the significance of Minister Farrakhan’s world tours were grasped by the believers and supporters back in the United States. This was a pivotal moment on the trip.

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