Muratlı Village is hardly the place you would expect to find cosmopolitan and open armed views about the intermingling of religions and global peace.
And we could use a bit of an interfaith moment these days, what with the pain of what is happening in France at this very moment. But back to a far corner of the earth…
Muratlı (“muh-rat-luh”) is a truly tiny town exactly on the border of Turkey and Georgia. In fact, there is not even a crossing point into Georgia although the country is just in the town’s backyard. Quite literally.
Always interested in driving to the edge and living on the geographical edge (i.e. Provincetown), we saw the name on the map and had to go there.
I must say, the drive from Çamlıhemşin to Muratlı was a stunning one full of green mountains, tea plantations and twisty roads.
But nothing prepared us for the wonderful Imam we would meet – and his special (albeit tiny) mosque.
As with any visit to a mosque, we prepared by rolling down sleeves and wrapping up our heads. The ladies, anyway on the scarf front. We also locked Karagöz in the car just in case he were to make a scene or insult somebody on a whim.
As we entered what Christians would refer to as the narthex, we were greeted with intricately carved wooden panels and doors. You can see some of them in these photos.
As we entered the sanctuary, I was reminded of a circus tent upon looking at the inside of the dome…it was painted in an almost gaudy red, yellow and blue and augmented by a crystal chandelier as are so many mosques in Turkey.
We heard the Imam discussing something with his congregants in the women’s gallery…but upon catching a glimpse of us, he excused himself from the ladies and bolted down the stairs to greet us. The spry and energetic man greeted us warmly and heartily, each one. I remember feeling surprised that he shook my hand and then feeling embarrassed that I thought that. I thought that that was probably a result of listening to Kenne, the queen of manners and maintenance of ladylike behavior puppet along with her handmaiden Zenne the nervous Nellie like a bowl of quivering jelly.
Encouraging us to ask questions, he showed us through his beloved space. He was clearly a passionate and caring man. He told us that he was most proud of his mosque because of its physical statements in support of interfaith relations…not in so many words but this was the gist via translation. In order to support his point, he turned to the mosque’s pulpit. This was no ordinary pulpit – it was carved from deep brown, thick wood.
Speaking at a passionately breakneck pace, the Imam explained what he meant:
“You see it has been carved with the symbols of the religions and cultures that have intermingled here in the Black Sea region. We have the menorah as well as the crescent and star and the cross. We have ships to represent those that have come from across the sea. We used to have a star of David on this pulpit but a very misguided member of the congregation came and cut it off. I had to really work with my congregant for him to understand the error in his ways. There is so much pain in the world, and it pains me to see it play out this way.”
(This dialogue is taken from my diary from last summer – so if my traveling companions remember it differently they should please weigh in…)
And as we listened to our new friend, indeed, we could see the symbols he mentioned. Even more so, we could see the clarity and honesty with which he presented his pride about the pulpit…and what that must mean for this tiny town.
Yehuda Rebbe and Hacivad Bey, the religious elders of the puppet troop had the final word “There is a lot to learn from a small mosque in a far corner of the world… It’s harder to learn to live together and celebrate one another’s faiths and cultures, isn’t it? But we must.”