Woman At Crossroads (Part 2): The Turkish Affair

(Part 1)

Spring 2016
Istanbul, Turkey

When Sonia arrived at the Atatürk airport, she was suddenly in a different world. So many people of so many nationalities and races everywhere, dressed modestly or expensively, women veiled or unveiled, with large bags or empty handed, and she was now out of the European Union, in a country, where another rules were valid, and most importantly, it was an Islamic country. Although secularized, at least officially, as soon as she got out of a Turkish Airlines airplane, she was in a different world, and personally.

But everything worked the same way, as at home. So she exchanged some currency, using one of the ATMs, then she made her way through the terminal to a bus stop, as taking a taxi and sitting to a foreign man alone was out of question, so she took a shuttle bus into the city center for 11 turkish liras, to the famous Taksim Square, located at European side of Istanbul, where she booked her hotel: Ritz-Carlton, where certain standards of quality could be expected.

When she arrived at the square, she was completely alone, but no pedestrian paid her any attention, so she relaxed. The hotel was very close, she even didn’t need a map to find it… and it was a place of luxury.

At the reception, she asked for a city map and that female cover of head and neck, called hijab, but the receptionist explained to her with courtesy, that it’s not mandatory for women, just optional, a matter of personal choice. But Sonia insisted – and there was no reason to deny her this modest reasonable wish.

She learned to arrange this strange clothing on her head, using Internet advices, and when she left the hotel again, she felt much better: protected, balanced. Crowds of people were everywhere around her, some women unveiled, some veiled, some alone, some with female friends or men. But Sonia knew, what is safer and better. So she simply blended in.

She went to adjacent Gezi park, and walked a little. She noticed a big Turkish flag with half-moon nearby, and tall, sharp minarets of mosques everywhere around. She realized, that islam is a religion of dominance and control, fully related to male nature.

This was a male land: and she felt that all men there were something as brothers. Later, when Sonia was a witness of a first calling to prayer, when she heard the call of muezzins for the first time, she was the most impressed, but also a little bit scared.

Islam really ruled here – and she was in its territory. She, a woman. How could be completely calm? There was nobody to protect her, her husband or sons, like home. But she decided to take this trip herself, by her free will.

Anyway, she was surprised rather pleasantly, that when she was later walking on famous Istiklal Avenue, crowded with people, nobody rammed into her. People simply behaved better to each other here, and that was interesting. She felt better here, than in Brno, her home city Brno, or Prague. The society was simply different here. But Sonia liked it, and she was really glad to visit this different world.

She took a classic tourist walking trip to Galata tower, and then, walking down, she arrived at the Bosphorus, where she could see large mosques of Fatih, the religious quarter, where she headed. It was the most impressive sight.

Sonia crossed the Galata bridge to the other side, folowing large crowds of Asian tourists, and she was surprised by hundred of fishermen, standing on the bridge next to each other, concentrated on their daily fish hunt. Exiting the bridge, she stood against a first real challenge here: to get to the New Mosque, she had to take an underground passage, quite narrow, full of crowds, and it was not completely pleasant feeling. But Sonia couldn’t be stopped, so she simply entered the human river.

Near the New Mosque, Sonia stopped, to have a look. So, this was Islam. She watched people, coming into the mosque to pray, and she noticed, that there is a tourist entrance as well. But she was still not decided to go inside, so she remained at the adjacent square, where some small park was located. She sat on a bench, and just watched people around with curiosity.

They also equipped her with so called Istanbulkart at the reception, to use public transport, and using it was actually very easy. She put some money onto the card, using a machine, and she could take the back trip, using a T1 tram and the funicular. However, to be in a quite crowded place with local Turks was strange – but again, everybody ignored her, like all women around, regardless whether they were veiled, or not. It was quite similar, like in Europe – so Sonia relaxed again.

Quite tired, she arrived back into hotel – she was not completely young already, and the walk lasted for many kilometers.

At the evening, Sonia met with her Turkish friend. She contacted the woman yet back home, and they arranged a meeting at a restaurant nearby, where even beer and alcohol was served.

Kiraz, ten years younger than Sonia, with black hair and wild brown eyes, dressed in Western style and wearing distinctive makep, approached her with large smile, and she was surprised to see Sonia, covered in hijab. But she accepted Sonia’s explanation, that she simply wants to respect the local customs, and to be safe. Sonia asked her about Islam.

“I am a Muslim only by birth, not practicing,” Kiraz explained. “How much I would like to live in Europe, as you, where the freedom is! Here, I feel so limited. I mean, my father, my brothers, every man in the family, they force me to live in a certain way, which is firmly set. They call it protection and love, but sometimes I can’t breathe literally. They simply insist, and you can’t run away, or promote your will.”

“But this kind of so called liberty has its price, and not a modest one, believe me,” Sonia disagreed. “However, I think I understand your angle of view.” she tried to be friendly and understanding. The grass is always greener on the other side, as that proverb says.

Hoever, Sonia realized, that most of the Turkish people she met here were quite cold to the religion. They completely ignored calling of muezzins to prayer, and they seemed to pursue quite worldly affairs.

Anyway, the two women spent quite nice evening, talking about their children, and also about business. Sonia omitted to reveal why she came here – she simply explained it as a matter of simple occassion.

Tomorrow, Sonia will take another tourist trip. She hesitated to ask her friend for useful assistance, but then she decided to keep it for herself, to make it on her own. She wanted to have this kind of secret – many people in her family and social vicinity wouldn’t like a place where she plans to go tomorrow.

In the morning, Sonia was really time effective, as a right business woman. After a small breakfast, she prepared to visit Fatih again. Using the public transport, she got out at the Sultanahmet train stop, and followed other tourists through the square.

Several months ago, there was a terrorist attack here, commited by the Islamic State, where ten of foreign tourists died. When Sonia realized it, her back was freezed and she felt sweat. But nobody around paid any attention to this quite disturbing fact, so Sonia forgot the sad history as well, and enjoyed the place.

Hagia Sophia and adjacent Blue Mosque really impressed her. She couldn’t stop watching that tall and sharp minarets, reminding who rules here and everywhere around: Allah.

This word was in Sonia’s mind lately, and too often. She couldn’t stop thinking about it. And when it was too much, she decided to face her fear right at a place, where Allah rules. She came here to meet this entity in person, to create her own and direct, non mediated opinion.

However, as a woman, she didn’t feel inferior here. It was strange. Sonia was eager to know the issue more, and there could be no better place, than famous Blue Mosque, where tourists and non-muslims could enter as well, of course except at set times of prayer.

When she entered the large yard of Blue Mosque, Sonia was full of unrest. So, this is it… and she will go inside, no doubt about it.

The tourist entrance was outside the yard. Sonia stood in a row of tourists, waiting to be let inside. The personnel issued mandatory blue hijabs to all female visitors, but Sonia was equipped already, so they let her go without any comments.

Inside, she had to take off her shoes, as everybody else. It was so unusual – the Western woman inside Sonia considered this as a matter of lowered dignity, but when she saw other people, young and older, men and women, rich or poor, who also had to remove their shoes, and insert them into a plastic bag, she stopped to take it personally.

With a deep breath, Sonia stepped on a thick carpet, and followed the crowd inside.

In that moment, she was there. So alone, and it was a place of worshipping Allah. It was a moment of certain confrontation between Sonia’s home world and another reality. But Sonia knew, that this strange world influences her world very deeply, and this influence is rising every day. So she came here, to orientate herself well in the upcoming future. To learn and understand. To secure a sustainable future for her family.

Inside the Mosque, it was different, than inside a Christian church. The interior felt quite simple, not decorated too intensively, to keep praying people concentrated, not distracted.

There was a low wooden fence, dividing the interior into two parts: one for the worshippers of Allah, and much smaller place for tourists. Beside the entrance for Muslims, Sonia noticed another wooden wall, hiding her female colleagues. The division between men and women here was deep. But women here made no complaints, it seemed, they simply accepted this eternal arrangement.

When she was watching the ceiling, of course with blue decorations, she felt like just another tourist, one of thousands and millions. There was no religious awakening inside her, no pressure to think something. She had to agree: even here, it was a pure matter of personal choice and decision. Nobody forced her. Nobody tried to persuade her to accept Allah, to bend in front of God.

Back outside, in the garden, Sonia noticed, that there is a presentation about the Mosque and Islam, taking place in an adjacent building. She checked her wrist watch – the presentation would start in an hour, and she could visit.

As Sonia still had time, she returned to Sultanahmet, and she walked to impressive Hagia Sophia temple, changed to as mosque. It was really a large building.

Sonia walked to another garden, located behind Hagia Sophia. There, she noticed two things – soldiers with assault rifles, standing guard with fingers close to triggers of their weapons, and dogs, quite unusual in Istanbul. Unlike in the Czech republic, full of dogs and their devoted lovers, here, as dogs were allegedly considered unclean in Islam, the city was full only of feral cats.

However, in this park, several big dogs were lying, and they looked satisfied. It was another strange thing here.

When Sonia returned to the square, there was a small outside café, so she sat down, and ordered a drink. She really enjoyed it, and just watched her surroundings, all that crowds of tourists, flowing around.

Later, when it was a time, Sonia took her place in a small room, where the presentation should take place. Except her, some ten tourists came here as well.

Although the Western media were full of opinions, how the Islam threatens the Western civilization, other visitors seemed quite cold to such warnings. Sonia had to smile – who knows, whether they were some secret worshippers of Allah? Who could say?

The numbers of converts to Islam in Europe were rising disturbingly. The media called it “fifth column”, except the neverending flow of refugees, who brought their religion, culture and stances inside Europe, and they refused to be “integrated”. It seemed that the Western civilization was crumbling under this social pressure and internal political disputes, and more and more people were leaving the sinking ship, joining the “other side”, to pursue their happiness, and a sustainable future.

It was the Imam of Blue Mosque himself, who lead the presentation. He explained history of the mosque to visitors, and then, he started talking about religion. And this was the part Sonia listened to very carefully.

After the presentation, when people were leaving, Sonia took some literature from a shelf, provided freely, including that Qur’an in English language.

Sonia touched the publication with utmost respect, even fear: this small book is something that is changing her world thousands kilometers away from here, and now, she held a copy in her own hands.

Carrying it back into the hotel, she covered the cover of the book instinctively. She couldn’t imagine to carry such thing on a street back home, in Czech republic. People there, full of fear, denial and even hatred towards Islam, wouldn’t like that for sure!

But here, no one cared. It was a land of Islam.

“Islam is a religion of peace and morality, leading to real freedom,” Sonia started reading a brochure, during tram ride back to hotel. It was a time to study…

As an atheist, when Sonia was reading, she thought, that acknowledging of Allah as the only God could bring her some freedom indeed, at least from fear, that disease, killing you quickly from the inside. And she lived, under media pressure and all that disturbing news about Islam, for too long. She just wanted out, and now, Allah, the Most Compassionate and the Most Merciful, offered her a helping hand, in His endless generosity.

To proclaim that there is no God except Allah and that Muhammad is His messenger meant to become a Muslim. That easy it was, to gain protection, lead and freedom from fear, doubts and female eternal insecurity.

For her whole life, Sonia was a faithful slave of ideas about total freedom and living only according to her own free will. But in the end, who was she? What was the cause she fought for? For her family, for her success, for promoting her opinion about the world, clashing with others daily: it was either her will, or theirs. But it was so exhausting… she wanted to be in peace.

She realized, that submission to Allah can be a way to peace indeed, even for a woman. Who were that men, supposed to protect her? With all their weaknesses, Sonia could never be sure that they will stand beside her, whether they won’t betray her, as all people are primarily selfish. But Allah? He is an entity that will never leave, under any circumstances. He provides you so many values, and he demands only recognition, respect and gratitude, shown by woshipping him, and living according to His rules.

Sonia could perceive herself as a model modern woman, but in confrontation with Allah, she felt like nobody, like a loser, who pursues some questionable values without sense. But letting Allah into her mind… she felt accepted, even with her mistakes and doubts, getting total understanding and acceptation, receiving inspiration, how to live, which things and values to let go, to be finally free, without burden of emptiness and standing for the malicious values of others, serving as a slave for their cause.

But with Allah? All that was gone suddenly, and only her substance remained. She was a woman, she was created by Allah this way, and in is eternal wisdom, He knew, why he created her weaker, than men. But it was not a matter of disadvantage: it was a journey of love, emotions and taking care of others.

But one day, when all of them would leave her, who will remain? Who will love her always? Who will lead her to final salvation on death bed? Only Allah.

As she was 48 years old, she couldn’t stop thinking about death. So many women she knew passed away already, and she felt fear, how it will be like. How long will she live? And where will she find a firm support in her life, and in that final moment? This ultimate fear could be erased only by accepting a higher will – but not a Christian God, it had to be Allah, as He proved his endless might daily around her, giving people what they desired: freedom and peace.

Sonia knew, that accepting Allah is only a matter of her personal choice, without outside influence. There was no clergy, who would interpret the faith for her. It was a feature that really impressed her: when Imam of Blue Mosque said, that there is no clergy in Islam, no middle-men, there is nothing, standing between you and Allah. No other person can give you happiness – only Allah can. If you have Allah, no one can hurt you, or leave you. You will always have Allah, even if all people will disappear or disappoint you. But you don’t need them, you are not addicted to them, to their mercy.

For her whole life, Sonia felt confined with endless thinking and overanalyzing, as many other women. But now, she could see a way out, to finally let her tired mind to relax, to enjoy life, or the rest of it.

And the consequences of this final decision could be felt immediately. Sonia felt light, free from so much burden she carried in her mind. She felt that she is just a small step from freedom she dreamed of so long, but the chosen way of mindless consummerism and “living to be liked by others” was only a way to eternal suffering and confinement by minds of others, their ego and weakness.

When to recite Shahada and to gain eternal freedom, that in this present moment, she thought. And as she was a woman of action, she knew absolutely, what is right for her, and the world. Following Allah’s lead, she can make the world actually a better place, by serving to a clear purpose, and it made no difference, to be a man or a woman, as both genders had their path set by Allah very clearly.

Who would say, that one day, I will lie in a hotel bed in Istanbul, thinking like this, Sonia thought with her eyes closed. But life is about change, and accepting it.

No, she won’t be a sheep anymore, like all that other modern Western women, who just wander, their minds running madly here and there all the time, fighting with circumstances and events, living a neverending fight that can’t be won: but it’s a matter of choice.

Sonia made her final choice, and she wasn’t afraid of any consequences anymore. She simply submitted to Allah’s lead and in that miraculous moment, all her suffering and doubts disappeared at once.

She returned home free, fully ready for the future, and in her case, a fully sutainable one. She got what she wanted, and she made the best decision of her life. Since that day, life became only a pure pleasure, as she stopped serving to people, ideas, illusion, lies, fear and corruption: only Allah’s wiseful command remained.

Sonia felt finally complete, as she accepted the complete religion. “In Qur’an, not a single word was changed during 1400 years,” the Imam said during the presentation with notable pride.

In relation to average length of human life, this meant something – the only way to eternity without interference of outside circumstances.

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Alan Svejk - alansvejk@alansvejk.com