ANASAYFA Forum TURKISH CHRISTIAN FORUM (in English) News Mosque with synagogue and chapel might face religious watchdog stumble

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    Mosque with synagogue and chapel might face religious watchdog stumble
    Monday, July 14, 2008

    Hasty construction is ongoing in Ankara to finish a rare mosque that is not only is planned to appeal to Alevis, but will also host a synagogue and a chapel. No matter what good intention its builder, renowned businessman Ihsan Dogramaci nurtures, Turkey’s religion watchdog has some reservations about the building

    ANKARA – Turkish Daily News

    An old man’s wish to build a mosque has led to plans for a complex that may be the first of its kind in Turkey. Dogramacizade Ali Sami Mosque in Ankara is envisioned to include a synagogue and a church in its complex, and its main room will include an uncommon sight – names of Shiite imams with those of the four caliphs revered by the Sunnis.

    The mosque, however, eventually needs to obtain permission from the Directorate of Religious Affairs, which has remained cautious about the “all-in-one” architecture of the facility.

    The man behind the initiative is well-known to Turkish public. Ihsan Dogramaci, 93, a Kirkuk born bussinessman who established Turkey’s university watchdog, the Higher Education Board, or YÖK, is known with his investments in northern Iraq. He is also the founder of Turkey’s first private university “Bilkent,” in 1986.

    Dogramaci, who is building the mosque to fulfill his father’s will, maintained that the aim of the complex is to meet demands of both Alevis and Sunnis, and non-Muslims. “All of them can pray at the same place,” he said, speaking to the Turkish Daily News.

    Dogramaci’s father requested that he build a place of worship without using the university’s resources or land from the state. Construction of the mosque is funded by Dogramaci’s personal wealth and has nothing to do with the university.

    “The mosque will hopefully be ready for prayer by next Ramadan (the Muslim month of fasting in the beginning of September this year),” Dogramaci said.

    But before his father’s “sprit may rejoice,” in Dogramaci’s words, the Directorate of Religious Affairs must give its consent to this uncommon mosque, situated in Ankara’s Bilkent district, taking its name from the University’s compound. Dogramaci said the mosque would include a chapel and a synagogue, mostly for foreign Bilkent professors, but this idea has been received cautiously by the country’s religious watchdog.

    Entrances to prayer houses of other religions must be separate from that to a mosque, according to Sunni tradition, professor Izzettin Er, the deputy head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs, said in an interview with the TDN. Er cited the architecture of the mosque, synagogue and church in the Garden of Religions in Antalya, built by Belek Tourism Investors Association in late 2004. “There is a mosque with a separate door and building. A few meters away there is a church with a separate door and building, and there is a synagogue, again a separate structure,” he said.

    A construction official, who requested anonymity, said the entrances to the synagogue and chapel will be separate from that of the mosque, but that the three facilities are within the same rectangular building.

    “In our tradition, there is no special section reserved for other religions in the mosque,” Er said and emphasized that the directorate does not have the authority to inspect any mosque during its construction. “We are yet to see the final condition of the construction. I cannot say anything for certain before we make an assessment,” Er said.

    ‘Alevis are welcome, but…’

    Perhaps more unique than the presence of non-Muslim places of worship in the same building with a mosque is an intra-Muslim dispute that may pose difficulties for the actualization of the project.

    Dogramaci said one side of the main prayer room will carry the names of the four caliphs exalted in the Sunni sect and that names of 12 imams dear to Shiites as well as Alevis in Turkey will be inscribed on the other side.

    But Er was cautious about commenting on Alevi prayers in the mosque. “All sects may pray at the same place in the mosque,” Er said, referring to Sunni-style prayer. The problem is that while there are Alevis who pray like Sunnis, most of their genuine rituals are not even recognized as prayers by the Directorate of Religious Affairs.

    “We do not know any type of prayer other than those quoted in Islamic sources, in the Koran or Hadiths – utterings of Prophet Mohammed,” Er noted, and added that if a method of praying is not included in either of these sources “it will not be a prayer just because you say it is so.”

    His line of thought is an extension of the long established stance of the Directorate of Religious Affairs, which does not recognize the places of worship of Alevis, namely cemevis, as prayer houses. “You can say somewhere is your place of worship, but mosques have been prayer places of Muslims all along throughout the world,” Er said, and claimed that Alevism is not a sect but a mystical interpretation of Islam. “Cemevis are pleading houses. They are a part of our culture. In the past there have always been similar houses around mosques,” he said.

    The directorate’s attitude is unlikely to change in the near future. The ruling Justice and Development Party’s, or AKP, so-called opening up to Alevis, which was declared with much fanfare when the party integrated Alevi figure Reha Çamuroglu into its ranks, ended in a debacle last June. The disillusioned deputy resigned from his post as the prime minister’s advisor on Alevis on the grounds that discrimination against Alevis continued.

    Despite the AKP’s indifference to Alevis’ complaints at home, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan showed a more flexible stance in his Iraq visit last week. “I am neither Shiite, nor Sunni. I am a Muslim,” he said to top Iraqi officials.

    The Alevis are a distinct liberal sect within Islam with their believers mostly found in Turkey and Syria.

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