ANKARA: Bilkent University Mosque To Feature Church, Synagogue


Today’s Zaman
July 12 2008

A prayer complex being constructed on the Bilkent University campus,
to feature a mosque, church and synagogue, is slated for completion
in September.

Ankara will soon have another version of the Garden of Religions,
inaugurated in December 2004 by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
in the Belek district of Antalya.

A mosque complex is being constructed on the Bilkent University campus,
and it will also feature a church and a synagogue. Expected to be
Turkey’s new protocol mosque for official visits, the complex will
see completion in September.

To be named the Dogramacızade Mosque after the founder and honorary
rector of the university, Professor İhsan Dogramacı, the complex
will be a little different from its peer in Antalya, as the church and
synagogue will be inside the mosque, forming two separate sections. The
one in Belek has a garden with three separate places of worship.

However, the project has one challenge to face: Before it is completed
it needs to be endorsed by the Directorate of Religious Affairs,
which must make an interpretation in line with Islamic jurisprudence
about the permissibility of followers of three different religions
worshipping in the same place.

A number of officials from the directorate told Today’s Zaman that
they knew about the construction of the complex but had no idea about
the two separate rooms to be used inside the mosque as a church and
a synagogue.

In their appeal for the directorate’s approval, officials from the
Professor İhsan Dogramacı Foundation requested that they themselves
be permitted to appoint an imam to the mosque, but they also said
that they were not averse to the idea of the directorate appointing
a qualified and accomplished imam to such an important mosque.

The mosque’s plan was drawn up upon the instructions of Dogramacı,
the son of a Turkoman family from Kirkuk. Its architecture is described
as "very authentic and republican style" by Dogramacı. Having bought
the building plot shortly before construction began, Dogramacı is
covering all the building expenses himself. Paying close attention
to every detail of construction, he is reported to have spent about
$1 million so far.

What makes the project distinctive is that it has been planned as the
official protocol mosque of Ankara. The two rooms inside the mosque
will be set aside for Christian and Jewish students and lecturers
from the Bilkent, Hacettepe and Middle East Technical universities.

The building plot is 12,000 square meters. The mosque will sit on a
4,500-square-meter portion, and the rest of the plot will be set aside
for green areas. The mosque building will also have conference and
exhibition halls for conferences and panel discussions on religious
and ethical issues.

In addition to the women’s section, the mosque will have two benches
at the back for those with health problems that prevent them from
kneeling and prostrating in prayer. There will be a moving walkway
for the elderly and a separate entrance and exit for official guests
to enter and leave with ease. There will also be a large parking lot.

Project based on Islamic tolerance

Houses of worship of the three Abrahamic religions sharing a common
space is not actually a first in the history of Muslim Turks. The
first example to be cited would be Ä°stanbul’s Dar’ul-ajaza charity
home, which for centuries had separate places for the followers of
all three religions to worship. With the idea of allowing all people,
regardless of faith, to benefit from these charitable institutions
in mind, the Ottoman state had a worship room built for all three of
the religions in this charitable place, along with innumerous others.

Similar places that combined places of worship of all three religions
existed throughout the Ottoman lands, particularly in Ä°stanbul’s
Ortaköy district and Hatay, or Antioch.

When the first Garden of Religions was opened in Antalya in 2004
by Prime Minister Erdogan, the inaugural ceremony was attended by
Ali Bardakoglu, the head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs,
Alphonse Sammut, a representative of the Turkish Catholic churches,
Dasiteos Aragnostopoulos, a representative of the Fener Greek
Orthodox Patriarchate, Ä°shak Haleva, chief rabbi of the Turkish
Jewish congregation and the Armenian patriarch, Mesrob II Mutafyan. The
KuÅ~_adası Businessmen’s Association (KUSÄ°AD) also launched a similar
project after witnessing foreign visitors’ positive reactions to the
two previous projects. The Kutadası Garden of Religions is being
built on an 8,500-square-meter plot. The site will have conference
and exhibition halls, too.