Turkey: ‘Feeling the Muslim life for one month’ tourism
Wednesday, 15. August 2012, 16:55
The tours take non-Muslims from around the world into Turkish mosques and homes for a first-hand experience of Islam.
Muslim for a Month, run by Bowler's NGO World Weavers, is
part of a new breed of cultural immersion tourism being dubbed
It promises travelers a rich, meaningful experience, by
exposing them to religious beliefs and practices "in a country where
spirituality is still very much alive," he said.
Bowler, a Thailand-based Australian, has run half a dozen
of the tours in recent years, during which participants are taught the basics
of Islamic practice, study Islamic history and calligraphy, pray in mosques and
live and eat with Muslim families. The itinerary also includes a day of
During the 10-day or 21-day tours (the "month"
in the tour name is slightly misleading, organizers admit), tour members stay
in a 400-year-old Sufi lodge in Istanbul's Eyup district, visit the ancient
city of Konya to visit the tomb of Sufi mystic Rumi, and admire the ecstatic
services of the whirling dervishes who follow his teachings.
Tina Reisman-Boukes, a 56-year-old Dutch social worker and
convert to Judaism, took part in one of the tours on the recommendation of her
son. He had been on one himself, and given her a book on Rumi, as he believed
it would resonate with her.
She said the course gave her a deeper understanding, both
of Islam, "as a systematic way to get closer to God," and of herself.
The rituals of Islam, she said, helped her in her quest to resolve the
"inner conflict between individuality and community."
It also emphasized the connections between all people --
whatever their faith.
"Rumi loved people, not because of what they did or
showed, but because he saw the little flame in their heart that waits to be
illuminated," she said.
"I was born in Holland, baptized Christian and
converted to Judaism ... If I had been born in Turkey, I might have been
Muslim. If I had been born in Thailand, I might have been Buddhist. Does it
Reisman-Boukes's experience reflected the aims of the
course, which were twofold, said Bowler: to correct the current "low PR of
Islam itself, and religion in general."
Bowler also wishes for the tours to encourage participants
in "the search for spirituality" in an increasingly secular world.
"I'm from Australia, my wife is Dutch, so we're both
from very secular backgrounds, and it feels like we might be missing out on
something," he said.
"It's (a) living, breathing religious experience just
being on the tour. We hope they go away not just with a broader understanding
of Islam, but with a broader personal spiritual perspective as well."
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