In the Company of Women in Istanbul

I am here at a conference in Istanbul on the concept of Prophethood in the Risale-i Nur, an extended commentary on the Qur’an by Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, the most important Turkish Islamic theologian of the modern period.  The paper presentations are just starting today (my paper is on how Nursi’s understanding of prophethood can deepen and strengthen a Christian understanding of Jesus–our emphasis on Jesus as savior too often obscures an appreciation of his prophethood, I think) but it has already been a great experience for me, thanks to the events of yesterday.
Yesterday was the opening ceremony:  around 20,000 people at a sports stadium, with qur’anic recitation and speeches from various dignitaries (the mayor of Istanbul, the head of religious affairs for Turkey, a few of the scholars, etc.) from 10:00 to 2:00.  Among all of the many people who spoke, there was only one woman–me:  I found out the night before that I would be asked to give a short (3-5 minute) speech.  I was happy to do it, of course, and even happier, once I saw two things:  first, that I was the only woman on the program; and second, that there were at least as many women as men in the audience.  So, I ad-libbed a few lines in the speech about how happy I was to see so many young women in the audience, and that they were the future of Nursi studies.  I had so many people–men and women–come up to me afterword and thank me for the speech.  I was really happy to have had that opportunity.
Then, once the ceremony was over, a large group of us went on a Bosphorus dinner cruise.  However, there were too many of us for one boat, so we were divided into women and men.  At first, I was struck negatively by that, but then I was pleased for the opportunity it afforded to be able to have some great theological conversations with the young women.  (And let me say, it was an exciting challenge to explain the Trinity to Muslims!). One of the women, Sena (in the pink headscarf), translated for me as a table of us were talking about our faith–it was a wonderful evening.  We also stopped at a mosque at the evening prayer time, and that was also a great experience:  walking over to the mosque with a large group of women and going in to pray together.  I sat quietly next to them, feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit and giving thanks for the whole day.

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