Rejuvenating The bond of friendship between Turkey and Pakistan through Allama Iqbal’s poems

Turkey 2021

As salaam u alaykum everyone.

I have been visiting Turkey since 2013 and had been planning to visit Turkey again but due to the pandemic it kept on getting delayed until now. My plan was to accomplish three main goals during this trip. I wanted to visit the site of the orphanage in Hatay for which we had contributed back in 2013 and see how the children from Syria were doing there. I wanted to work on Nahl – ‘Be like the Bee’, our project to build compassionate Islamic Studies teachers, with schools in Turkey so that we can learn from each other and share our best practices. And I wanted to work on Bang-e-Dara – ‘The Call of the Marching Bell’ (an inspiration from Allama Muhammad Iqbal’s poetry) with institutions in Turkey to instill the teachings of our national poet in the youth of Pakistan and Turkey.

I shared my plan with Ifrah Tariq, who is the First Secretary at the Embassy of Pakistan in Ankara, and she assured me that InnshaAllah once I am there, she will arrange meetings for me with the relevant people.

On my first day in Istanbul, I accidentally visited an old Othmani era graveyard and came to the tomb of the last Othmani Khalifa, Sultan AbdulHamid II.

Sultan Abdülhamid II reigned as the 34th Sultan of the Khilafa Othmani – the last Sultan to exert effective control over the fracturing state. The period during which he reigned is known as the Hamidian Era.

I visited the IHH Office in Fatih – Istanbul, where I met Atif Shah who is one of the International Relations coordinators. I briefed him about my intent to visit the orphanage in Hatay and he scheduled a 3-day trip for us with one of his co-worker, Brother Turgut Samsa, to Turkiye’s southern provinces, Hatay, Kilis, and Urfa.

I was invited to the offices of Huda Par, which is an Islamic Party, and met with sister Munawwar and her colleagues. We shared our projects with each other and they were all very supportive of our efforts.

We traveled to Ankara where Ifrah, who is an excellent resource, had arranged a meeting with the Pakistani ambassador, Muhammad Syrus Sajjad Qazi. We apprised the ambassador about the purpose of our visit, which is to build a bridge between Turkiye and Pakistan for students and teachers based on common grounds. The ambassador encouraged the idea and directed his staff to facilitate meetings for us with the Urdu Professors at the Universities in Ankara and Istanbul, Director General of Intl. Relations at Diyanet, Dr. Furqan Hameed, and the Director of the Pakistan Embassy International Study Group. The ambassador appreciated our work at Manzil and wanted to know if we planned to expand in Lahore or Islamabad.

Mahroo Arshad is the new Press attaché at the Pakistani embassy, she was very helpful and assured us of providing support in every way possible in furtherance of our goals in Turkiye.

Ifrah also introduced us to Melda, who is a Turkish blogger who has a bachelors in Urdu from Ankara University, she met us at the Pakistani Embassy and took us to her campus where we met with staff at the Urdu Department. Melda spent the whole day with us and is eager to visit Pakistan.

At the University of Ankara, we met with two Urdu professors Dr. Aykut, and Dr. Davut and an Urdu lecturer, Emal Siylim Besarir, who were all looking forward for their upcoming visit to Pakistan early next year, InnshaAllah. They were looking forward to partake in any effort to strengthen the relationship between Pakistan and Turkiye, at all levels. The professors have visited Pakistan a few times, but they felt strongly that the Pakistani government does not provide any support to visiting professors and exchange students. They also shared their sentiments about discussions they previously had with Pakistani organizations and individuals on several projects but, which did not lead to anything. They strongly felt that much more needs to be done to create awareness about Pakistan and Pakistanis to the people of Turkey, especially the students who were studying Urdu.

The national poet of Turkey, Mehmet Akif Ersoy was a contemporary of Allama Muhammed Iqbal and the Urdu Department staff at the University of Ankara suggested that we should bring together the teachings of both poets to the youth of today. Ersoy was the spiritual leader of the national struggle for independence of Turkey and is also the author of the Turkish National Anthem which starts with “Fear not”.
Alhamdolellah, since our return we have achieved a milestone by drafting an MOU between SALD, University of Ankara, and Karachi University to collaborate on various projects that will work towards building a bridge between the faculty and students at these institutions. InnshaAllah this plants a seed of a fruitful relationship.

We met with Dr. Furqan Hameed who is the Head of Urdu Service at Turkish Radio and Television TRT, and a regular columnist in the Urdu daily Jang. He has been living in Turkey for several years. He took the time to meet with us at a short notice. We discussed our intention of building bridges between Turkish and Pakistani students and professors. He agreed with the sentiments shared by the Urdu professors with regards to the obstacles to building such relationships and assured us of his support to further this cause. He believes that there is a lot of potential for the two nations to come closer since most Turks like Pakistanis, but there should be more awareness about each other among the people of both nations.

We visited the Directorate of Religious Affairs, normally referred to as Diyanet, which is an official state institution; we met with Mr. Erdal Atalay who is the Director General of Intl. Relations, and his staff, who all received us cordially. Mr. Atalay has spent some time in Pakistan as a student and has very fond memories of his experience during that period. He gave us an overview on how his institution operated. He briefed us on the process that Islamic teachers in Turkey must go through before they are allowed to teach this important discipline. He mentioned that even though ISIS is present across the Turkish border with Syria, there has not been a single instance of a Turkish student gravitating towards them. We briefed him about Manzil and discussed the NAHL program with him and our desire to learn from their model of teaching Islamic Studies. He was very aware of the way Islamic Studies is taught in Pakistan and shared his opinion on what steps can be taken to improve the status quo in Pakistan. We also discussed with him about our intent to build a bridge between teachers and students from both nations to which Mr. Atalay offered support in any way possible. Our meeting with Mr. Atalay was very encouraging and at the end presented us with a memento on behalf of his office and a couple of sets of their Islamic Studies curriculum.

We visited the Pakistan Embassy International Study Group and briefly met with the principal of the facility. Out of all our meetings with different people in Turkey our most unwelcome welcome, by far, was at this facility. We briefed the principal on the purpose of our visit and gave him an overview of Nahl and our intent to discuss with the teachers of Urdu about how the teachings of Allama Iqbal were taught to students at the school, he then told us that the school follows the Cambridge curriculum and offers only a lite version of Urdu and Islamic Studies to be taught at the school (as per his instructions). He mentioned that due to “teachers day” celebrations that day we couldn’t discuss anything with the teachers but arranged for us to tour the facility.

The Islamic Studies teacher.

The facility was multistoried, with indoor and outdoor recreational areas, a kitchen, and several classrooms. We briefly met with some teachers of Pakistani origin, while touring the facility; they were all very appreciative of the work being done at Manzil and showed interest in the Bang-e-Dara project and agreed that it was important to build a bridge for the teachers and students between in Turkiye and Pakistan.

We traveled to Hatay province and stayed at the site of the largest orphanage in southern Turkey which has several buildings that provide segregated housing for orphans, separate grade schools for boys and girls, vocational training center with workshops for widows who were able to earn from the products that they made.

Back in 2013 when I first visited Turkey, we donated to fund this project which had not yet started, mashaAllah now it is a fully functional facility. The facility has a huge kitchen and bakery where hot meals and fresh bread are prepared and delivered daily to Syrian refugees living in Turkey and Syria. The facility also has a big warehouse for food, clothes, wheelchairs, hygiene-kits, and general household items. The school has approximately 700 students, they are also learning Qur’an and Hadith in addition to the regular subjects of math, sciences, and language.

We visited a clothing factory inside the facility where several widows design and stitch clothes that are distributed inside Syria to refugees through retailers. We also met with widows who made stuffed toys and other items. The facility in Hatay also had hundreds of olive trees; every year during the last week of October they pick the olives and extract oil from them, make pickled olives, and make soaps from olive oil and leaves. We were able to pick some leftover olives and buy some of the items that were made by the widows and orphans at the facility.

They have a small shop which has all these items for sale in addition to other artwork made by the widows and orphans. The proceeds of the sales go to those who produced the items.

At Hatay we distributed ‘BIM cards’ to refugee families. Some families received their cards at the IHH facility, but some were unable to come so we went to their residence. Words cannot do justice to the plight of the Syrian refugees living inside Turkey. We visited families who used to have everything before the war started in 2011 but were now living in dilapidated structures, in shops, in basements of incomplete buildings, and single room apartments. There were some refugees who were not in the system and, therefore, they were unable to benefit from any relief offered by the Turkish government or other NGOs like the Red Crescent. Their kids are unable to go to school; we distributed some stationery items to the kids.

After distributing the cards, we went to another orphanage/Islamic school where we shared a hot meal with the orphans and their caretakers. Some of the students whom we had met with earlier in the day lived at this facility. The Syrian refugees prefer eating Kabse, which is a rice pilaf with nuts and chicken, and Ayran, which is a traditional yogurt drink. After the meal we also distributed stationery items and jewelry to the girls, unfortunately, we ran short on the jewelry

On the second day we visited Kilis, which is another province that shares a border with Syria, where there are several refugees from Syria and Iraq. We had an egg omelet with cheese, sausage, and olives for breakfast there, prepared with olive oil made from olives picked and processed at the property. The warehouse at Kilis was also huge, they had a kitchen and a bakery which prepared food and bread for thousands of refugees living in tent-cities across the border in Syria. We distributed food boxes to several families living inside Turkey, many of whom had gathered at an IHH run school for orphans and some food boxes had to be delivered to the homes of refugees since their situation did not allow them to come at the orphanage. The situation of their homes was not very different than the ones that we had visited in Hatay. We also visited the place where vocational training was given to the refugees, they trained barbers, tailors, electricians, computer and cellphone repairing technicians, taught Turkish language to adults, and other trades that would allow them to earn a living. They also had an Islamic library and bookshop.

We also visited a school for refugees called “Nar” or pomegranate in Turkish language; the inspiration for the name comes from the heavenly fruit. The staff was very welcoming, they had fig, olive, and pomegranate trees on the property, and they offered us a treat made from the figs, and pomegranate which was very delicious. The principal gave us a moneybox which was shaped like a pomegranate.

At night we traveled to Urfa, land of the prophets, where we met Arsalan, who is a Pakistani student in Turkey and works at IHH. At Urfa we distributed food boxes to the refugees in much the same way as we did in Kilis. Some families came to collect their boxes but there were some that couldn’t, so we delivered the boxes to them. Here we heard about a deadly car accident involving 4 IHH workers and volunteers, two of whom were engineers. All of the staff at IHH was saddened by the incident and we witnessed how they all functioned as true brothers and sisters.

At Urfa we visited the cave in which Ibrahim (AS) was born and where he hid until the age of 15 because Nimrod had given orders to kill all boys after his soothsayer warned him that the birth of the boy who would challenge him is imminent. It is narrated that Ibrahim (AS)’s mother hid her pregnancy from the townsfolk and gave birth in a cave where she would visit Ibrahim (AS) to feed him and at times a gazelle would also suckle Ibrahim (AS). The place where Nimrod had ordered a fire to be built for Ibrahim (AS) and the place from where his men had thrown him in the fire is also there. The fire was so large that Nimrod ordered to build two pillars on a nearby hill so that they could slingshot Ibrahim (AS) into the fire. There is a small body of water with lots of fishes in the area where the fire burned and there is a well with water that is believed to have healing properties.

Also, in Urfa there is the cave in which Prophet Ayyub (AS) stayed in patience after he was afflicted with an illness which caused him to isolate himself from his family members, the well whose waters healed him after several years is also there and we were able to drink from it.

Back in Istanbul we visited the tomb of Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari (ra) who is one of the Sahabi’s of our Prophet (pbuh). There are huge trees at the site, one of trees has all its branches raised towards the sky as if in continuous supplication.

Back in Istanbul we visited the tomb of Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari (ra) who is one of the Sahabi’s of our Prophet (pbuh). There are huge trees at the site, one of trees has all its branches raised towards the sky as if in continuous supplication.

The bow and swords belonging to the Prophet (pbuh)

This is a garment belonging to the beloved daughter of our Prophet (pbuh)

The swords of Abu Bakr (RA) and Umar (RA)

The bowl of the Prophet (pbuh) from which he drank water. The bowl was later placed inside of a silver mold.

The day after we returned to Istanbul, the region was hit by a severe thunderstorm that claimed 4 lives and caused several mishaps. On our last morning in Istanbul, we visited Topkapi Palace where there is a section dedicated to the items of our Prophet (pbuh), members of his (pbuh) family, and those belonging to the four rightly guided Khalifas. We also saw the items belonging to the last sultans of the Khilafa-e-Othmania, their clocks and watches, their sofas and couches, their jewelry, their clothes, etc.

Today, many Muslim homes have the luxuries that only a Sultan could afford not too long ago. Compared with the simple belongings of our Prophet (pbuh), his noble family members (ra), and of the rightly guided khalifas, most of us are living like Sultans.

I would like to thank you all for your continued support, I only ask that you remember me in your supplications, may Allah swt accept all our efforts in furtherance of His swt Deen, ameen.

Shazia Mirza founded Manzil Educational Organization, she is the director of SALD (School of Affective Leadership Development). She is currently pursuing her PhD in Education from Malaysia.