Pope prays at Sul­tan Ahmed Mosque in Turkey

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL - ISTANBUL—

Pope Fran­cis prayed silently along­side a se­nior Is­lamic cleric in Istanbul’s Blue Mosque on Satur­day, in a ges­ture of in­ter-re­li­gious har­mony in a coun­try bor­der­ing the con­flicts in Syria and Iraq. Fran­cis took off his shoes as he en­tered the huge mosque, be­fore bow­ing his head in prayer for sev­eral min­utes, fac­ing Mecca and stand­ing next to Istanbul’s Grand Mufti Rahmi Yaran, in what a Vatican spokesman de­scribed as a joint “mo­ment of silent ado­ra­tion” of God.

A sim­i­lar act by his pre­de­ces­sor Pope Bene­dict in 2006 drew crit­i­cism from con­ser­va­tive Catholics and some Mus- lims. Sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple, many of them tourists, watched from be­hind po­lice bar­ri­ers as the pope then walked to the nearby Aya So­fya mu­seum, once the Christian church Ha­gia Sophia. A group of school chil­dren wav­ing Turk­ish and Vatican flags chanted “Long live Pope Fran­cis” in Ital­ian as the Mus­lim call to prayer rang out across the Sul­tanah­met square, the heart of Istanbul’s his­toric quar­ter.

“We must show re­spect for each oth­ers be­liefs. God will­ing the pope’s visit will help in this re­spect,” said Halil Ibrahim Cil, 24, a hos­pi­tal worker from Istanbul. “We want to prac­tice our re­li­gion in peace. We want peo­ple to un­der­stand Is­lam. We don’t want war.” Is­lamic State in­sur­gents have cap­tured swathes of neigh­bor­ing Syria and Iraq, per­se­cut­ing and killing Shi’ite Mus­lims, Chris­tians and oth­ers who do not share their ul­tra-rad­i­cal brand of Sunni Is­lam.

Fran­cis said on Fri­day that fight­ing hunger and poverty, rather than mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion alone, was key to stop­ping the Is­lamist mil­i­tants. The Blue Mosque, known of­fi­cially as the Sul­tanah­met mosque, opened in 1616 and is the most fa­mous in Turkey. Its popular name is a ref­er­ence to the fine blue Iznik tiles in its main prayer room.—Reuters

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