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Praying in Turkey

By Usama Malik

For many, Turkey might have been merely a Jan-term travel seminar—educational, enriching, and immersive. But for me, it was a real spiritual experience. Though a secular country, Turkey is a 99% Muslim-majority country that boasts a rich history spanning thousands of years and numerous civilizations. Aside from journeying alongside my classmates over 1700 miles through 8 different cities and 50 different sites, I wanted to make the most out of my trip by enriching my experience as a Muslim in a Muslim-majority country. I accomplished this by visiting over 40 mosques for daily prayers—as well as getting to pet dozens of the lovely cats of Turkey!

I wanted to integrate the spirit and theme of the trip, the Pauline Mission, with my personal faith. I did this by drawing on my experience as the sole Muslim seminarian at Austin Seminary and on the mindset I’ve used to make the past three years some of the most substantive of my life. I kept my obligations and duties as a Muslim alongside my obligations as a student and seminarian, always with an open mind toward all that we saw and experienced. I ultimately tied this newfound knowledge back to my context, pondering over the mutual benefits. 

Now I know what you might be thinking: 40 mosques in fourteen days?! How could I manage to fit it into our already packed itinerary? It helped that muslims are obligated to perform at least 5 daily prayers: before sunrise, just after noon, late afternoon, after sunset, and at night. The prevalence of mosques (nearly 3,000 in Istanbul alone!) and constant reminders to pray over loudspeakers also helped. We started each day at 6:00 a.m., thanks in part to the daily morning adhans (calls to prayer) across each of the cities we visited. Thanks to the accommodation and generosity of our guide, Tosun, as well as our faculty leader, Dr. Cindy Rigby, I was able to go out early each day on my own—usually by walking (sometimes more than 30 minutes and once through the snow). Additionally, throughout the day whenever the itinerary permitted, I would visit a nearby mosque.

Experiencing a variety of mosques from different centuries, featuring beautiful art and architecture, and being able to pray with a people who emphasize the spiritual component of prayer in Islam, helped make this portion of the seminar a transformational one. Besides observing the admirable spirituality of the Turkish Muslims in these mosques, I was also able to see the effect such sacred spaces had on one of my fellow students who came with me to the morning prayers and mentioned how inspiring it was to experience such a prayer service, as well as such a commitment to faith by setting aside time each day to pray. And seeing the trip from the perspectives of my Christian classmates helped me experience places such as the Hagia Sophia, cities visited by Paul, the house of the Virgin Mary, and cave homes and churches in Cappadocia as much more than simple stops on an itinerary. I was able to appreciate the histories and sacrifices of those who came to them before, seeking to proclaim their faith. All this made Turkey a transformative journey of a lifetime, thanks to my background as a seminarian, my faith as a Muslim, and the acceptance and accommodation of my cohort in helping me make this both an educational and spiritual experience.

And, oh, those cats!




 Watch a gallery of Usama's photos from the trip.

Where are we going next?

Ever thought about joining the Austin Seminary community on one of our amazing travel seminars? Below, find a tentative schedule of upcoming trips. Contact the Office of the Academic Dean for more information.

Summer 2019

El Grito de las Fronteras/The Cry of the Borders (El Paso / Cuidad Juarez border), led by Visiting Professor Jennifer Owens-Jofré

January 2020

National Museums and the Bible (Washington D.C., London, Paris, Berlin) led by Professor Gregory Cuéllar

Theology and Race in South African Contexts led by Professor Asante Todd

Summer 2020

The Way of St. James: A Pilgrimage Trail, led by Professor Jennifer Lord

January 2021

The Lands of the Bible

The Church’s Life and Mission in Zambia and Malawi, led by Professor David Jensen

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