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Atty Raul H. Dado
Interfaith trek: A Muslim and a Christian journey to Istanbul

TRAVELING back to Kuwait from Ankara, Turkey, where we attended a conference on human smuggling, we got the chance to pass through Istanbul. My executive officer, Mar Hassan, told me that ‘there is a church converted into a mosque which is now a museum’ that we just had to see. I vaguely recalled that he was talking about the Hagia Sophia. I looked it up and agreed to go. We reached Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, named after Emperor Constantine I, who made the city the seat of the Holy Roman Empire some 300 years after Christ. We took the Metro from the airport. At the end of the line in Sultanahmet, we stepped out blinking into the sun and behold the Hagia Sophia (in Greek: Holy Wisdom). 
 
Like all great structures, it projects a sense of intransigence, oblivious to the sad cruelties of war, the unfeeling passage of time and certain deaths of kings. Powers have come and gone but the Hagia Sophia has remained the same. The Muslim dome is atop the old Christian church, a sign of its transformation from a church to a mosque in one of the most startling turn of events in religious history. It was about to close on a Sunday and we barely managed to get in. All around are tombs of sultans who ruled over this amazing kingdom by the Sea of Marmara. This is the place where religions had conflicts for centuries and later came to peaceful co-existence.
 
Here’s the story: 
The Hagia Sophia was built in 357 AD. Beside it, the succeeding Byzantine (Eastern Christian) emperor Justinian placed a stone marker that was ground zero for the Holy Roman Empire. From this stone, the distance of his domain was measured. 
Other Byzantine emperors built and rebuilt the church throughout the centuries, and for 1,000 years it was the largest Christian church in the world. 
In 1453, the Ottoman Turks stormed into it and the incident is now known as the Fall of Constantinople. Christian knights jumped to their deaths from the church walls to evade capture while the surviving faithful were made slaves. 
 
The Ottoman Turks found the Hagia Sophia so beautiful that they preserved the Christian structure, but all around it they built their majestic dome and their soaring minarets. It marked the end of Christian rule and the beginning of the reign of Islam in this part of the world. Other mosques were built beside it, notably the Blue Mosque in 1616. 
I realized then that Mar is a devout Muslim. I tried to be a prayerful Christian. We looked at the same symbols and saw similar meanings. Countless Muslims and Christians must have done the same throughout the centuries, seeing the Hagia Sophia at the same time but in slightly different lights. We all journey on the same path, and ultimately find the same Supreme Being. 
 
We stayed for a day and reminded ourselves of the duties that await us in Kuwait. While packing our bags, we vowed to return. 
My friend Maxxy Santiago of the Arab Times sent me a message through Viber at 12 midnight, asking when I will be back in Kuwait. I answered, ‘On Tuesday morning’ ( Inshaallah). Maxxy has always been deeply concerned with Filipino workers in Kuwait over the years and had some cases to discuss.  Maybe, she was surprised that I was still awake at midnight. I was surprised myself. 
 
As I lay in darkness, I kept thinking about the Hagia Sophia and the eternal truths it represents. I imagined the horror that swept these very grounds on the days following its fall six centuries ago, the faithful’s reemergence from the depths of despair, and the verdant centuries that followed. 
I realized that the Hagia Sophia will survive, and man’s dialogue with his Creator will always continue.
I went to Ankara, Turkey to sharpen my mind. The brief sojourn to Istanbul, to the heart of the city formerly known as Constantinople, had rekindled my spirit. 
 

By Atty Raul H. Dado

Philippine Consul General

By: Atty Raul H. Dado

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