On leaving the beautiful Süleymaniye Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque) I gave a donation to a guy sitting at the exit of the Mosque with a sign ‘donations for the Mosque’. As the entrance was free and usually the maintenance of this kind of buildings is enormous in costs, it seemed reasonable to have some contribution. I gave money and got a few blue tickets in return for that. I looked at them and thought, why do I get this kind of tickets? I gave a donation, but what is this for?
As my brains couldn’t find a solution, I started to think the Dutch way. This must be a proof for tax administration that a donation was made, I thought. In the Netherlands this exists; for income that is spent in gifts to good aims, citizens don’t need to pay taxes. But you must be able to proof that you gave away that money. I suggested the Turks might have the same system and that the tickets I got at the Süleymaniye Mosque served to prove to Turkish taxes that this money was really spent as a gift. But I also know that perspectives can be coloured too much by national perspective. The reason why I got the tickets could be completely different.
So in the restaurant, close to Süleymaniye, where we had dinner after visiting the Mosque, I showed my newly acquired tickets to the staff and asked them for the meaning of them. The staff was very surprised about it: ‘we have never seen these tickets before’. They started to question me ‘the Mosque is free to visit, why did you give them money?’. I tried to explain to them the idea, or should I say idealism, of donations but my table company destroyed it all by saying ‘she wanted to feel good about herself’, making everybody burst out in laughter as if I were the kind of fool that was hardly seen in this part of Istanbul.
The restaurant staff explained to me ‘the government takes care of the Mosque, they don’t need your money’. Hey, I don’t give up that easily so I responded in an utmost surprised way ‘ah, I thought Turkey has a separation of state and religion’. ‘Well yes’, they replied, ‘the state doesn’t pay any money but local government does, the city of Istanbul is taking care of the Mosque’. I thought that the separation of state and religion also involved local government as well as national government but they thought that local was completely different from national and showed surprise that the City of Amsterdam is not giving money to churches or mosques ‘Istanbul is very social but Amsterdam is not’.
Soon enough, we started to talk Turkish instead of English and we jumped from the way Christians were treated in the South-East of Turkey to the way Muslems were treated in Greece and Bulgaria. I got a bit upset and so did they, and they had the superiority of language, meaningful in situations like the moment where I said that the monasteries in the North (güney) had a hard time under Turkish government when they declared there were no monasteries in the North – like I usually do, I mixed the words South and North (kuzey versus güney); a problem of mastering a language that weakened my arguments because they wouldn’t notice that I was not telling an ‘untruth’ but making a language mistake.
We didn’t really find a solution for Muslems in Greece and Bulgaria or for Christians in South East Turkey but we had a drink together to close the discussion. The only problem that lasts now is that my question about the tickets was left unanswered: why does a tourist who gives a donation to the Süleymaniye Mosque get tickets showing the period, the amount and the purpose of the donation? If you, reader, know the answer, please send me a message because I really like to know after all…