A religious tourism package that allows travellers to gain an in-depth knowledge of Islam is being offered in Turkey.
While the title of the package, ‘Muslim for a Month,’ could possibly be viewed with cynicism by the religion’s devout followers, the package is nevertheless an attempt to provide visitors with a detailed insight into Islam, especially in its moderate and tolerant form.
The tours are the brainchild of Ben Bowler, who runs cultural exchange programmes and intends to take travellers, especially non-Muslims from around the world, to Turkish mosques and homes to experience Islam firsthand. Bowler said that the tourism initiative would allow people to be exposed to the virtues of Islam, a religion that has been the recipient of much negative attention.
Bowler, who has been conducting the tours for some time, said that people’s attitudes are altered once they learn about the religion in detail. He said, ‘People are very visibly moved. There are lots of tears. It’s a rich, multi-layered experience and people are coming out with changed ideas and changed perceptions-they are more aware of the positive side of the religion than before.’
Bowler said that the title of the tour programme was considered to be rather provocative by some, but he added that Muslims have been showing support because of its good intentions. He said, ‘It’s a provocative title, ‘Muslim for a Month,’ so we were bracing ourselves for criticism. There has been a little of that – Being a Muslim is for life, not just a month.’
The programme is being offered by Bowler’s NGO World Weavers. Tour participants are taught the basics of Islamic practice. They study Islamic history and calligraphy, and are allowed to pray in mosques and live and eat with Muslim families. Tourists will also have to undergo a day of fasting. The travel package is for 10 or 21 days, and travellers are put up in a 400-year-old Sufi lodge in Istanbul’s Eyup district. They will also visit the ancient city of Konya to visit the tomb of Sufi mystic, Rumi, and learn his teachings.