A Philosopher Ambassador At The Vatican

Sezgin Çevik Abdullah Özbudak May 2014

KENAN GÜRSOY IS BOTH A PHILOSOPHER INTERESTED IN THE MEANING OF ETHICS IN ISLAM AND AT THE SAME TIME AN AMBASSADOR. AS HE SEES IT, “THE WORLD EXPECTS SOMETHING OF US, AND IN ORDER TO FULFILL THAT EXPECTATION WE NEED TO BE IN COMMUNICATION WITH THE WORLD AND OPEN TO WHAT IT CAN GIVE US.”

Vatikan’da Bir Filozof Büyükelçi
Vatikan’da Bir Filozof Büyükelçi

Q:What significance does Anatolia have for the Vatican?
A:From the standpoint of the Vatican, Anatolia is the place where Christianity was institutionalized, where it became a religion. Jesus Christ lived in Jerusalem but his disciples scattered to Anatolia. St. Peter, for example, was in Antakya (ancient Antioch) before he was in Rome. And the early Christian philosophers in particular lived in the Cappadocia region. When we look at Anatolia, we have to take all these things into account and consider these lands in terms of their importance in the history of the monotheistic religions. When we do so, we realize that the region where we live and which we have made our homeland encompasses a rich cultural past that was eventually integrated with Islamic knowledge and culture.

Q:What do you see as the reason why Islam has become so widely accepted in Anatolia?
A:Apart from being original, Turkish-Islamic civilization also absorbs, reworks and makes its own everything it finds and inherits, and, taking that as its starting place, produces new things. Even Istanbul is like that. Rather than rejecting what they found here from earlier periods, the Ottomans reinvented it in their own style, an approach that in no way prevented them from producing extremely original monuments of their own in the city. At the foundation of this notion of embracing all of humanity lies idea of unity, which makes us all "one" while respecting the differences. You can find the same idea and teaching in Mevlana, Yunus Emre, Şeyh Edebali, Akşemseddin.

Q:Can you share with us how you became an ambassador?
A:I am the grandson of the late-period mystic and educator, Kenan Rifaî Büyükaksoy. I grew up in his household and its spiritual and intellectual milieu. He emphasized that Islam was originally a faith of unity that wanted to forge communication with others and create a common discourse. He instilled the necessity for that in all his students. If you had asked me what I’ve been doing in the last few years, I would have said that I’ve been wracking my brain about how to rediscover, through a philosophical approach, the concept of ethics and the aesthetic depth in all religions in general and in Islam in particular. Apparently my endeavors in that area must have prompted our Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, to propose that Kenan Gürsoy - a professor of philosophy at Galatasarary University at the time - become Turkey’s ambassador to the Vatican!

Q:May there be more Kenan Gürsoy’s in this world! But what does this work entail?
A:Giving is a good and beautiful thing in the moral sense. In the intellectual and spiritual sense, giving means promoting, educating and having a big heart. But there are also many areas in which others could hold up a mirror to us due to their own successes. For the purpose of perpetuating human love and the production of culture, being in communication with the entire universe will, I believe, gain us a lot and render our own edifice more sound. My conviction that these ideas of mine are valid was clinched during my post as Ambassador in a different religious environment at the Vatican. The world expects things of us, and in order to fulfill those expectations we need to be in communication with the world and open to it.

WHAT IS BEING DONE AT THE VATICAN?
First of all, there are lectures in the universities and the religious-intellectual venues. We have mounted several exhibitions and are striving especially to promote our traditional arts through the philosophy that underlies them. Tiles, calligraphy, illumination, paper marbling, to mention just a few. Our presence has also provided an occasion for the playing of Classical Turkish Music. A Mevlevi ritual, for example, was performed at the Vatican. And recently there was an exhibition of paper marbling. But the most interesting among the exhibitions was one on the Hilye-i Şerif (calligraphic inscription of the attributes of the Prophet Muhammad), which I believe came to Europe for the first time.