Doğan, who had grown up imbued with religious sensitivities, went straight over to the young German woman who wished to become Muslim and witnessed the Shahada being spoken. Before the powerfully affecting atmosphere of the Shahada had passed, the consulate’s religious attaché asked Doğan whether she would like to experience more moments such as the one that had just passed. The attaché also mentioned the International Theology Program started by the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs, with the aim of turning over religious works involving Islam in Europe to people who are familiar with the local language and culture. Within the framework of the project, youth who have been educated at and have graduated from high schools in Europe and other parts of the world would come to study theology at universities in İstanbul and Ankara and then return to their countries, where they would serve in the arena of religious affairs. In this particular case, Doğan decided to pass on her dreams of Canada, instead signing up for the program that the attaché had mentioned. The rest is as you may have already guessed: Doğan is now a student in her final year at the International Theology Program at Marmara University. Nowadays, her entire objective is simply to return to Germany as soon as possible and shoulder the new role that she has trained for there.
Doğan is just one of many young people from abroad who are now studying at Marmara University’s theology department. There are many others like her, with similar dreams, from many different places all over Europe. In fact, there are 190 students in total, from 15 different countries, including Germany, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and France. And they are all studying at a level that they hope will allow them to properly talk about and be connected to Islamic works once back in the countries where they were born. Not all of them wish to work in mosques later. Some, like Doğan, hope to work at consulates. Others want to be teachers of religious culture.
Another one of the Turkish students here at Marmara University who grew up in Europe is İbrahim Polat. He was born in Belgium and loves to read religious books and think about Islam from an intellectual perspective. In fact, he has been involved in voluntary efforts to help close the gap created by deficiencies in religious services in Belgium. One of these was to form a group connected to the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs that would sponsor activities that would help people, especially young people, become closer to their religion. After a while, this group managed to become influential not only in Turkish circles in Belgium, but with Muslims living in this country. This same group also formed a group in which religious topics could be discussed. It was later, while Polat was a student at Marmara University studying international communication-management that he decided to pursue an education in theology. When he first discovered that there was an international theology program, he asked himself,Why don’t I carry on with the same activities I’ve been doing voluntarily as my actual career?With Polat, as with Doğan, the rest of the story is one you probably already guessed. His four-year journey is now coming to a close, and he is soon to return to Belgium and shoulder his new duties there. He is very excited about it all, though he is aware of the heavy responsibilities that await him.
Semra Doğan is one of Polat’s classmates, and like him, was also born and raised in Belgium. She graduated with a degree in preschool education, but later thought about the idea of enrolling in the International Theology Program in Turkey, while searching for ways to become a teacher of religious culture in Belgium. In fact, it was with the encouragement of her father that she set out for Turkey. She will also be graduating from the program this year as well. Her greatest dream is to open up a crèche that offers religious instruction for the children of Muslim families.
Another student studying at the Marmara University program is Esma Uğur, who comes from France. She had originally planned to study economics, but while applying, her father suggested she study theology, which is how she linked up with this caravan of youth headed off to teach and reinforce religion in Europe. She is sure of what she is doing, saying:I am so glad I came. It was even worth it just for my own personal religious education.She will start working next year and is most concerned about reaching out to youth. As for another student, Ayperi Çılgın, who was born and grew up in the Netherlands, she notes,I am going to study in another department, and then carry out my duties on a personal level.She notes her real interest is in film and that she wants use her education in theology not as a religious official but would like to include it in any film scripts that she writes.
Kürşat Karbaki is 21 years old. He is a first-year student at the International Theology Program and comes from Germany. He is incredibly excited to be here. He is also full of joy, seemingly incapable of standing still, and bursting to tell his story. He explains:I was born in Germany. I grew up there. My mother is a very religious person and so she raised me to be religious, too. I received my religious education by regularly going to the mosque. In fact, I was even a muezzin for a while when I was in high school, since my voice was good. That’s when I decided to study theology. One day, the Düsseldorf religious attache came to our mosque, and told us about the international theology project. He said, ‘You should do it, you would be perfect for it.’ I started to research it. And since I knew that there is a lack of people who know about Islam in Europe, I said, ‘I will do this.’ In the end, I am here. The part of all of this that really excites me is that my religious education is composed of a Turkish-Islam synthesis.