Last week, we celebrated the fruits of our Buddhist-Muslim dialogue with the Anatolia Cultural and Dialog Society. In a way, a lot of it was hot air. I’ve personally never been to Turkey. I never met with any Sufis, and the only authentic Turkish delight I’ve ever tried was in London. So when we began editing Buddhistdoor’s special edition of the CBSAA Turkey trip (which had contributing articles from many of the tour members), I was feeling a bit clueless. Even that most famous of Ottoman cities, majestic Istanbul, was a mystery to me as I tried to catch up by reading books and websites about Turkish nationhood and history.
By Saturday afternoon, high up inside the Jockey Club Tower of the new Centennial Campus, we had a seminar about the interfaith pilgrimage. The charismatic star of our CBS circles, Walter, was too busy to emcee the dialogue, so my editing about a culture and country I have no familiarity with climaxed with hosting an event about a trip I never went to. Professor Lee was our first speaker, and being an aficionado of Turkish history and culture, he had been especially keen on seeing this special occasion succeed. After presenting a fascinating slideshow about Muslim migrations to imperial China, Mudjat Yelbay (the Director of the Anatolia Cultural and Dialog Centre) extended his vision of Turkish involvement in Hong Kong society to us, before Mehmet Soylemez promptly stole the show with his superstar power (I promised to provide him with a proper stage next time, with lights and music). He was followed by a more conventional Dhamma talk from Ven. Dhammapala, and afterwards Dr. Lau gave a speech about Rumi’s seven counsels while former Therav?da monk John Cannon shared his experience of practicing Ramadan.
The most painful part of being an MC is having to stop people who are clearly having the time of their lives. What if the audience loves a particular speaker, as they did Mehmet and John? Time feels much longer when you’re speaking to a crowd, and much shorter when you are timing it. It felt heartening that a Buddhist-Muslim dialogue, perhaps the first of its kind at HKU, was received so well. The audience was also treated to the multimedia video about Turkey, which Cathy and Andreas worked hard on for the event. I’m faithful we all came away that day with a similar sense of inspiration – peaceful coexistence is possible, but the first step of actually coming together and meeting is always most crucial. Without that first step, no dialogue can come to fruition.
May we have many more cherished opportunities to host events like these for a long time to come.