#15: A memorable sermon (c.1902)

Another sermon story from the mosque begs to be recorded. Men sin, said the earnest preacher, because they forget God, and they forget God because they love the world too much. Humanity is like a man walking across a plain who finds himself pursued by a lion. Running at top speed and casting about for some refuge from the danger he finds a well with a platform half way down where he reaches temporary safety. The lion comes to the mouth of the well and threatens to tear him in pieces if he tries to escape. As he looks, he sees a huge dragon at the bottom of the well ready to devour him if he falls. And then he sees two mice, a black mouse and a white one, coming out of the sides of the well and beginning to gnaw away the supports of the frail platform on which he has found security. But the man, foolish fellow, having food and drink with him by chance, begins to eat and drink and make merry without meditating on the threatening dangers of the situation. Then the preacher said, in effect, may God Almighty have mercy upon us and deliver us from the temptations and dangers of the world, the flesh and the devil. The great assembly of hundreds of strong men knelt and rose, knelt and rose again, pouring forth earnest prayers for divine salvation and blessing. As we walked away from the service, I remarked to my Moslem friend with whom I had visited the mosque, "That was a good story that the hodja told about the man in the well". He assented that it was a very good story. I said it seemed to me that one point was omitted. "What was that", he asked. I replied that I did not hear the preacher tell how the man could escape out of his danger. Did he point that out? My companion had not noticed or heard anything about that. "Well", I said, "what would you say? You're a Moslem. There's no doubt about the temptations and dangers for all of us in the life of this world. The question is how to escape them all. What would you say about that"? "I declare I don't know", was his answer. And Moslems do not know so far as I could ever learn from my many friends. Islam can depict the frailty and the foibles of men as vividly as it can depict the majesty and the mercy of God, but it has no available way of escape to propose, it has no way of salvation, no Savior, no Redeemer. By degrees we came to realize that from about one- fourth to one-third of our Turkish friends and neighbors were not orthodox Sunni Mohammedans but were unorthodox Shia or Alevi sectaries. Their professed religion was largely camouflage. As a semi-separate clan or tribe, usually in separate villages of their own, they were pitiably ignorant, secretive and superstitious.

NEXT: The Alevi Turks (c. 1902)