By Elena Dini
ROME— Hülya Haciismailoglu once saw the photo of a statue of a woman in a book. At first glance, she thought it was a Catholic representation of Mary, the mother of Jesus, but then discovered it was Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad.
“This is how my interest in the topic I am researching for my PhD thesis began,” said Hülya Haciismailoglu, a scholar from Turkey, who is living at The Lay Centre while researching in Rome during the fall semester.
Haciismailoglu is pursuing a PhD in the history of religions at the University of Sakarya in Turkey, she also works as a research assistant at Izmir Kātip Ēelebi University. She is carrying out a comparative research study that investigates commonalities between Mary in Catholic tradition and devotion, and Fatima, who is particularly esteemed in Shi’a Islam. Her research methodology is to consider religions from an insider’s point of view, she said.
“Turkey is mostly Sunni, and I don’t know a lot about Shi’a Islam, apart from what I studied during my BA in theology. While I am much more familiar with Catholicism, since I grew up in Belgium and I used to go to a Catholic kindergarten,” said Haciismailoglu.
“I came to Rome because I found a scholar who investigated my same topic and is teaching at PISAI, the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, Father Christopher Clohessy,” she said. “My time here is like a retreat for me. I’m taking time to pray, relaxing, doing things for myself, attending Catholic celebrations, and all this is important, not only for my scholarship but for my whole life.”
Haciismailoglu’s time in Rome is mostly dedicated to learning more about Mary. However, it is important for her to focus her attention on the common aspects between Fatima and Mary, as well.
“In Sunni Islam, we don’t accept a mediation role between human beings and God. However, in Shi’a Islam this is much more accepted, and Fatima is considered a mediator. Like Mary in the Catholic tradition, she earns the title ‘Virgin’ although this term was maybe used with a different meaning,” she said.
Furthermore, both women bear the title “Mother,” she said. Fatima is known as the “Mother of her Father” and Mary is known as the “Mother of God.
For Haciismailoglu, it is interesting to see these points of connection in the use of terms, particularly in devotion, although these refer to different theological concepts. Such is the case with the terms “virginity” and “motherhood.” For example, while Fatima’s “Motherhood of her father, Muhammad,” is to be understood from a spiritual and metaphorical point of view, Mary’s motherhood refers foremost to her bearing Jesus, whom Catholics believe is the Son of God.
“I enjoy so much being here at The Lay Centre and joining people from all over the world. What I find so good is the deep respect for everyone, which is so much a part of everyday life,” Haciismailoglu said, upon her return from a day trip to Assisi with other Lay Centre scholars.
She recounted the visit of a Jewish scholar’s family to The Lay Centre as an example of this respect. Attentive to their presence, The Lay Centre community invited them to begin dinner on Friday with the Shabbat prayer, “so that they could feel welcomed,” she said.
Once back home, Haciismailoglu plans to finish her doctorate and teach about Christianity, Judaism, and other world religions.