Dialogue

  • Issue 108 / November - December 2015



    Loving Words, Loving Actions

    Zeliha Celiker

    I am a practicing Muslim woman living in the USA. Practicing, you may ask? How much? How well? It's between me and God, but I can assure you that I am more practicing than I was before. I wasn't really practicing until I came to Istanbul to attend college. There, I was shaken by the questions of one of my friends who was an atheist. She was trying to convince me that there was no God. I wavered for a while, questioning the existence of my dear God. Then, I brought myself together and asked: "Why can't I say anything to prove there is a God to refute my friend's many efforts to prove there is no God? If I was a true believer, I should have been advocating for my faith. What was wrong with me? Could she be right in saying all of those words about the non-existence of God?

    Part of me was screaming "No!!" However, the other part was a little hesitant. I was struggling with many questions. Finally, I realized th at I was experiencing all of this because I actually did not know the "God" I thought I loved. I had some knowledge of God, but that was not enough for me. I was a Muslim just because I was born into a Muslim family. Therefore, I decided to get to know "God." And I started to read, read, and read, as the first revelation to the beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, states: "Read, in the name of God" (Quran, 96:1).

    While reading, the doors opened wide in front of me. As I began to get to know Who I believe in, I started to love more. As I loved more, I started to practice more. I wanted to say "thank you," to my atheist friend who contributed to this result. This is a wonderful memory which taught me that love comes after knowing.

    I believe the following is a rule that holds true in all cases.

    Would you like to love God? Get to know God better!

    Would you like to love people around you? Get to know them better!

    I think this is the key to maintaining a peaceful world: getting to know others, and loving and respecting others. As is mentioned in the Holy Qur'an, Chapter 49:13:

    "O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other)."

    Believing this with my whole heart, I was at the Turkish American Society of Ohio enjoying the friendship of the wonderful people I had previously met, who assisted me whenever I needed help. I was standing next to one of these wonderful friends, looking into her eyes in amazement while she was telling me the story of an admirable group of women that called themselves the "Women of Religious Diversity" – or "WORD." My friend suggested that I join them.

    Frankly, I hesitated at the beginning, even though I was theoretically fine with it. Yes, I had had friends from different faith traditions before, but I had never joined a discussion group of people from different religious backgrounds. I wasn't sure how it would feel in practice. Although I heard some other Muslim friends had joined the group before, and that they had had a great time, it still required some courage for me to attend. And so there I was, parking my car in the parking lot of the Dublin Community Church, praying to God that it would be a good day both for me and for them. Excited, curious, and a little nervous, I opened the doors of the church. My nervousness was gone soon after I was with the wonderful ladies of WORD. It was such a welcoming and comforting environment that I just enjoyed every second of my time spent with them.

    After a few meetings, the study came to a point of discussing the lives of the Prophets Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael in a book and video called "The Patriarchs". I had enjoyed and learned much in the previous chapters. However, prior to discussing more details about the Prophets, I received a very thoughtful e-mail from the facilitator of our group. She indicated that she had some concerns about the content of the upcoming video and she asked me if I'd be willing to share my perspective on the topic as a Muslim. I agreed.

    I was not fully aware of how disrespectful the video was towards Islam. The video started, and I was shocked by what I was hearing. I started to shiver, my heart was beating faster, and I was sad, so sad, to hear someone talking about Islam so unreasonably but enthusiastically. Our group facilitator was extremely thoughtful in stopping the video to allow me to respond to what was being said. It was so hurtful to hear the speaker trying to convince her audience that Islam is hostile toward Christianity and that the root of this hostility was from the Prophet Ishmael being jealous of his brother Prophet Isaac. I tried to explain with my whole heart that Islam does not prescribe hatred – especially of Christians. Moreover, it is one of the six pillars of the Islamic faith to believe in all the books and the prophets that were sent by God, and to hold all of them in high regard. Therefore, a person cannot be called a Muslim if he does not accept and keep holy all the books and the prophets. I am sure I was trembling as I tried to explain how much we love all the prophets, including Isaac, and that I had never heard such things in my whole life as a Muslim.

    The facilitator continued to stop the video periodically to allow me to respond. At one point, the speaker in the video claimed that the one whom Muslims call "Allah" is not the same as the one whom Christians call "God" and that Muslims have no relationship with God. I was about to cry. Those words were so hurtful to hear, as we believe all the books and the prophets were sent by the same exact God, whose name is "Allah" in Arabic and "God" in English. And so, because of that, Christian Arabs call their God "Allah" in the Arabic language. It was also hurtful to be accused that I, as a Muslim, have no relationship with God, even though I pray five times a day at specified time frames to remember God and maintain my relationship with God.

    Before I said anything, the awesome ladies of WORD intervened and stopped the video, saying, "We no longer want to continue watching this hateful video." They apologized to me for having to watch it, and repeated many times that they do not agree with the speaker's views. They decided to discontinue the book and video and not to study any of the books by the same person again. They couldn't have been more comforting. I was touched by how they reacted and consoled me in a time of disappointment.

    I feel so lucky to be in a group where we all respectfully share ideas and can grow spiritually. Even though I was sad to see that there are books and opinions like that, I also felt fortunate to be among the very polite women of WORD who believe in interfaith dialogue as much as I do. This particular event showed me, and I believe the other women of WORD as well, that getting to know each other, and having dialogue with each other, is necessary to love each other. And "love" is the essence of the universe.

    When you are trying to please God with your actions, then you can work together for the benefit of others, just as our groups have done – Muslims and Christians, hand in hand to make a more peaceful world.

    In an Ohio town, a group of extraordinary women started a Christian study group. One day, they were surprised by some unexpected guests. They weren't prepared for how much they were about to learn.

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