Alison Stendahl - Turkey In January I saw my long time friend Dr Adil Ozdemir, his wife Fatma and one of their daughters Rabiha when I was visiting my sister in Minneapolis. When my sister and I arrived at the Ozdemirs' small apartment on the campus of St Thomas, it was the first day of the holiday celebrating the Feast of the Sacrifice (Kurban Bayram).
In January I saw my long time friend Dr Adil Ozdemir, his wife Fatma and one of their daughters Rabiha when I was visiting my sister in Minneapolis. When my sister and I arrived at the Ozdemirs' small apartment on the campus of St Thomas, it was the first day of the holiday celebrating the Feast of the Sacrifice (Kurban Bayram).
It is traditional to visit family and friends the first day of this holiday, to pay one’s respects and to share one’s company. Adil and Fatma’s other three daughters had gathered at one of their homes in Istanbul and greeted me over the computer screen when I entered the apartment. The marvels of technology, webcam and Skype have brought a whole new meaning of the “holiday visit”!! St Paul and Istanbul became a great deal closer.
Adil is currently teaching about Islam at the University of St Thomas in St Paul Minnesota and seems to be carrying on his own “ministry of presence” in the Twin Cities! I met Adil 25 years ago when I was teaching in Izmir. Adil is teaching classes at the university and is active in any seminar that invites him in interpreting Islam in a variety of contexts. Some of these venues have been sponsored by Christians and some by Muslims. His CV is impressive.
In 2003, Adil Ozdemir taught at Bangor Theological Seminary. Previously, he was on the faculty of Dokuz Eylul University, Izmir Turkey for 26 years. He served in Turkey’s Department of Religious Affairs as a local religious functionary – Imam – in 1973-1977. In 1979-80, he studied at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. In 1986-87 he was a visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Center for the Study of World Religions, then, in 1994-95, as an interpreter of Islam, he was invited to tour several seminaries of the United Church and Disciples of Christ in the USA. Adil has been engaged in Islamic- Christian Dialogue since 1980. He’s married and has four daughters.
Rabiha is attending classes at the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. She too is a devout Muslim with a keen interest in the philosophy of religions. She too must be touching the lives of people around her with her warmth and friendliness. Adil, Fatma and Rabiha have been overwhelmed by how they have been welcomed and received by the people in the Twin Cities. People invite them for dinner, take them shopping and show them the sights. But they expressed sadness at how many lonely Americans they run across. Community and family are very important to people in Turkey. They dread being alone and often check the people in their surroundings. I personally feel very cared for as I have written before.
Adil and I have watched one another grow and mature over the years. Adil has always represented for me a gentle vibrant soul who is embodied as a Muslim. He has a way of being with people that demonstrates that all Muslims are not terrorists, violent or extreme. Not all Muslims hate Christians. In fact not all Muslims are Arabs. Not all Arabs are Muslims. It is so easy to use the word “all”. It simplifies life to grossly throw everyone into the same category!
Today in Istanbul we are caught between two snowstorms, in a place of temporary sunlight and fog. Our world can be a complicated place to live. Just when you become comfortable with the terrain, the weather changes. Currently the Muslim world is up in arms over the publication and republication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in an insulting and inaccurate manner. Extremists wait for such golden opportunities for violent outbursts and the west seems to keep handing such opportunities to them. Muslims hold the Prophet Mohammed in very high regard and never depict his image at all, let alone in a cartoon depicting him as a terrorist. Since the time of the Crusades the west has perpetuated negative images of Islam. In Turkey Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders alike have found the publishing of the cartoons offensive to religious sensitivities. Even though we should be free to speak, perhaps we need to weigh the outcomes of the expression. We need to choose the most effective ways of expressing ourselves if indeed we have something worthwhile to say.
The world of today demands greater degrees of mutual understanding and respect if we are to achieve stability, peace and security. We need to find ways to build up the body of humanity not tear it down. I will end this letter with a poem I read circulated by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. It was written by 13th century Iranian poet Saadi. It supposedly appears in the entrance hall to the Hall of Nations of the United Nations in New York (though I think with a different translation). This translation is by Hossein Alizadeh and Rabia Harris.
The human race is a single being
Created from one jewel
If one member is struck
All must feel the blow
Only someone who cares for the pain of others
Can truly be called human
Selam, Shalom, Peace,
Alison Stendahl serves as a missionary with the Near East Mission, Istanbul, Turkey. She is Academic Dean of and a math teacher at Uskudar American Academy in Istanbul Turkey.