The Myth Of Separation | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The Myth Of Separation

Photos by Ronni Mott

Young Abraham left his father Azar's house after losing all hope of teaching him about God.

"Bah, Abraham," his father said. "You have no proof that your new God is better than all of mine. How could one possibly do the work of dozens? Besides, I make money by carving these statues. I'm sticking with the old gods."

So Abraham went out among the people in the village of Ur, but they, too, rejected his words.

"Leave us alone, Abraham," they said. "Our gods will punish us if we abandon them."

One day, determined to show the people the error of their ways, Abraham went to the pagan temple where the people had left fresh fruit, nuts, bread, and wine for their carved and painted gods.

"Why don't you eat?" Abraham asked the idols, jokingly. "The food is going bad."

Of course, the statues could not answer. Their painted wooden eyes saw nothing, and their carved ears could not hear.

So Abraham took his axe and angrily chopped them to pieces, reducing the carvings to kindling. But he left one intact, the largest. He hung his axe around its neck to let the people know who had destroyed their icons and left the temple in disgust.

When the people returned to the temple, they saw their idols in ruins and were furious. Seeing Abraham's axe and remembering what he had said, they went after him and dragged him back to the temple.

"Did you do this?" they demanded.

"This largest god must have destroyed all the others." Abraham said, pointing to the axe. "Why don't you ask him?"

"Do you think we're idiots?" they asked. "These statues don't move, and they certainly don't talk."

"Then why do you worship them?" Abraham asked them, calmly. "Why do you worship man-made things that can't speak or see or even defend themselves against my axe? Have you taken leave of your senses?"

And the people were silent, because they didn't have an answer. But the priests were incensed and unwilling to give in.

"Burn him!" the priests shouted. "Burn the heretic." And it wasn't long before the people joined their priests because they were afraid to challenge them.

They took Abraham to their king, Nimrod, so that the king could pronounce the death sentence. And Nimrod ruled that he should die, saying, "Let's see your God save you now," and he ordered guards to throw Abraham into a fiery furnace to burn to death.

Abraham did not ask God to save him, because he only wanted God to be pleased with him and nothing more. So God sent the angel Gabriel, who stood by Abraham's side in the pit so that only his bindings burned. And Abraham emerged from the furnace unharmed.

Enraged, Nimrod ordered his soldiers to build a bonfire and to use their machines to catapult Abraham into the blaze and so put him to death.

The soldiers built the largest fire the people had ever seen, and they bundled Abraham into the place where stones would be placed in the catapult, and they hurled him through the air and into the inferno.

But God would not allow his prophet to be killed. "O fire. Be coolness and safety for Abraham," God said. And the fire turned into water, and the very sticks that had fed the flames turned into fishes.

And Nimrod and the people believed.

People of the Book
It was early June of this year, and I was sitting in an ancient stone mosque that stands next to a long, thin triangular pool filled with fat gray and brown fish, listening to our guide Ibrahim tell the story of Abraham in animated Turkish.

The pool was Abraham's pool, Balikli Göl, in the oft-renamed city of Sanliurfa in southeastern Turkey, once called Ur, and the fish were the ancestors of Abraham's fish, the "sacred" carp. The carp were fat because visitors fed them constantly, each handful of food causing a feeding frenzy as the fish boiled competitively out of the water.

We gathered on the grass-green carpeted floor of the Halil-ur Rahman mosque, next to the intricate blue and gold-tiled Mihrab—the alcove that marks the direction of prayer in every mosque—in front of a roughly 3-foot-square wooden door. The mellow sound of Sabri Agachan's voice provided the translation in heavily accented English.

This door, he said, was the entrance to the fiery furnace of the story.

As we listened, the plaintive sounds of the Moslem call to prayer filled the air. "Allahu Akbar," it began; "Allah—God—is great." We could stay in the mosque during prayers, Ibrahim told us, because it had started to rain, but we should move to the back so that the faithful would have room to pray.

Sitting in that sacred place, immersed in thousands of years of history, I closed my eyes to meditate to the sound of the Imam's voice reciting verses of the Qur'an in Arabic. I could not understand the words, but it was unnecessary to speak the same language in such a place. Overwhelmed by the poetry and heart-rending power of the hauntingly strange musical scale, tears streamed down my face. Here, thousands of miles from home, in a place of unfamiliar worship, I felt touched by the divine.

"How did we become so divided?" I found myself asking silently. After all, we spring from common stock with similar beliefs. The Muslim Qur'an, the Bible and the Jewish Torah all recognize several of the same prophets. Besides Abraham, there's Adam, Job, Moses, Noah and numerous others. The Qur'an includes stories of Jesus—whom the Muslims call Isa—the Virgin Mary and Joseph. Islam refers to the people of these three monotheistic religions as "The People of the Book," and religious scholars call us "Abrahamic."

To reach the mosque, our group walked through a fragrant garden of roses and oleander bushes, the colors muted by the dust and strong sun of semi-arid Eastern Anatolia. But just like any park, families and visitors filled the garden, even at 2 p.m. on a Thursday.

Peace, Not Bloodshed
At first glance, the itinerary looked like one of those typical tours where guides rush you from city to city: Istanbul on Monday, Konya on Tuesday, Sanliurfa on Wednesday and on it went. It was a crowded schedule filled with strange-sounding cities, mosques and museums, airplane and bus rides, schools and dinners with "host" families.

Sponsored by the Austin, Texas-based Institute for Interfaith Dialog, I met Jackson's Institute representative Agachan in November 2006 on assignment from the Jackson Free Press. I was immediately struck by the hospitality Agachan showed me, a complete stranger, from the moment I entered his modest Ridgeland home. He provided slippers because it was cold outside, and he'd requested I take off my street shoes in the house. He offered tea and food continuously, never wanting to take "no" for an answer. After he asked three times, I finally said yes to tea, which appeared instantly.

Twice each year the Institute sends several groups of political and religious leaders, educators and others to Turkey to experience the people and culture first-hand. What I didn't know then was that, with the exception of the international flight, the Institute and host families pay for everything else. It's their way of opening a dialogue between Muslims and Christians.

Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish activist/philosopher whose work inspired the Institute (along with numerous schools, universities, hospitals, businesses, media outlets and outreach organizations) stresses tolerance for other religious adherents, the importance of education and living one's life as an example of one's faith. By fostering dialogue between cultures, his followers believe, we banish fear of the unknown and foster a world where communication and peace, not bloodshed, holds sway.

I'm ashamed to admit that the little knowledge I had of Islam and the Muslim people prior to this trip, I had picked up from mainstream media. Like many Americans, I equated Islam with Al Qaeda and 9/11, Malcolm X and "black power." I did what many of us do: I relied on 30-second sound bites presented by mainstream media. What I ended up with was misinformation, an incomplete picture of our Muslim "enemies" and complete ignorance of Turkey. All of us on the tour agreed: Turkey was not part of our American educations.

Rocking My Soul
The night we visited Sanliurfa, we had dinner just outside the park. As we climbed the steps to the restaurant's roof, it was near sunset, and the lights of the city were just beginning to blink on the surrounding hillsides. The table was set with immaculate white linen and fine china, and the old crusader castle walls, nearly a thousand years old, spread out before us.

"I feel like a princess in a fairy tale," a companion remarked.

Within moments, though, the wind picked up, and the waiters scrambled to secure the linen, which began to blow wildly. The sky darkened, and lightening pierced the clouds.

"Inshaalla," Agachan replied, when I asked him if he thought it would rain—God willing. Rain, although it would force us to move our feast indoors, is always a welcome blessing in this part of the world. Agachan was inscrutable. It never rained more than a few drops.

The wind died down as our Turkish host families joined us, most in their late 30s, a gaggle of small, shy children at their sides. A dramatic full moon rose over the ancient stone walls, piercing the dark clouds with golden intensity. The children, all remarkably well behaved, just stared at us at first, but we quickly lost our glamour when the food started arriving.

With every meal, we were served a green salad and soup, usually lentil, a dish with meat, vegetables and starch, a dessert of baklava or other pastry, followed by as much tea as we could drink. Sometimes there were two meat dishes, sometimes two desserts, and tonight was no exception.

As usual, the waiters moved with remarkable alacrity, serving course after course and never allowing our plates or glasses to be empty for more than a breath. The generosity of our hosts was always overwhelming when it came to food, and we learned to pick lightly at everything, tasting it all, leaving room for the inevitable next course.

"The food, the food, the food!" traveler Lyn Millner said later with enthusiasm. Milner, a writer and professor of journalism at Florida International University, regaled us with her many memories on our last night.

After dinner, we gathered in the rooftop suite where the best local musicians serenaded us with Turkish folk songs, and waiters brought us round after round of tea. The instruments were strange—a long-necked lute called a saz, and a reed instrument with a passing similarity to an oboe called a zurna—the melody and words sounded repetitive and the key foreign to our ears.

Many of the musicians, all men, went to prayers about 30 minutes later. Upon their return, our group sang a ragged, impromptu chorus of "Rock My Soul," utterly confusing the singers, who never expected that their audience would serenade them.

The evening ended as all evenings with our sponsors did: They gave each of us a gift. That night, each of us received a hand-painted porcelain plate in a blue velvet box to much applause as we walked individually to the center of the room as Agachan called our names. I had given away the last of the small boxes of Mississippi pecans I had brought for the children, which they received with as much curiosity and pleasure as if they had been made of gold.

Our guides had let us know in advance that our hosts would give us gifts, but we were all embarrassed in the face of their generosity. We brought small trinkets from home—a photo of a magnolia bloom, a "Mississippi" pin, sea shells—but our hosts gave us gifts of substance: silvery rose-water decanters, hand-painted porcelain plates, hand-made shawls and hand-crocheted slippers. At every stop and in every town, there were gifts for us simply because we were guests, and our hosts never expected us to give them anything.

The people we met are shining examples of what Muslims call futuwwa, a concept that encompasses "forgiving when one is able to punish, preserving mildness and acting mildly and gently when one is furious, wishing one's enemies well and doing good to them, and being considerate of others' wellbeing and happiness first, even when one is needy," Gülen writes.

"Indeed whoever believes that Allah is All-Generous, Who provides for His creation and rewards those who are hospitable towards their guests, should look after his guest," the prophet Muhammad instructs Muslims.

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it," we read in Hebrews 13:2

'We Love You Too Much'
Overwhelmingly, Turkey's youngsters are dark-eyed and dark-haired with smooth olive-toned skin, but there are a few tow-heads thrown in for good measure. Turkey and Germany have a long-standing relationship, and it's unexpected, but not completely unusual, to see a child with lighter hair and eyes.

Our tour included three school visits: an elementary school, a high school and a university. All of the schools, like the other businesses and institutions we visited, are "Gülen inspired"; that is, its founders are followers of the Gülen philosophy of openness and tolerance, inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogue and quality education.

Education is a cornerstone of Gülen's philosophy, and he recognizes the importance of teaching not only knowledge, but wisdom. Gülen's vision is to raise a "Golden Generation," a group of ideal universal individuals, who love truth, who integrate spirituality and knowledge, and who work to benefit society.

In more than 300 schools in 90 countries, patrons strive to increase the levels of education wherever they are, and they have achieved worldwide recognition for providing the highest quality education, resulting in top scholastic achievement.

In both of the lower-level schools we visited, the children were encouraged to come and speak with us, and they did so with unabashed gusto, the girls surrounding the women with giggles and shy questions, while the boys headed straight for the men, especially those with gifts. "What is your name?" they asked over and over. All of them knew enough English to ask our names and tell us theirs, and many of them could understand and speak a good bit more.

Jonathan Tingle, the only teenager in our group, held a special fascination for one group of children at the elementary school. They literally hijacked him from our lunch table by grabbing his hands to take him on their personal tour of the school.

"We love you too much. We love you too much," the children chanted when they returned.

Rims and Judy Barber--—he a Presbyterian pastor and both civil rights veterans who live in Jackson—remarked that they felt like they just completed a workout; I felt like the children's energy could lift the building. It was nothing like our own experience of school, we said, where teachers demanded that we be quiet and behave "like little ladies and gentlemen." Someone asked how the teachers dealt with all this enthusiasm. "We love them, and they know it," came the simple answer.

As important as the curriculum, much of which is state-mandated, is the integrity of the teachers and administrators, each of whom stands as a moral and intellectual character example to the students.

The children learn English, as the language of trade in the 21st century, beginning in kindergarten, and it is a mandatory subject throughout the K-12 years. I felt foolish and arrogant, knowing only English and a smattering of German. Turkish is beyond me other than a few basic words like "merhaba" (hello), "güle, güle" (goodbye, when one is staying—it's different when one is leaving), and "tesekkür edirim" (thank you). I went through three "interpreters" before I had the word for journalist—"gazeteci"—but promptly forgot it. Yogurt, I discovered, was the same word in both English and Turkish, which made me foolishly happy.

At one point, the woman sitting across from me at dinner was a Turkish teacher with good English skills, and she attempted to teach me a few words. Slowly, she said the words for the foods we were eating, and I dutifully repeated them. They just wouldn't stick for more than a few seconds. Luckily, she had a good sense of humor, because I was anything but a good student. Given the Middle Eastern custom of hospitality, I'm sure she held her tongue, not wanting to embarrass her hopeless, Turkish-challenged guest.

Turkish, which originated in middle Asia, borrows heavily from both Arabic and Persian, and was written in the Arabic script until 1928, when Mustafa Ataturk's government mandated use of a new Latin alphabet consisting of 29 letters, without Q, W or X. Further language reform eliminated hundreds of foreign words from the language in the 1930s. Reforms in education have led to an 86.5 percent literacy rate in Turkey (compared to 99.9 percent in the U.S.), with 94.3 percent for males and 78.7 for females, up from less than 20 percent in 1927.

Certainly, the children and young people we met were bright, lively, self-confident and full of questions. In the schools we visited, 93 percent to 97 percent of Gülen-school students graduate from high school, and 65 percent to 80 percent go on to college, as opposed to 15 percent of public high school students who go on to college.

All of the Gülen-inspired schools are private and community-supported. Many of our hosts sponsored dozens of children who would not normally study in such high-quality schools: around 20 to 35 percent of the students attend on full scholarships. Academic achievement determines student attendance; in Turkey, 74 percent of students who apply to the schools are accepted.

As with all the institutions we visited, from the private Sifa Hospital in Izmir, to Samanyolu Television and Fatih University in Istanbul, the staff is dedicated to the point of self-sacrifice. In the early days of the Sifa Hospital doctors did everything to ensure the hospital's success, Dr. Nazim Intepe, the hospital's associate director and head of pediatrics told us—everything from building walls to cleaning toilets.

Today, Sifa boasts the lowest infant-mortality rates in the country (fewer than one in 1,000 births, in stark contrast to Turkey's national rate of 39.4 deaths, and compared to the U.S. rate of 6.9 deaths per 1,000 births). The private hospital performs more open-heart surgeries in Izmir than the city's 11 state-run hospitals combined. "Patients trust us," Intepe said, and went on to say that Sifa is the place where patients go most often for second opinions. If they get an opinion from a Sifa physician first, they don't bother with second opinions, he said with pride.

When Fr. Jeremy Tobin of our group suffered pain in his legs, Agachan asked his father, a physician in Istanbul, to attend to him, unbeknownst to Tobin. Dr. Agachan arrived as we were having breakfast in the hotel restaurant one morning, around 7 a.m.

"You're Sabri's father?" Tobin asked, wide-eyed and incredulous, and gathered Dr. Agachan in a bear hug. The doctor examined Tobin's legs right at the table, no going to a clinic, no waiting in line. "It's an infection," he pronounced through his son's interpreting, and he called a pharmacy for Tobin's prescription. Father Jerry, as we called him, was a guest, deserving the best care the Agachan's could provide.

A Woman's Right
We were having dinner with a host family in their home one evening, and the patriarch of a family went to pray—a five-times-a-day event for the pious. While her father was in the room, his daughter served food and tea, or sat meekly, hands folded in her lap. Her English, she said, was "not good enough" for guests but her eyes drank in everything, and I doubt she missed a word. The moment he left the room, she boldly came and sat next to me.

What did I do for a living, she asked me. Did I have children? Where was my husband? We laughed together at the silly charade-like motions we used to make ourselves understood. I found out she was studying for her university entrance exams, and that she wanted to be a teacher. I asked her if she wanted to see the U.S., and she gave me an enthusiastic "yes," but said it was difficult getting a visa. We had a lively pidgin-English, pidgin-Turkish, hand-puppet conversation that needed no interpreter, but once her father returned, she hardly said another word.

The women spoke freely when we were in their segregated company, and we talked like all women everywhere talk together, about jobs, family and ordinary living. They wanted to know about American ways, and were eager to tell us about their livelihoods and their children. Many did not work outside the home, and they were surprised that many of the women in our company were childless, and that some of us even lived on our own. The prophet Muhammad, one woman told me, tells them that one should have someone to share life with, the concern for me evident in her soft brown eyes. I'm pretty sure our God tells us the same thing.

In Turkey, many women choose to follow the Muslim rules of dress, exposing only their faces and hands while in public or in the presence of strangers. This is a religious preference and is optional in Turkey, unlike many Muslim countries where not wearing Islamic-style clothing can land a woman in jail. Turkish law states that teachers, women in government positions and other occupations may not wear hijab, the head scarf, while working in public buildings.

It's a choice that left many of the women in our group angry and frustrated. "Why would a woman choose such a restrictive practice for her everyday life?" we asked each other. One woman wondered aloud how on earth they ever got any exercise with all those clothes, and we all marveled at how they survived the heat.

For the women I spoke with, their response usually involved the words "choice" and "tradition." More than one told me that wearing the veil was a personal choice, one not dictated by the men in their lives. The modesty afforded by the hijab prevents inappropriate sexual advances, because modest women do not tempt men, they said. The veil also prevents snap judgments based on appearance, strengthens family ties and makes adultery—or any sexual behavior outside of marriage—a rarity.

The veil, they said, is their right.

In Turkey women choose their hijab as carefully as Westerners would choose a blouse or jewelry, and they often stood in stark contrast to the plain tunics and duster-style coats most of them wore. We saw a kaleidoscopic diversity of color and pattern, and a variety of luxurious fabrics. Silk and georgette were favorites, and often, veils were lushly embroidered or sequenced.

It was also common to see western-style clothing, especially in the more populated, urban areas like Ankara and Istanbul. It was amusing to see younger women who were covered, but whose clothing was form-fitted to show off their figures—which seemed to defeat the purpose. Many women also chose shoes for their decorative qualities; many shoes matched the scarves and others looked as uncomfortable as anything from Nine West.

Still, I got a bit grouchy because I needed to wear long-sleeved shirts and carry a head scarf with me at all times, even though the weather was hot. Entering a mosque could turn into a time-wasting minor ordeal, juggling a camera bag, sun hat and clothing, while taking off shoes and trying to tuck all the stray hairs under my scarf.

The men simply slipped off their shoes at the door.

A Religion of Laws
Turks, like people everywhere, have opinions about the role and performance of their government. The military drafted Turkey's 1982 constitution in the wake of a coup and, despite being a democratic, parliamentary republic, criticizing the military is against the law. This was surprising to many in our group, coming from a country where criticism of government—in the press, on TV and within our churches—is a daily occurrence.

A Turkish attorney's face was grim when he told me that he and many of his peers look at the U.S. legal system as a model for changing the system in Turkey. Currently, a single judge or a small panel of judges hear and decide cases; there is no jury in Turkish courts. Corruption is a real issue when so few are involved in the decision-making process.

Though Turkey prides itself on its secular government, it is not the American secular model. Instead of the near complete religious freedom we enjoy, the government keeps a close eye on religious activity in Turkey, administering religious affairs and monitoring public and private institutions, doing its best to ensure religion does not enter politics. The government withholds funds from schools, for example, that teach religious classes.

The Turkish constitution guarantees the people's right to worship as they choose, but strictly forbids using religious tenets to forward political purposes, and religious activists can be jailed. The state must approve operation of houses of worship, schools and religious charities, and employs both local and provincial imams—or Islamic pastors—who are civil servants.

But Turkey's populace is more than 98 percent Muslim, and Islam is a religion of laws that address nearly every conceivable issue and circumstance. Islam does not differentiate between the secular and the religious. To Muslims, everything in life is part of their religion. People of faith there, like people of faith here, have traditions and practices that don't mesh well with a non-religious government.

'God Is Great'
On the 10th day of our trip, we arrived back in Istanbul, exhausted and happy to have more than one night in the same hotel. We returned to the Blue Mosque—one of the most famous mosques in the world—that faces one of the most famous Christian sites in the world, the Hagia Sophia, across a spacious park with a sparkling fountain. We had visited the Mosque briefly when we arrived in Istanbul 10 days and a lifetime before.

The trip had challenged the little we knew about Islam, and emphasized how important it is to experience the world outside the United States. It had expanded our spiritual "edges," and I heard more than once that the trip was making us better Christians.

As we walked to the entrance of the mosque, we heard once more the call to prayer sounding across the city from its many minarets. It could have been church bells ringing; instead, we heard, "Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar."

God is great, God is great, God is great, God is great.

We gathered with other visitors to wait in the stone courtyard as the faithful entered the Mosque to pray, and we listened as our guide told us the history of the 17th century mosque. I had seen so much history of my own faith in Turkey, ancient Christian monasteries and churches carved out of bare rock, and the house where Mary spent her last years. I felt like I'd never paid attention before.

We watched mothers and their children playing together as they would in any churchyard, content to rest in the shade.

I thought about trying to model the kindness and generosity of the Turkish people, and knew it would be a humbling experience. But I could see that the world was filled with God's grace because I had the opportunity to see it in a place I hadn't expected to find it.

Prayers completed, our guides took us to a little-used side entrance, where we took off our shoes one last time. As we entered the cool, cavernous space, we were in the area of the mosque reserved for those praying; guide ropes cordoned off the rest of the touring public. Self-consciously, we quietly crossed to the other side of the mosque, footfalls muffled by the thick carpet; I felt like an intruder.

Our guide ushered us into one of the small rooms on the far side of the mosque. Low couches and plump seating cushions lined the perimeter of the room; the jewel-like colors of hundreds of solidly packed books shone warmly from the floor-to-ceiling wooden shelves on the far wall. Daylight streamed in from two tall windows. The Imam of the Blue Mosque, Emrullah Hatipoglu, had invited us into his private office, something akin to speaking to the Pope while touring the Vatican.

Agachan sat by his side in front of the wall of books, ever ready to translate. The Imam welcomed us warmly, saying how much our presence honored him.

Then someone asked the inevitable question, the one that always came up in our conversations with Turks. What did he make of the Islamic extremists like Osama Bin Laden and the suicide bombers of 9/11?

"These people are not Muslims," was Hatipoglu's simple answer. If they understood Islam, they would be unable to take such actions. The prophet Muhammad, he told us, says that killing one innocent person is the same as murdering all of mankind.

Maybe, I thought, nothing I'd heard or been thinking about Muslims is true.

My mind drifted home to Mississippi, to Klansmen calling themselves Christians, and once again, I thought how small our differences are in light of our many similarities. Separation, I now know, is a human construct, not a divine one. To live a good spiritual life and to see the divine in everyone, whether Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist or Hindu, is the ultimate hard road.

To save ourselves, we must save all others. It's that simple, and it's that damn difficult, and in the end, it becomes necessary. And that means education: of ourselves, of our children, of every person we meet. "You must be the change you want to see in the world," said Gandhi, simply telling us to lead by example.

There is a better way. All we have to do is reach for it.

Wearing The Veil
The Cherry Orchard

Previous Comments


Ronni, it sounds like you had a rewarding and life-changing experience over there. :-)


"For the women I spoke with, their response usually involved the words “choice” and “tradition.” More than one told me that wearing the veil was a personal choice, one not dictated by the men in their lives. The modesty afforded by the hijab prevents inappropriate sexual advances, because modest women do not tempt men, they said. The veil also prevents snap judgments based on appearance, strengthens family ties and makes adultery—or any sexual behavior outside of marriage—a rarity. The veil, they said, is their right. ....... It was also common to see western-style clothing, especially in the more populated, urban areas like Ankara and Istanbul. It was amusing to see younger women who were covered, but whose clothing was form-fitted to show off their figures—which seemed to defeat the purpose. Many women also chose shoes for their decorative qualities; many shoes matched the scarves and others looked as uncomfortable as anything from Nine West. " I appreciate the fact that you were able to touch in on this subject. I am not Muslim nor would I be described as a pious Christian. I arrived at the same conclusion as the you wrote in the first paragraph I quoted above. You CAN easily thwart inappropriate advances and/or reduce the amount of inappropriate mind-chatter, if I can make that up. Of course, it is not a woman's responsibility to prevent an action that begins with the filth in somebody else's brain. It becomes a challenged tradition. The latter paragraph that I quoted, you mentioned how women wearing form-fitting clothes defeat the purpose of modest-appearance. Just wanted to comment on it. My life has its own contrasts/hypocrisies. I would wonder to myself how all of the pieces fit together: liberation, tradition, etc. As I have been reminded over and over by a good friend, truth and time will reveal all. Thank you for the piece. Separation is a basic method in war: divide and conquer. There is a battle being held to keep us from living lives in true freedom and every possible pawn, knight, king, etc, has been commissioned at one time or another to create yet another element of confusion. We want to attain a higher goal, but we forget that we can only achieve it through God-Allah. Prophets come and go, then individuals raise the prophets to high levels, neglecting the God the prophet represented altogether. We can learn to love our brothers and sisters in spite of what popular choice, be it media or government. We have to live this sort of life now as opposed to our final moments.


We can learn to love our brothers and sisters in spite of what popular choice, be it media or government. We have to live this sort of life now as opposed to our final moments. Amen to that, soulja. The problem with "saving it" for final moments is that you really never know when that is, do you. The people that I met in Turkey were so generous and so pious. As I said, it will be (is) a humbling experience to try to live up to that level of belief... Like I said today on radio JFP: When you go to pray five times a day, that's commitment to your faith. As someone brought up in the Christian faith tradition, I know that I have a long, long way to go to live up to Christian tenets on a day-to-day basis--like turning the other cheek. But it makes a life worth living to give it a great big whacking try, don't you think? For myself, I think it's far more important to ponder the questions than it is to have the right answers. The former opens space for growth. The latter stops any further progress. Peace.


like turning the other cheek. But it makes a life worth living to give it a great big whacking try, don't you think? Ain't it the truth!? But we do a lot of practicing around here. Certainly, it takes more strength not to respond to every attempt to tear you down than it does to respond. And faith. We're all works-in-progress. ;-)


Ronni, Great article. The story of Abraham and the idols you tell at the beginning can be found in a wonderful book titled "The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians and Muslims" by Joan Chittister, Murshid Saadi Shakur Chishti, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow. Besides just reading alternative takes on Abraham, what struck me in this volume was how the story of Abraham becomes more full, enriched, human, alive when viewed from the broader tradition of all the People of the Book.

Robert Connolly

Also if anyone is interested, below are links from a newsletter I get called "Windows on Iran" that is put out by Fatemeh Keshavarz a professor and peace activist in St. Louis. In her most recent post she includes some links of women playing sports in Iran with the veil: My knee jerk reaction to much of the discussion about the veil is that it reflects much of our ethno-centrism of imposing Western values on everyone else. My experience in direct questioning of women wearing the veil is the same as those reflected in the article - a matter of choice. As Ronni notes in her article, nuns and others are veiled without concern. Have you ever seen a picture of the BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary) without a veil? I can also understand that for many who struggle against the oppression of women, whether in the mideast or elsewhere, elimination of the veil can symbolize freedom from that oppression. What is a comparable expression for women who find such liberation in the South? As an aside, Dr. Keshavarz is the author of a fascinating book called "Jasmine and Stars: Reading More than Lolita in Tehran" where she explores the Western impact on the cultures of the Mideast and her response to same.

Robert Connolly

Ronni Mott, What an experiential in cultural diversity!. So many things that sound so different and based on Western media which is full of negative 30 sec. sound bites, have so many similarities. The one thing, among many, that captured my attention was The Prophet Mohammad and "......killing one innocent person is the same as murdering all of mankind." If this simple though could become a universal belief, it would be the end of wars, racism and all other ills that so negatively impact the lives of all of us. Thanks again for sharing such a wonderful experience!


Ronni, Thank you for this article. I recently returned to Turkey and married a Turkish citizen. I moved from Brandon, Mississippi where one of my sons and my brother live and I have been here since May of this year, 2007. Getting married to a Turkish citizen is a challenging experience, but at no point in this experience did anyone ever force me to wear a scarf nor criticize me for not wearing one. Like the women told you, it is a matter of choice. Some have tried to question my beliefs but they do not try to force their beliefs on me. I am a Christian and they respect this. Still they are curious. Several years ago I lived in Ankara, Turkey for almost seven years. During this time I was able to travel to Sanliurfa and experience the same things you did. I saw the many things you described in your article. I visited Mary's house in Efes as-well-as some of the Crusader castles all around Turkey. Turkey has a different way of life. The Turkish people are very friendly and most families are close-knit. Like you said in your article, the food is wonderful. This year I had the opportunity to go to the land where the peaches are grown. I have never in my life seen such huge peaches. After I lived here for about 3 weeks or so, my husband told me that sometimes the Imam also sings or chants when someone dies. I don't know if this is a common practice in all of Turkey, but here in Bursa, in our area, it is. Now when I hear the call to prayer, I stop to think if I heard one recently. If I did, then this is a prayer for the deceased. As soon as it is over, the Imam will call out the deceased person's name and address. At first I thought it was a nice gesture to remember the dead. After the summer came and the heat was so intense, I realized just how often the Imam sings this prayer for the deceased. It is not actually for the deceased but for the living. Just a subtle way to remind the living to remember our brothers and sisters who have passed away. Now I find myself listening to this prayer even though I still do not know the Turkish language very well. It is a humbling experience and sometimes I find myself shedding tears for someone I did not even know. Recently, the neighbor's husband died and I knew something had happened to one of our own. The whole street was so quiet and even the children stopped playing. I later learned it was a neighbor who had died. The only major problem I have encountered so far has been the language barrier. I want to learn Turkish so I can communicate with my new family and my neighbors. I would like to commend you for taking the challenge to come to Turkey and for writing this wonderful article. Maybe in the future you will return and again enjoy the Turkish culture!


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