“I like Ramadan because it helps us to feel hungry, like poor people,” nine year-old Ayesha thoughtfully said. Her sense of care for the needy and her compassion give hope in a world where people often put themselves first. She was one of about 100 guests who shared an Iftar, a Ramadan dinner, sponsored by the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest at the Raindrop Turkish House.
This particular dinner on July 17 was one of a series of dinners to build friendship and understanding during the month of Ramadan, a special time in Islam. Dialogue Institute Director Mehmet Oguz was happy to welcome guests from Argentina, Cuba, Egypt, Germany, Kyrgyzstan, Iraq, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Peru, Taiwan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, and of course the U.S., who have attended on various nights during the month.
“How wonderful that people of different cultures and religions come together here,” said Dr. John Abdo, founder of Dayspring International. “We are one human race. The divine messengers come from the same place. Let us learn to come together and be friends.”
At each of the dinners, Mustafa Safak, an imam in the Turkish community who serves as a chaplain in the Bexar County Detention Center, offered a brief talk on the meaning of Ramadan and its foundation built on generosity. Fasting from food and water from sunup to sundown helps one appreciate what so many of us who never know hunger or thirst take for granted. Feeling hunger makes one aware of the tens of millions of needy people. This month of fasting helps one understands the responsibility to reach out and help the vulnerable the rest of the year. Ramadan observers build community during the month. Yes, there is the fasting during the day, but coming together with family and others for a joyful meal after sunset is also very important.
Before the dinner, guests watched the traditional Turkish art of Ebru, also known as “water marbeling,” shared by artist Erdem Balikci.
“I am a mathematician, and that field can be stressful,” he said. “I heard that creating Ebru Art could help you be calm and peaceful.”
Ebru is an art form based on dropping oil-based paint on water, then putting paper over this to pick up the swirled paint. Balikci bought some good quality paper and tried to do it, but paints bought here produced poor results. He returned to Turkey, his home country, and found earth-based paints there.
“For a week and a half, all day long I was learning and practicing Ebru,” He said. “My sister was teaching me. I like to listen to Sufi music while I work.”
As with icon painters in Christianity, it is not just the finished product, but the whole process that has value. Balikci said reflectively, “Since we are not close to the beach, I feel like have a spiritual ocean as I work with the water of Ebru.”
Beytulah Colak, an imam originally from Gaziantep, Turkey, shared the traditional Adhan, the “Call to Prayer.” Before coming to San Antonio, he worked for eight years in Argentina, where he had cordial relations with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Colak was pleased when Bergoglio was elected by the College of Cardinals at the Vatican and became Pope Francis.
Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish Muslim writer who inspired people to found the Dialogue Institute and other educational and social service institutions for those in need, is known for meeting with the former pope, leading Jewish rabbis, and many Christian leaders. He has said that the enemies in the world are ignorance and poverty. People of faith and of good will can search for common ground and work together to overcome “the enemies.”
Employees from neighboring Debt Free Angels, Tony and Christina Walker, were pleased to learn about Ramadan and Turkish culture. “We could ask questions and get information,” Christina said.
So many people in our country wonder about people of various religions and cultures. Sitting at round tables over a delicious meal can be such a comfortable way to overcome misunderstandings and stereotypes. Now the Walkers hope to visit Turkey.
One of the guests at the table with the Walkers was Raf Habeb, who said, “God gives us everything. God rewards us. God forgives us. When God created man, God gave all the earth, all the vegetation. When God created, God gave mercy. God asks one thing of us, fast during the month of Ramadan. We get the benefit of this.”
Zakiyyah Ali explained that there are many forms of generosity and good deeds during Ramadan.
“For those who can’t fast, you give more to people in need,” she said radiantly. “I like to give to the old and to the young, those who can’t give.”
Local writer and journalist Susan Yerkes said, “How wonderful to experience the international community in San Antonio with so many different cultures –Egyptian, Turkish, Columbian. We are understanding each other as humans more and more. We can pray in the face of the great sadness in so many parts of the world.”
Suleyman Tek, associate professor of mathematics at the University of the Incarnate Word, spoke of guiding his five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son.
“Parents encourage children to start to observe Ramadan in little ways,” he said. “When there is a disaster, we show some of the pictures to our children so that they can understand a little about people in need. We invite them to give some of the money that they have saved to help needy people. It is important for children to learn compassion.”
“We have had a beautiful night of fellowship breaking bread with sisters and brothers of all backgrounds,” said Nazli Siddiqui.
The Raindrop Turkish House frequently has cultural and social events, including Turkish cooking classes and language classes. People who wish to attend can receive e-mails from them about upcoming programs.