Jewels of Elul VI - The Art of Beginning...Again

Elul 15
Lifelong Journeys
Imam Jihad Turk

My 16-year-old sister, Samira, had been complaining of a migraine headache for about a week. I was 12. When the doctors finally figured out it was actually a viral encephalitis, she was already in a coma. Three weeks later, and after trials with experimental medication, she finally came around but had lost the memory of her entire childhood. She didn't know who she was or who we were as her family.

On that day, I lost my sister, but was given a new one. Here she was with a chance to start again and I was right there with her. Although she has never regained her memory, together, we embarked on a lifelong journey to rebuild our relationship and her world, but with a renewed appreciation of life and its precarious nature.

Like so many these days, my parents divorced. I was 17 and it shook my world. In short, my Christian-American mother and Muslim-Palestinian father had cultural and communication issues that were left unresolved. The added pressure of my sister's illness ultimately resulted in their split. From my perspective, this motivated me to look inward, to discover who I was and what is ultimately important in life.

I began a spiritual journey that not only led me to reconnect with God and to value family, but also took me around the world to study in seminary in Medina, Saudi Arabia and Qum, Iran.

My journey, however, did not result in a narrowed view of the world, but one that embraces diversity and acknowledges the Divine in each human being.

I have dedicated my life’s journey to positioning religion as a force for good in the world.

Imam Jihad Turk is the Director of Religious Affairs at the Islamic Center of Southern California.

A Note From Craig

Todays Jewel of Elul is by Imam Jihad Turk, spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of Southern California.

Last night I sat with my 22 year old son at the centers Mosque for Isha, the final prayer service of the day.

Prior to the prayer service Jihad spoke to the 500 people present about the need for moderation and compassion during these troubled times. He shared that Muslims must fight racism and hatred with compassion not anger. Nonetheless, he feels besieged and hurt.

I could not stand idly by while my friend was in pain. I asked 6 spiritual leaders to respond to the question "If you could tell Imam Jihad Turk anything what would you say"? You can read their responses here.

Please join the conversation and show Jihad and his community that we support him as a human being by writing a note on the main page of Jewels of Elul.

Craig Taubman

Letters to Jihad Turk

Dear Jihad,

Compassion means feeling with, being by the side of, anyone who is having a rough time for whatever reason, to try to feel as they are feeling and to do all we can to change the circumstances, if they are hungry to feed them, if they are sick,to heal them, if they are distressed, to wipe their tears away, for God is the merciful, the compassionate one and we have been created in the image of this One.



Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient

Dear Jihad,

I remember the day I met you for the first time. My mind was swirling with questions. What am I doing meeting with a Muslim Imam? What will it change? How can I trust him? And then we sat down and instantly we shed the baggage of whatever it means to be a rabbi and an Imam sitting on opposite sides of a table. We began sharing our hopes and hurts. You told me about your sister, I told you about my father, of blessed memory. We both cried. And we dreamed together about a world where Muslims and Jews can rise above our fears and our hatred and come together, if not for our own sake then for the sake of our children, to share our stories, our hopes and hurts.

Jihad, moderates of all faith traditions can become fanatics for peace. We can fight for peace with more passion and more energy than those who seek war. Our arms are open arms. We can stir people up, wake them out of old scripts and old reflexes. We can spread peace with more determination than those who work to spread lies and fear. I’m honored to be fighting by your side on the peace front where there is no time for procrastination and no room for despair.

Salam, Shalom,
Peace and Blessings,

Rabbi Naomi Levy's new book Hope Will Find You is coming out this September

Dear Imam Turk,

As Jewish liturgy states, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, who by fire, who by water…” We accept our mortality as a community and pray that the severity of God’s decree will be somewhat diminished through our “return” to the path or righteousness, through charitable acts and through sincere prayer. We also acknowledge that only a broken vessel (read: heart) can truly make the change toward righteous behavior and reach toward God with the internal light we have been given that connects us, while we yet live, to heaven (…”the dead cannot praise You.”) Let us all live so as to praise God. Let us all see each other as children of the same Creator. Let us all help defeat evil in all its manifestations, so that we can truly say we have “returned” to our purpose in life.

Yours in faith,
Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi

Alberto Mizrahi, one of the world’s leading interpreters of Jewish music.

Dear Jihad,

"Beginning Again" is the challenge constantly facing the faith-based community worldwide.

We are sunrise souls, having experienced the sunsets inherent in our very natures. In the last 4,000 years, we have had less than 300 years of peace, most of these wars being religious wars.

We have all suffered our crusades, we have all participated in such crusades. We have all had right wing radical conservatives who paint the whole with a bad brush.

Our challenge: not to generalize about that segment about which we particularize. We simply must meet the challenge.

Rev. Cecil L. "Chip" Murray
Center for Religion, USC

Dear Jihad,

Just as humans of all ethnic backgrounds share virtually the same DNA, the Abrahamic religions have much in common. Yet, too often, we have stood on this common ground only to fight with one another—thus convincing many in an increasingly secular world that religious belief is a force for evil and division. Fortunately, our faiths all stress God’s gracious mercy, and new beginnings. We must make one now, joining together as neighbors to show that, even without surrendering distinctive claims, religion possesses unique power to mobilize human energy for good. The past need not, must not, dominate the present.

Daniel Peterson

Daniel Peterson is a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University, and editor in chief of BYU's Islamic Translation Series.

Dear Jihad,
In the few months that we have gotten to know each other, I have come to recognize you as a beacon of light in the midst of much darkness. I have joined the ranks of the many from across numerous faith communities, who describe you in similar terms.

Darkness is not easily dispelled, especially when it is reinforced by fear. And this is precisely the kind of darkness that we find ourselves in, as suspicions and recriminations are undiscriminating and rampant, as it seems as if no Muslim can escape the blanket vilifications and collective blame. While this is painful and frightening for all of us, it is obviously so much more so for you.
You are who you are because you are not content to sit in the dark, and are committed to the proposition that no one should sit in the dark. You have partners, fellow dreamers and deep friends in the Jewish community, who join you in proclaiming, “let there be light”.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky
Bnai David - Judea Congregation

Dear Imam Turk,

The orgy of hate that I witness all around me leaves me stunned, ashamed, and angry. I am deeply sorry for what your community is experiencing. The principle that, as equals before God, we are responsible for our own actions and not the sins of others is not only a religious value but an American value and a foundation of our democracy. I am not fooled by the rationales of those who speak the language of intolerance. Their real argument is that all Muslims, and Islam itself, bear responsibility for the events of 9/11. But this assertion is an outrage-an affront to our country, our religious traditions, and common decency. And it will not stand. America is better than that, and its people will rise above the current ugliness and extend to you their love and support.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie

Rabbi Eric Yoffie is the President of the Union for Reform Judaism

Dear Imam Turk,
(though I wish that I could call you Jihad, as I feel you personally introduced yourself in the painful and moving memoir you shared in Jewels of Elul),

I am profoundly ashamed of the responses I read daily to the proposed building of an Islamic Center near Ground Zero and I am stunned and frightened by the build up of hatred. Hatred of any religious group is hatred against all - and all religious and feeling people should be feeling vulnerable at the prejudice being hurled against Muslims. I want you to know that you are not alone. My Jewish religious movement, the Reform Movement, has been vocal in its support of the building of the Islamic Center as has the local New York UJA-Federation.

My own synagogue (in White Plains, NY) has devoted the coming afternoon of Yom Kippur, our holiest of days, to a presentation called: Visions of a Tolerant America: Jewish, Muslim and  Christian Voices Discuss an Islamic Center near Ground Zero. The panel is sponsored by our "Interfaithful" Committee and September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. Speakers on the panel are bereaved Jewish, Muslim and Christian parents who lost children in the World Trade Center on September 11th.More than anything, I would want you to know that you are not alone.

Religion - all of ours - has acquired a bad reputation in this past decade, as the fundamentalists among us have taken positions of intolerance and violence. It is more important now than ever before that the moderate and tolerant voices within the world's religions support one another. I do believe we represent the majority of people on this planet - but we must work hard to connect with and support one another.

With hope,
Rabbi Shira Milgrom

Rabbi Shira Milgrom is spiritual leader of Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains, NY.

Dear Imam,

You are not alone. We, the children of Abraham, must stand for each other, feel the pain of each other and morally resist the killers of the dream.

We come from religions of deep wisdom and compassion. The mosque, the synagogue, the church must give voice to the cry of the prophet Malachi: "Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us all? Why do we deal treacherously, everyone against his brother, profaning the covenant of our father?"

Martin Buber understood that "all real life is meeting." Let us meet to prepare our hearts and the heart of our people for peace and understanding.

Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis

Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis is the founder of Jewish World Watch

Today's Jewels of Elul Blogger is Sheila. Click here to read her thoughts on The Art of Beginning Again.

If you could tell Imam Jihad Turk anything what would you say?
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