Before moving to Turkey, my only real contact with the Islamic religion was through my TV. Like most other Americans, I watched the planes hit the Trade Centers and burned with anger. Osama Bin Laden became the poster child for Muslims-all of which, I thought, were evil terrorists who hated America.
Then I moved to Turkey, a nation that is 99% Muslim. I became the minority, religiously speaking.
I have been given the opportunity to learn about the Muslim faith from a new perspective, and to erase some erroneous ideas and prejudices I never knew I had. Before I share, let me be clear. I am a Christian. That will never change. In fact, my own faith has deepened during my time here. Learning about another faith shouldn't threaten your own.
I have learned that Turkey is pretty progressive in the Islamic world. It seems to me that the faith is more of a cultural thing and not so much of a personal belief thing. The same, I think, can be said about America. Many people calling themselves "Christians" don't practice the faith necessarily. But they grew up going to church and hunting Easter eggs and celebrating Christmas. So culturally, they are Christians. Get my drift?
When the Call to Prayer sounds 5 times daily, no one stops what they are doing. Things continue as normal. Most women here do not wear a burka or even a head covering. When I have had conversations with some Turks about their faith, they all take a very universalist approach to it. They believe what they believe, but don't make any effort to evangelize anyone. They think that many roads lead to God, and think that what works for them doesn't necessarily work for you. Again, Turkey is progressive, this is not always the case in the Middle East.
I have also learned that the events of 9/11 sicken most Muslims. Some of my friends here on base have actually been given apologies by Turks for what happened. I think I know how these Turks feel. Exactly how I would feel if people viewed me in the same light as radical so-called Christians who bomb abortion clinics or picket military funerals.
So when I return home and see a news story about Muslims, I won't think of Osama Bin Laden anymore. I will think of Seyhun, Hatice, Cigdem, and the many more friends I have made here. I will also think about how learning about anothers faith has the curious effect of strengthening your own. And for that I am really grateful.