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31 July 2012 / MERSİHA GADZO, İSTANBUL

Traveling throughout Egypt and Turkey, California resident Ron Wilkerson often heard the adhan (call to prayer) but never knew what it meant. Fortunately, last Friday, he and 40 other tourists found the answers they were looking for at an information session organized by the Intercultural Dialogue Center (KİM) that is held twice daily during Ramadan at the Sultanahmet Mosque.

“It’s crucial. People need to open their minds,” Wilkerson said, commenting on the importance of intercultural dialogue. “Learning about different cultures and what people do gives you a better belief in yourself.”

The session, hosted by Sabancı University Professor Enes Eryarsoy, compares Islam to other religions to show how similar they really are.

For example, Allah is the name of God in Islam. Likewise, he’s called Elahh in Aramaic, Ilah in Arabic and Eloh in Hebrew.

The Islamic greetings “assalamu alaikum” or “selam” in Arabic means peace be upon you. Our Jewish brothers also mean the same when they greet someone with “shalom,” Eryarsoy explained.

“It’s nice to see how many connections there are between many religions,” said Maria Eckholt from Venezuela. “And maybe we’re not really aware of that, that we have so many things in common.”

Andreas Laumann from Germany said he already knew that Muslims fast from dawn to sunset during Ramadan. However, he didn’t know much else beyond that. Attending the session made things clearer, he said.

“As the audience pointed out, we have a lack of communication,” Eryarsoy said.

“We’re supposed to, as Muslims, talk about our faith and communicate it to non-Muslims. We don’t do that. Yet God Almighty sends them to our countries; we still don’t do that. He sends them into our mosques and if we still don’t do that, we will be held accountable.

“It’s not about convincing them and inviting them to Islam. It’s about informing them and providing them with the right information when they come,” Eryarsoy explained.

The presentation included a slideshow and a world map of the severity of hunger in different countries.

By fasting during Ramadan, people can sympathize with the less fortunate and understand what it means to be hungry, Eryarsoy explained. Visitors also learn about a range of topics, such as about the five pillars of Islam and the significance of the terawih prayer during Ramadan.

Laumann found the Islamic pillar of giving zakat, which states that everyone should give 2.5 percent of their wealth to the poor, particularly agreeable. “It’s a good thing when they explained how rich people should give money to the poor,” Laumann said. “It’s a nice way to share money.”

After the presentation, the visitors joined the organizers in breaking their fast.

The information session has been run at the Sultanahmet Mosque for two years. During Ramadan, two sessions are held each day: after the afternoon prayer and before iftar (fast-breaking) time.

After the presentation ended, the visitors went outside to find a lively atmosphere and crowded streets. Families sat on the grass eating iftar together while others browsed through souvenirs and clothes for sale at kiosks, a loud puppet show attracted children, and vendors were busy selling ice cream and Ottoman candy to lined-up customers.

Among this crowd was Andreea Dragota, who had just arrived from Romania after a 17-hour car ride. Dragota explained how surprised she was to see such a big crowd celebrating Ramadan together.

“We knew it was Ramadan, but I didn’t expect so many people,” Dragota said. “It’s really nice; it’s something else. It’s different from our country.”

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