You are only two and a half years old. There has been so many horrible events that have happened globally, I sometimes regret you were born to such a world. But a conference in Turkey seeks to overturn such circumstances for the better.
In September 2011, I represented LoyarBurok at a conference in Turkey. This conference gave me back the confidence that there is much hope for humanity.
The governor of Sanliurfa, Turkey, very graciously extended an invitation to LoyarBurok to send a representative to the annual Halil Ibrahim conference (also known as the Abraham Meetings). I wrote to the organizers as to the nature of the conference because the information available online were mostly in Turkish. To my surprise, the reply I received was:
“To bring solutions to worldly and humanitarian problems, introduce their help and charity enterprises, contribute to friendly atmosphere, talk about help, charity, poverty and tell how we can empower and enliven values such as hospitality, goodness, generosity among people in the times of global problems such as famine, poverty, drought.”
Boy, isn’t that just what the world needs; solutions to the world’s problems?
Every year humanity experiences war, famine, political upheaval, economic pressures, and abuse to human rights (in Malaysia, unfair treatment of Indonesian maids led to a public outcry). If one was to judge the world based on the news’ headlines alone, there would be no doubt one would conclude that we live in a horrible world; a world filled with dangerous people who would harm their fellow-men for unthinkable reasons. In light of such ghastly acts, is it possible to attain peace and to live a life that is free from hate? Is it possible for all men to be brothers openly without malice?
I set out to find the answers at the Halil Ibrahim Conference.
The Halil Ibrahim Conference is a yearly conference organised by the governor of Sanliurfa, Turkey. This year, there were 47 international participants at the conference. Delegates from Senegal, the United Kingdom, Sierra Leone, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Oman and a few other countries came together for forums, lectures and discussions. Delegates from all ethnic backgrounds and religions are invited every year. This year, I was the only one from Malaysia. At first I felt out-of-place as almost all the delegates were Muslims and spoke to one another in Arabic. Even the delegate from the United Kingdom was a Muslim convert! I think I was the only non-Muslim in the conference.
Sanliurfa is a city in eastern Turkey. Not many tourists visit it as most of Turkey’s travel attractions are westbound. Sanliurfa is also known as the City Of Prophets. It is believed that seven of the important prophets of the Abrahamic faith was born or lived in Sanliurfa. The city only has a population of half a million people. Sanliurfa claims to be the birthplace of the patriarch Abraham. As the story goes, Abraham was a very hospitable man who fed and shared his food with anyone who approached him. It has been said, he would not eat unless there were guests at his table. Such a man was Abraham that he was given the title “halil” which means “friend”. Halil Ibrahim refers to Abraham as a friend of God. I asked Ramazan (a teacher in Sanliurfa) about the people living there and learned that the crime rate was low, as residents led their lives in such a way so as not to sully the good name of the prophets.
On the first day, at the conference launch, I wore my suit and tie. The other delegates wore their national costumes and were looking handsome. Being the only foreigner dressed in a suit, I looked out-of-place. We were taken to the middle of the town and proceeded to parade towards the Great Mosque of Urfa. The police stopped the traffic for this 20 minute walk. It seemed to me that everyone in town – traditional musicians, school children and local clubs – turned out to watch the parade.
We were treated to a recital by Mustafa Özcan Günesdogdu, a world champion Quran reciter. After some speeches, a few VIPs in attendance released white doves symbolising peace and harmony.
The second day of the conference was filled with forums and lectures. I submitted a paper entitled, “Problems Faced by Malaysia in Helping Others (Charity and Volunteer work)”, written from my experience of NGO-involvement in the past 20 years. However, some last minute hang-ups rendered the chairperson unavailable for my session, so I was asked to chair instead of presenting my piece.
Every day while I was there, I wore my LoyarBurok badge. Many people asked me about the “monkey on the badge”. I happily explained the work done by LoyarBurokkers including human rights, freedom of expression, and its latest spin-off movement UndiMsia.
During my session, delegates from Tunisia, Oman and Saudi Arabia presented their charity activities and NGOs. Some memorable things I learned at the conference included:
- “Abraham gave birth to three religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity, but these three religions often fight each other.” Chris Wardle, Oxfam
- “Many Tunisian families welcomed fleeing refugees from Libya into their own homes because they could not bear to see them living in refugee camps.” Dr. Najib Karoui, ATTAAOUEN Help Foundation, Tunisia
- “The world desperately needs to follow the 6 attributes of Abraham. We do not need to judge each other’s religions.” Prof. Dr. Suat
- “Only idiots will not follow the path of Abraham!” Prof. Dr. Osman
- “We need independent media. Media can be more dangerous than weapons. But in the Islamic world, the media is abused.” Awad Said Baquwair, journalist from Oman
- “We need to use resources to solve world problems, not for weapons.” Prof. Dr. Abdurahman
A local man stood out in this conference: Mehmet Tekerlek is not a man of means but he saw the suffering of the poor. One day he decided to do something about it himself. He went to the local hotels and asked them for the leftover food, which he took and distributed to the poor. He is now in his 80’s and since 1963, has been going around in his old banged-up van daily to collect food from green grocers, bakeries, hotels and restaurants. The conference gave him an award for his dedicated work. In his speech, he told the crowd he started his charity without support from anyone. His motto, loosely translated, is “Collect, Distribute and Stop the Pain”.
During the conference, I told the audience and the panel that even though I looked different from everyone else, I felt like a brother to everyone because of their kindness and hospitality. The head of the Saudi Arabian delegation, Abduljaleel, turned to me and pronounced, “You are my brother. We are all brothers!”
That almost brought tears to my eyes. To think that the media has played up so much negative news about the Middle East and yet, here are delegates from that region who have come to share the good work they are doing for their country’s needy people! Many of the delegates discussed the conference topics at every chance we could: at the dining table and on the bus travelling from one venue to another. Many of us agreed that similar conferences should be held all over the world to promote peace, understanding and goodwill.
I find Turkey to be far more progressive than Malaysia. At one meeting, I read out the words, “Bismillahirrahmanirrahim” in front of an Imam. He was surprised I knew how to say the holy phrase and praised my pronunciation even though I was not a Muslim. I had learned how to say it from my Malay friends as a boy. Here, at home, I have been chided for repeating Islamic phrases.
The Halil Ibrahim Conference may not be well known as of now, but I hope it will spark a worldwide movement to bring people of different backgrounds to come together and discuss ways to promote a better life for everyone. If not, your generation will suffer even more than my generation.
Your loving father,