God-willing, this Sunday I’m traveling with 30 other Atlantans to Turkey as part of a World Pilgrims experience. We have organized these adventures for the past 12 years throughout Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Spain, Morocco, Turkey, Canada, and even to the Grand Canyon. The objective has very little to do with sightseeing, even though fascinating destinations greatly enhance the experience, but our real interest is immersing people of different religions together as roommates, bus partners, and constant companions for 10-11 days, discussing their backgrounds, families, interests, careers, aspirations, worries, concerns, beliefs, and religions.
This Pilgrimage experience creates real friendships across faith lines, as over 400 Atlantan Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists will attest, and it enables them to navigate the multi-faith world we all live in with greater respect and appreciation for ‘the Other’. For many of those who return, they stay engaged in interfaith activities and exchanges. They recognize that, although tolerance is a public necessity, to build real and sustaining relationships we must go deeper. We must invest in trust, understanding, collaborations, and active engagements across the lines of religious and cultural differences.
Why Turkey or anywhere in that neighborhood at this time? A reasonable question, considering all the regional issues, the worst being the so-called Isil, which is perpetrating Islam while engaging in the most un-Islamic and inhumane acts of aggression. This will be my 5th World Pilgrimage to Turkey, and something has been going on in the region on every occasion, yet we have been completely unexposed and secure on every venture. Part of our American challenge is overcoming our demeaning and derogatory disregard for other nations, particularly non- European countries. Turkey commands respect on every front, but as World Pilgrims we frequent Turkey because of their rich religious history and their present day pluralistic commitment to a cultural matrix of diversity and interaction. There are few places in the world that can rival Istanbul for its energy, history, modernity, diversity, and its security.
This is a religious trip. This is a faith journey. Prophet Muhammed said first and foremost in all affairs, “Trust in Allah, but tie your camel.” We have been assured and reassured by Turkish officials, dignitaries, authorities, and everyday citizens on the ground, that our travels to Rumi’s Konya, Cappadocia, Ephesus, and Istanbul, will be quite safe. So our camel is tied, and now we trust that the God, of each of us and all of us, will bless our pilgrimage experience, once again, to be life-changing and expanding for each of these pilgrims seeking to know more about the other, and inadvertently discovering so much more about their own selves.
submitted by Imam Plemon T. El-Amin