Below is an account of an interfaith outreach initiative from Muslims to… well, to whatever non-Muslims are called in Austria now.
Many thanks to Hermes for the translation from Mein Bezirk:
A true Muslim holds the Koran inside the heart
So what to do if preconceptions become entrenched in oneself and are continuously fueled by dreadful pictures and reports from the media? I believe that the only thing which helps in this case is if one becomes thoroughly informed in order to rethink preconceived opinions and correct them in case they prove to be wrong.
For this purpose, last Saturday I accepted the invitation of a Turkish community to pay them a visit on their open-door day and to take part in their celebration in the mosque in the Gnigl district. At the entrance of the small festival ground I was received by charming Turkish women wearing headscarves, who offered to guide me and answer my questions.
Özlem was my best guide. She listened patiently to me and, as we stood at a long information desk, she explained me the basic pillars of Islam. The most important phrase which stuck in my mind was that a true Muslim must hold the Koran inside the heart, and not only on the lips. According to this, a true Muslim woman would not wear the scarf because of having it forced on her, but because with this (action) she is professing her faith voluntarily, and she would willingly show this in public.
We soon started to talk about the role of the woman in Turkish society. According to my preconceptions, the woman would be subordinated to men, and her main duties would be those of the household. Of course I provoked my guide with this (preconception), who saw there a mistaken picture of Turkish family life which foreigners would keenly conceive.
She referred thereby a bit mischievously to the number of women engaged in preparing the celebration. It was women who took the leading role at the preparations, and not men. Their duty were to be just to carry tables and to set up benches!
Then the next stop was the mosque, or better said, the building used by this Islamic community to pray. There was no specific mosque because the minaret typical of them was lacking. But as Özlem assured me, there were plans to build one. We then went barefoot into the inner room, in which chairs were placed just for that one time in order to offer guests a sitting place for their PowerPoint presentation. Of course, I was distracted many times (from the presentation) by important persons of that Islamic community who were presented to me by my guide. I was even asked to take part in a group photo.
The last stage of my visit was the canteen, where together with Zeliha I could admire and even taste the art of Turkish cooking. My plate was soon filled with small delicacies such pastry shells in yoghurt sauce, dolmas filled with a mix of rice and meat, and a sweet dish which I found similar to our strudel. Everything for free, of course. I also found interesting what happened in the front of that room, where some women were crouched down at enormous wood plates preparing bread. A certain Turkish woman attracted my attention because she was incessantly kneading a heavy portion of bread mass in a trough.
At the end of my visit I had occasion to witness a small show in which children dressed in Turkish costumes danced, and were seemingly happy to receive applause, which they did. The ORF TV channel was also there with a portable camera and a reporter who was busy interviewing some of the guests. Unfortunately I could not see the final product shown on Salzburg the evening news. I was just enjoying my Turkish delicacies when the reporters’ team came towards me.
Before leaving this celebration, I could even take away a decorated wall plate stylishly signed for me by a friendly Turk. He put this gift into my plastic bag, together with a compact Koran in German and a short introduction to Islam. Oh yes, and there was also a red rose there, a sign of gratitude for the interest I showed at the presentation.
I wrote my thoughts in the presented guest book, and I finished my writing with a phrase in which I expressed the many positive impressions I took with me. My accumulated thoughts began to come apart. Many questions are still open. There will be for sure more presentations in order to treat more questions regarding Islam. I’m sure that then I will see more things in a different way…
PS: I gratefully think about that charming young Muslim woman from the HAK, who presented me with her school-leaving project in such an impressive way at the information stand.