On the evening of August 16, 2012, the Orange County branch of Pacifica Institute hosted one of its most delightful and enlightening events yet. New-comers and frequents alike had come together for another Ramadan iftar dinner.
The tables had been meticulously adorned with an assortment of traditional Turkish apetizers and sweets and topped off with beautiful single roses. The friendly chit-chat of early comers and the welcome page open on the screen greeted you as you walked in the room.
After a quick welcome greeting from Mr. Tezcan Inanlar, the CEO of Pacifica Institute, the call to prayer, signaling that the sun had set and that it was time to break the fast, was what opened up the evening’s program. Faces glowed as stomachs indulged in the delicious meal and hearts indulged in the delicious conversation. Conversations on topics ranging from politics to religion to culture to every-day flowed in the air. If you were to take a quick moment to glance up and just take in the whole room, the picture you were to witness was one to warm your heart and say “Thank you for this wonderful blessing!”
As the clinking of knives and forks and the buzz of sweet conversation drew to an end, Mr. Inanlar, took his place on stage to briefly introduce the Institute; what it is and what it does. Afterwards, the guests were treated to a quick presentation on Ramadan, fasting and the essence to be pursued through the tradition from Mr. Ozgur Koca, Adjunct Professor at Claremont School of Theology. Using Rumi’s analogy of shell and kernel, Mr. Koca expressed that in fasting abstaining from food and drink was merely the outer shell of the fruit that is sought through fasting. The actual kernel, the sap, the taste of the fruit was in fact in growing closer to the Creator through spirituality, cleansing and becoming aware of one’s weaknesses and infinite needs, as Mr. Koca so vividly articulated.
The highlight of not only that evening but of all previous iftar dinners throughout the month, was the collaboration of three very distinguished speakers from three different faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, centered around a common theme: “Inter-Religious Partnership and Environmental Crises”. As Mr. Inanlar pointed out, we are living in a time of global problems and must work together hand in hand to find a solution. The guest speakers were respectively; Dr. Daniel Skubik, Professor of Law, Ethics & Humanities from California Baptist University, Ozgur Koca, Adjunct Faculty from Claremont School of Theology, and Rabbi Haim Beliak, Founder of Jews on First.
Dr. Skubik shared in his speech several scriptures from the Christian faith emphasizing the fact that we are all God’s creation here on this Earth. We must realize our relationship both to one another and to God. He concentrated on the truth that though we are rich in diversity, we are stil from one Creator. “We must focus on our togetherness and form a single whole not for our own purposes but for His purpose only,” he concluded. Before handing over the microphone, Dr. Skubik introduced a program called Food Rescue, a way of passing on excess food supplies to others that have no access, as a possible activity to work towards a solution.
Mr. Ozgur Koca, first of all, underlined the fact that interfaith events, such as the one held that very evening, were merely a means to convey us to taking interfaith action towards problems to deal with at hand. By giving examples from the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), he illustrated a life of sustainable consumption, at the same time encouraging the guests to reconsider their consumption habits. Through the conveyance of several prophetic sayings and tradition, Mr. Koca introduced the animals rights advocate and environmental activist aspects of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), aspects of the Prophet that most people are not familiar with. Finally, he pointed out that all creatures are related to one another through a Higher Being and thus everything is in essence much more than they appear to be. Being part of an organic whole makes each single part responsible towards the whole.
Rabbi Haim Beliak started his words with a profound truth that we are much more alike than we are different. Reflecting on the Hebrew expressions for human being and earth, respectively, “adam” and “adamah”, Rabbi Beliak pointed out man’s relationship to the natural world, the substance from which he was created and to which it will return. Faith asks of us to “be more” not “have more”, he said as he expressed his criticism towards the modern lifestyle of the era. When we lose sense of where we are in the world, we lose sense of our responsibility to foster the lives of ourselves, families and others, he added. Rabbi Beliak concluded by saying that through realizing our interconnectedness we can see and appreciate the humanity in the other person.
All in all, as each representative looked upon the matter at hand through the window unique to their own faith and practice, all came to a shared conclusion. As believers devoted to the same Creator and as creatures dwelling in this very blessing we call the Earth, we are to be aware of our responsibility towards our surroundings and our fellow creatures. We are to take care of our home as we are being taken care of through the endless blessings we have been gifted with. Once again, the hearts and souls filling the room were re-awakened to the truth that though the physical paths may be separate, the ultimate Truth and the essence to connect them all were One in spirit.
The evening closed off as several of the distinguished guests were invited up to the stage to share their reflections and thoughts of the evening
Mr. Jihad Turk, Dean at Bayan Claremont, Claremont Lincoln University, shared a verse from the Holy Qur’an that expressed beautifully the meaning and essence behind the gathering of the evening. It reads, “O Mankind! We have created you but from a single male and a single female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may get to know one another, not that you may despise one another. Truly, the most honored of you in the sight of God is the one who is most in awe of God. And God is aware of all that you do.” Dr. Guilbert Hentschke, who is a Chair in Public School Administration at the University of Southern California, said that both he and his wife, Becky, very much enjoyed the company and friendship of Pacifica and attendees and thus looked forward to every dinner and event they became aware of. He expressed his deep appreciation for the nourishment of both body and soul that evening and finished by kindly thanking the speakers of the night. Commander John from the Irvine Police Department made everyone smile when he said, “You must all be wondering; Why are the police here?!” The mutual value of the relationship with the community was what brought Pacifica and the PD together, was his explanation. Getting to know the community helps us better serve the community, he said and thanked the organizers for bringing the community together. Maneck Bhujwala, the president of the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council, sent out wishes of all the best to everyone in the room. He said, we have no other choice in this world than to promote interfaith sharing and the patience and understanding of one another. A very sweet surprise to wrap up the event was when Sande Hart, the president of S.A.R.A.H. (The Spiritual and Religious Alliance for Hope) awarded one of the Pacifica Institute volunteers, Sibel Inanlar, with a certificate in honor of a previous event they had organized together. She thanked Pacifica for being a pillar in the community and providing a space in which people of all backgrounds come together to express their respect for one another. She expressed her gratitude once again for the evening and honored the volunteers by thanking them for the delicious meal. As always, the opportunity for another joint organization was seized right away as plans were made to meet at the Noah’s Ark exhibition in the Skirball Cultural Center for a sharing of Noah’s pudding, a traditional Turkish-Islamic dessert, in the upcoming months. Friends bid farewell with feelings of joy, hope and the thoughts of the prospective event to fit into their planners.