In NYC, I met an old acquaintance — he hasn’t changed
Humble and loving, pontiff is the same as
I have always worked for interfaith communication, and when I lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I was one of the founders of a movement to promote it.
I participated in many different kinds of events, sharing with people of other faiths and religions the Islamic point of view about peace, family, morals and dialogue.
Because of this, I met the man who later would become Pope Francis, when he was the Catholic archbishop of Buenos Aires.
On Sept. 25, we met again.
I lived for 10 years in Argentina. I met my wife there, and I am a happy and proud father of two beautiful boys born in Buenos Aires. We came to the United States in 2011.
I belong to a movement of peace, education and interfaith dialogue, which started in Turkey but has spread to 150 countries around the world. We call the movement “hizmet” which means “service,” and we follow a Muslim scholar named Fethullah Gulen, who now lives in Pennsylvania.
The archbishop was himself an organizer of many interfaith and peace events. I went to visit him a couple of times at the Buenos Aires Cathedral, and we started a very nice relationship, based on the values that our religions have in common.
On Sept. 25, I got to greet His Holiness at the end of the multireligious service at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. He recognized me and returned the gesture, stopping briefly to talk. We remembered old times in Buenos Aires, and I transmitted greetings from Fethullah Gulen, the founder of my movement.
Everybody was deeply moved by the pope’s words — and just by being present there, where we lost many lives. I was particularly affected by the recitation from the Quran, remembering that “salaam,” peace, is one of the Holy Names of God for us.
There were a lot of souls at the Memorial Museum but just one spirit: a spirit of love, friendship, understanding, peace and commonwealth.
I was in Argentina when the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened. I was shocked when I saw the images. On that recent Friday in New York, as I listened to Pope Francis, I remembered the reaction of my own spiritual leader, Fethullah Gulen, condemning the attacks in the strongest terms. He said: A Muslim cannot be a terrorist; a terrorist cannot be a Muslim.
Today, at best, we can say that Islam is not well known or well understood. Muslims should say, “In true Islam, terror does not exist.” In Islam, killing a human is an act that is equal in gravity to unbelief. No one can be a suicide bomber. It is not religiously permissible. No one can touch an innocent person, even in time of war.
I still remember that priest back in Argentina, always open to dialogue and fraternal encounter with all faiths. I still can’t believe he became the pope — yet he is still the same person I knew back then: a good man of faith, righteous, articulate and most importantly, a humble man.
A man of love, open to working hand in hand with the Muslim community in order to achieve peace.
Beytullah Colak is a Muslim chaplain, or imam, at The Islamic Institute SW of San Antonio and volunteers at Raindrop Turkish House/Dialogue Institute of Southwest in San Antonio.
Published on Express News, 5 October 2015, Monday