For "God's" Sake!
When I was around 15 years old, I was an atheist. The idea of a god in space seemed too primitive a notion for me, especially the idea of the delivery-men-prophets he sent to earth. The only reality I could accept was that there had to be a creator of the universe that I perceived. During that time, I was giving English lessons to high school students and also doing voice-over recordings.
On September 10, 1963, when I was 17, my father left this world…
The Friday that came three days after, my mother, who was born in Mecca and blessed on the doorsill of the Kaba – as was the custom – pleaded that I attend the congregational Friday prayer and that I pray for my late father…
So, I went to the mosque across from my house, Cerrahpasa Mosque, sat in the corner like a stranger, and as the call for prayer was being recited, I felt a deep sadness in my soul… It was as though a voice inside was saying to me, “You’re seeing the emptiness and meaninglessness of the world and everything in it, and none of this is fulfilling you, none of this is making you happy, try something different this time, try and see, you won’t regret it…!”
Suddenly, I made a decision. I decided to become a Muslim, to pray five times a day, to always have ablution and learn about the reality of Islam…
When I went home and shared this with my mother she cried with joy… She was so happy… Then I went back to the mosque for Asr and Magrib prayers… And I asked my next door neighbor, the late brother Jamal, if he knew of any books about Islam.
He gave me the 11 volume Sahih Bukhari Hadith Collection, and I read all 11 books at one go!
My world changed; it was as though I was transported to the time of the Rasul of Allah (saw) and I had become one of his family members, like I was living among them… By the way, I was immediately applying everything I was learning from the hadiths, though only in their ‘literal’ sense… I was fasting every day, attending every congregational prayer I could, opening the gates of the mosque at dawn for morning prayer, even reciting the call for prayer with my out of tune voice! All of this I was doing for the sake of ingratiating myself with my ‘god’! I had even accepted that the earth is flat and the Nile was flowing towards the equator, all out of my pure unadulterated faith in those who spoke in the name of ‘religion.’
I was spending my days in quiet retreat, constantly reading and researching. My other neighbor had brought me the eight volumes of the Interpretation of the Quran by Elmalili Hamdi Yazir. I was spending my days and nights reading the Quran and hadith, and giving English language lessons now and then to earn a few pennies.
My only purpose now was to serve my god and serve humanity in the way of the Rasul (saw).
Of course, I was also questioning everything I was learning; in fact, I had so many questions, that I was introduced first to the late Gonenli Mehmet Efendy, then to the late Sayyid Osman Efendy from Madina. In a short time, Sayyid Oman Efendy and I became like grandpa-grandson, he was so fond of me that he began to share esoteric knowledge with me. At this time, I had begun to read into Sufism. I read books by Abdulqadir al-Jilani, Imam Ghazali, Muhyiddin ibn al-Arabi and Sheikh Naqshibandi. My view and perspective was beginning to change… I was growing colder to the concept of a “god,” but closer to understanding the reality denoted by the name Allah.
I was now looking for much deeper knowledge about the Unity of Existence. Shallow talks were not satisfying me. One day in the mosque a 106-year-old Naqshibandi Sheikh noticed me and asked me to go near him. He said, “Recite a hundred thousand surat al-ikhlas and come back to me.” I immediately started reading the short chapter and in 20 days I completed a hundred thousand recitals. But I never saw him again, as he had passed on to the other realm during those 20 days…
My understanding of the ‘external’ (zahir) and ‘internal’ (batin) had now transformed, I was now evaluating everything in the light of oneness and unity. I penned my understanding and experience in my book The Great Awakening during this time.