Theology and Practice in Islam
Author: Gönül Yerli
Religious educator Gönül Yerli speaks with great enthusiasm about her faith and the religion to which she belongs, Islam. In conversation, she provides a profound insight into both the theological aspects of Islam and current issues, such as the status of women, as well as practical aspects such as prayer and fasting. In the process, the orientation of Islam becomes clear, which wants to support people in finding peace within themselves and realizing it in the world.
Tattva Viveka: Dear Gönül Yerli, today we are talking about the topic of Islam: What is Islam, what is its significance here in Germany, and how can we as Christian Germans enter into an interreligious dialogue with Islam? You are a religious educator and have been the vice-director of the Islamic Community of Penzberg (Bavaria) since 2005. Their homepage states that a major focus is to support and promote the participation of the community’s members in the local society. Here, the topics of interreligious dialogue and social participation play a role. What exactly is your need and how do this dialogue and social participation take shape?
Gönül Yerli: Our community in Penzberg has existed for almost 30 years, and I myself have been involved for almost that long. The initial needs were of a practical nature. Before it even came to the religious task, the congregation asked itself what essential needs people had in a new foreign country. These were language, social needs and emotional participation.
In addition, there was the question of how I could emotionally and spiritually feel my religion, which I was given along the way and into which I was born, in Germany as well.
This question still occupies us today.
Some circumstances in Germany change the practice of religion. Already the weather makes a difference, and therefore many things have to be rethought and compromises have to be made. I think the most exciting thing about religions is that they have always been flexible and variable. You can take them with you wherever you go. I find that fascinating, also for my own path in life.
THE RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE OF THE HEADSCARF FOR WOMEN
TV: In this context, I would like to talk about the subject of headscarves. You also wear one. What is the significance of the headscarf? I’ve already talked to some Muslim women, but I have to confess that I’m a little slow on the uptake on the subject. It’s still unclear to me.
Yerli: I’m afraid it won’t get any better with my answer. Maybe I’ll just confuse you even more. Every woman who wears a headscarf that you ask will probably give you an individual answer.
I do not put the headscarf first in my religious world. In my religion, or for me personally, other values play a greater role. Of course, I also wear the headscarf because I am a Muslim. The headscarf as a word does not appear in the Koran. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you should wear a headscarf, but it’s about a covering requirement in the society of the time. The passage adresses Men and women equally.
In the case of women, it additionally says that they should put something over their heads. Up to this day there was no discussion of what the head of the woman is. Whether only the face belongs to it or also the hands, which must be covered likewise, the feet, the head, the hair. So we have the most different variations of how Muslim women cover themselves nowadays. But the headscarf is not an indication that I am a hundred percent Muslim. One can choose to wear it, as I did, but it is not part of one’s confessions.
I know it is hard to explain, especially if you live in our society in Germany or in another non-Muslim country. I would say that it is an inner need.
It fulfills me when I am allowed to wear the headscarf. I feel like I have a better grasp of my religion that way, but you can see me struggling with the words.
Maybe it’s also something so intimate that you can’t describe it.
THE EGO, JIHAD AND THE MERCY OF GOD
TV: I would like to talk about some theological aspects of Islam. For example, one prayer says, “Enable us to return evil with good.” What is evil for you and how do you deal with it? Keywords: peace, mercy and forgiveness.
Yerli: For the most part, we humans are peaceful beings, but there is also something evil slumbering within us. When it comes to the image of man in Islam, the emphasis is on the fact that man has the lifelong task of keeping this evil within him as small as possible. We call this state – and I am now using a word that has unfortunately completely lost its original intention in later centuries – jihad.
Jihad means defeating one’s own evil ego.
This is a lifelong task that remains for man.
Muslim, interestingly, from the wording, means “the peacemaker.” Islam primarily means peace. Primarily, man should make peace with himself. Only then can I make peace with God, only then can I make peace with fellow human beings, only then can I make peace with nature, and it continues with the cosmos and the universe.
The mission of a Muslim is to go through this world with peace and to make peace first with oneself.
This peaceful state can always experience disturbances. This can be through people we have to deal with, it can be our own attitude, which we need to reflect upon. But it is always about maintaining this peace for the most part.
In Islam there is also a life in paradise with God and the forbidden fruit. In that case, it is not the apple, but the fruit of paradise, whatever it may have looked like. Adam and Eve are provided everything in paradise except this fruit, which they are not supposed to eat, but they cannot resist it – and here the blame does not fall on one or the other, but the Koran reports “and both of them ate of this fruit”. Both committed a mistake and to make up for this mistake Adam and Eve fall to earth.
On earth they no longer have a carefree life, but one with hurdles and obstacles, but here again we come back to the mercy of God. For it is because of God’s mercy that we have death. God does not leave creatures on earth forever, but takes them back. This is the greatest mercy that can happen to man: not to have to toil on earth for a lifetime and not to bear this great responsibility for a lifetime.
TV: The Quran takes a much more emancipated approach than the Old Testament, according to which Adams rib creates Eve. She is portrayed as something secondary and, moreover, is held responsible for all sin.
Yerli: Here, too, there are newer approaches in theology. The biblical account contains two statements about the creation of Adam and Eve. But it is interesting: Muslims also believe that Eve was created from Adam’s rib. This story has also prevailed in the Muslim cultural area. Perhaps because it is more receptive, perhaps because there was an interest in subordinating the women. For it would not even be conceivable that God created both at the same time, because this would show the equality of these sexes. But if we read the Koranic account of it, it is clear.
The interview was conducted by Ronald Engert.
About the author
Gönül Yerli, M. A., religious educator, married, 3 children, since 2005 vice director of the Islamic Community Penzberg. She is also responsible for the department of interreligious dialogue.
She completed the basic and advanced course in Catholic theology at the Würzburg Cathedral School. The master’s course “Interreligious Dialogue: Encounter of Jews, Christians and Muslims” at Danube University Krems in 2017. She received the Manfred Görg Special Award 2018 for research in the history of religions and interreligious dialogue from the Freunde Abrahams e.V. for her master’s thesis and for her long-standing interreligious commitment.
This article was originally published on the German Homepage of Tattva Viveka: Die transpersonale Dimension des Sterbens
Image credits: © Adobe Photostock