The author of this moving reflection lost six of his close relatives, including his sister Remziye Yucel and 19 distant kin, due to the catastrophic earthquake in Turkey
I remember where I was when I got news of the earthquake. I was about to finish teaching the first day of an intensive week of the Islamic chaplaincy course at ISRA in Melbourne.
I grew up in Adiyaman, one of the hardest hit areas by the recent earthquake. I quickly sent Whatsapp messages to my family members in Adiyaman. Slowly, responses started to trickle in.
I sent a text message to my beloved sister Remziye, but there was no response. I called her, but no one answered. Hoping my other family members had more information, I called my other sister in Istanbul.
What she said made me freeze in terror: Remziye was struck underneath the rubble.
I could not stop my tears while driving home. I turned to the news about the earthquake in Turkiye and Syria. After I while, I couldn’t even see the images through my tears. I could not continue to watch. My eyes, heart, and soul were crying together.
I was told that my sister had her suhoor (pre-dawn meal) to prepare for her day of fasting, and then started performing her tahajjud (night prayers).
When she was about to finish her prayer, the deadliest earthquake hit. She was living on the second floor of a three-story building. The first two floors of the building were buried in the earth, and only the third floor was left barely standing.
I held onto every bit of hope and optimism for three days because I was informed that she made a noise underneath the rubble, a few hours after the first earthquake. As the hours passed, I received heartbreaking news of even more close relatives and distant kin underneath the rubble.
Holding into Faith
Last week, I experienced the saddest time in my life. I shed tears, particularly when I was alone. I thought about what Prophet Muhammed (s) did after the burial of his beloved wife Khadija, uncle Hamza and six children.
How did his companions act after their loved ones were martyred after the battle of Uhud, I wondered. Did the Prophet and his companion give a break to their spiritual and teaching activities?
The answer was ‘no’.
I was aware that some of the great scholars did not quit teaching when their loved ones passed away. I could defer the Islamic Chaplaincy course, but I decided not to do it for two reasons.
The first was a decision I made a long time ago: to take the Prophet, his companions and great scholars as my role models.
The second was a choice I made to keep myself busy with good deeds such as prayers, dhikr, dua, reading books and articles, helping my wife with housework and going on my regular walks for exercise.
I also allocated my emotions in a positive way, which supported me in my grief. I continued to teach and tried to provide emotional and spiritual support to relatives in Turkiye via phone.
I discovered that doing these good deeds really helped in difficult times. I could not express such a spiritually comforting experience in words.
I will never forget the support my family, students, the Muslim community and non-Muslim friends’ gave during this difficult time. Some shed tears while others sent their messages through emails or text messages.
Each of these messages became a source of spiritual strength and comfort. Some friends flew or drove from Sydney to Melbourne to stay just for an hour to offer their condolences. After they left, my wife and I agreed that their support resembled the Prophet companions’ altruism.
We both could not stop our tears of gratitude and prayed for them after they left.
Another thing that I find is that allocating emotions in a positive way during difficult time increases human compassion. I turned to sharing my sadness and hope with journalists, who shared it on their media platforms. A TV reporter burst into tears when she interviewed me.
When doing my daily walk, I saw two pigeons resting on my way. I changed my way, so as not to disturb them. I had read in the books that some scholars changed their ways while walking on the road so as not to step on the ants. When I did the same, I could not express the spiritual joy in my heart with words.
I also questioned why tens of thousands of people died in Turkiye and Syria. When an earthquake of the same magnitude happened in Japan, only a few hundred died.
Contemporary scholar Said Nursi, 1878-1960, shared his view of there being two types of shariah. The first, known as Islamic law, is based on the Qur’an and Sunnah. The second is the shariah of takwiniyya (the law of creation). Some may call it natural law.
When the second one is neglected, human beings suffer in this world. For example, some countries such as Turkiye, Pakistan, Iran, and Syria sit on one of the world’s most seismically active zones and have experienced several devastating earthquakes.
If the buildings are not built according to the codes set by experts, the consequence will be the death of tens of thousands and the destruction of cities and towns.
One hundred five earthquakes have taken place in Turkiye in the last hundred years. Neither authorities nor most people have taken the necessary steps to reduce human loss and minimize the damage.
Sadly, most political parties including the ruling party in Turkiye are exploiting the emotions of victims of the earthquake for self-interest and trying to turn in more votes for the coming elections in May 2023.
It is a time to leave differences behind and unite for a quick healing process. This reminded me of Said Nursi’s statement, “I take refuge in Allah from Satan and politics,” that politics revolves around self-interest.
Finally, human beings suffer due to the consequence of their actions. There are many lessons that humanity at large can learn from this earthquake.
May Allah have mercy on those who have passed away, help the victims suffering in the devastated cities, towns, and villages. I pray and hope for a speedy recovery and rebuilding process in Turkiye and Syria.
We thank Dr. Salih Yucel for his kind permission to publish this article