Love Thy Neighbor
Eser Balci: My Muslim Neighbor, with his son Turk.
Eser used to play professional soccer in Turkey. But after a bad knee injury he was unable to continue. He didn’t get the surgeries required to heal properly, so he had to change careers. He and his family have recently returned to Turkey, but while they were here he was teaching Turkish language classes at BYU and studying mathematics there.
I first met Eser at a neighborhood barbecue we held in our back yard the week after they moved in. Later that summer we had a huge project in our front yard. The city had diverted the water that flowed through our yard in the springtime, offering to provide the necessary dirt to fill in the resulting empty ditch in our front yard. What we didn’t know was that meant they dumped a huge mountain of dirt at the top of the driveway and we had to fill the ditch ourselves, a shovelful at a time. As soon as Eser saw us out there working, he came out with a shovel and joined in. Every day, out there in the hot sun, Eser was digging alongside my husband and our son. If we were working, he was working. That was our first REAL introduction to Eser. He is a wonderful neighbor.
Eser liked being in Provo. He loved our quiet cul-de-sac, and thought this was a great place to raise a family. He and his wife Leanna, who is from the U. S. and met Eser while she was a grad student in Turkey, have three adorable little boys: Turk, Tek, and Ike.
Despite loving the atmosphere in Provo, Eser also said he missed Turkey. He especially missed his family there, and the food, and his friends—just like any of us might feel if we were living abroad. And just like any of us, they worry about everyday things like whether their lawn is mowed, juggling busy schedules with raising a family, and the boys messing up the house.
There are also many things we share in terms of our faith. Muslims believe in one God, and not even allowing the existence of any other deity. They have a strict set of guidelines they follow, including dietary restrictions. Eser pointed out that—different from what you might see on the news—Islam is a peaceful religion. Eser said many people misunderstand the term “jihad” or holy war. He said it doesn’t mean to go out and kill non-believers. It’s about defending and protecting your home and your faith when attacked, not unlike the Standard of Liberty. He said there is a line in the Quran about killing non-believers that is frequently taken out of context, but they are a peaceful people.
Much of that peacefulness is grounded in respect, which is a very important principle to Muslims. They don’t believe in putting themselves above any other person, but rather in treating others with complete respect. The prophet Muhammud taught that all people are equal, no matter the color of their skin or any other distinction. (Again, not unlike the utopian society in 4th Nephi, where there is “no contention, and no manner of -ites").
There is an idiom in Turkey, “Before you buy a house, buy a neighbor.” Well, Eser has bought us. We loved having him and his family here, and we hope we are as good to him as he is to us. We look forward to their return in a year or so.
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I am an artist and art instructor working in water media. Just knowing I can watch colors run together makes it worth getting out of bed every morning! Helping students capture the same excitement is equally rewarding.