08/24/2010 08:05 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Valuing Family And God: A 'Jewel Of Elul' By Imam Jihad Turk

Editor's note: There is a great Jewish tradition to dedicate the 29 days in the month of Elul to study and prepare for the coming high holy days. The time is supposed to challenge us to use each day as an opportunity for growth and discovery. On each of the 29 days of Elul, performer Craig Taubman posts a "jewel," or story, from some of today's most celebrated visionaries. Past contributors include President Barack Obama, Desmond Tutu, Sarah Lefton, Eli Wiesel, Deepak Chopra, Ruth Messinger, and Jeffrey Katzenberg -- among many others. Today's reflection comes from Imam Jihad Turk:

My 16-year-old sister, Samira, had been complaining of a migraine headache for about a week. I was 12. When the doctors finally figured out it was actually a viral encephalitis, she was already in a coma.

Three weeks later, and after trials with experimental medication, she finally came around but had lost the memory of her entire childhood. She didn't know who she was or who we were as her family. On that day, I lost my sister, but was given a new one. Here she was with a chance to start again, and I was right there with her. Although she has never regained her memory, together we embarked on a lifelong journey to rebuild our relationship and her world, but with a renewed appreciation of life and its precarious nature.

Like so many these days, my parents divorced. I was 17, and it shook my world. In short, my Christian-American mother and Muslim-Palestinian father had cultural and communication issues that were left unresolved. The added pressure of my sister's illness ultimately resulted in their split. From my perspective, this motivated me to look inward, to discover who I was and what is ultimately important in life.

I began a spiritual journey that not only led me to reconnect with God and to value family, but also took me around the world to study in seminary in Medina, Saudi Arabia and Qum, Iran.

My journey, however, did not result in a narrowed view of the world, but one that embraces diversity and acknowledges the Divine in each human being.

I have dedicated my life's journey to positioning religion as a force for good in the world.

Imam Jihad Turk is the Director of Religious Affairs at the Islamic Center of Southern California (

"If" Question: If you had to name a memory of a special time you experienced with a sibling or relative in your youth, what was it?