For 60 years, İbrahim Dellal has found Australia to be a Turkish delight. As soon as you enter Mr. Dellal’s Melbourne office, the first impression you get is that he is a man devoted to his country and community.
On his desk stand two small flagpoles with the Australian and Turkish flags, a reminder of his past and present homes.
In front of him, the portraits of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, hang side by side.
“I was born to Turkish parents in Cyprus and migrated to Australia in 1950 when I was just a teenager,” Mr. Dellal, 77, explained in his calm and considered English accent.
His expressions echo a love for Turkish history and culture, but his disposition is like that of an English lord.
Mr. Dellal, the grandson of the last Ottoman mufti of Cyprus, studied at the American Academy and graduated from the British Technology Institute, majoring in automotive engineering.
Like a walking archive, Mr. Dellal recalls to the finest detail everything that has happened since his arrival in Australia. Ever since then, he has had a strong passion to help his people and make a difference in their lives.
It has been 60 years, and his passion has never been stronger.
“This is my happiness; this is my pleasure. I enjoy giving; I don’t want to receive,” he says humbly.
And so begins Mr. Dellal’s chronological list of accomplishments in the country he now calls home.
It was 1956 when Mr. Dellal and his brother Hasan Dellal were asked to be the official interpreters for the Turkish wrestling team during the Melbourne Olympic Games. The brothers spent days with the team, making the most of every opportunity they had to spend time with their long-awaited compatriots.
It was 1965 when Mr. Dellal worked with the Victorian government to allow migrants to come to Australia and call the country their home. In doing so, he contributed to the settlement of the first 75 Turkish families in Australia.
It was 1976 when Mr. Dellal founded numerous halal certified organizations which earned Australia billions of dollars through the exporting of halal meat to Muslim countries.
It was 1977 when Mr. Dellal received the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal as recognition of his contributions to Australian society. In 2007, he received the Order of Australia, which was given to him through the Australian government.
In over half a century of community service, Mr. Dellal has had the opportunity to meet with influential political and religious leaders such as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini, global Sufi leader Sheikh Nazim al-Qubrisi and world-renowned Turkish spiritual leader Fethullah Gülen.
It was 1991 when Mr. Dellal met Gülen. This was a focal point in his life. Mr. Dellal was inspired by Gülen’s global vision of education and community service through love and tolerance.
This significant encounter led Mr. Dellal to commit all his time to education and community service by making an early retirement from his career in automotive engineering.
“I could see there was a great need to provide services so that our children were happy to live here so they could perform and provide more to the country they live in,” he said.
It was 1997 when Mr. Dellal helped establish Işık College, a Victorian multicultural school established by the Turkish community, and facilitated its growth from its inaugural enrollment of 28 students in 1997 to over 2,000 students today.
The seventh Işık College campus is to be named after him.
The name was chosen by the school administration in appreciation for Mr. Dellal’s role in helping his community settle into Australia and for his volunteerism.
“I am thankful and grateful to the Turkish community, the Selimiye Foundation and the Işık College family for honoring me,” Mr. Dellal said.
“But I feel this honor belongs to our community and not me, because we achieved this by working together. I just tried to provide leadership to the best of my ability.”
The Selimiye Foundation honorary chairman has clocked over half a century of dedicated services for Melbourne’s Turkish community and has no plans to hang up his Good Samaritan hat.
“We need to make others feel they are not alone and that they are important, irrespective of who they are, what color, language or religion -- it does not matter to us, as long as we can give. This is what we are taught as Muslims,” said Mr. Dellal.
In summer 2010, a biography of Mr. Dellal, written by Monash University lecturer Salih Yücel, is to be published.
Mr. Yücel, the author of “The struggle of İbrahim: Biography of an Australian Muslim,” said the idea of writing Mr. Dellal’s biography emerged when he was travelling with him for an academic conference and retreat in Canada and America respectively.
“Through our conversations over the 10-day trip, I discovered that İbrahim was a ‘living history’ of the Australian Muslim community. He had witnessed the growth of the Muslim population and struggles to settle and integrate into Australia. His memory was weakening due to old age, so it was essential that his precious experiences with Australia’s Muslims were documented for the benefit of Australia and Australian Muslims,” he said.
In his book, Mr. Yücel refers to Mr. Dellal as “a leading Muslim figure in the post-World War II Australian Muslim community and a pioneer in educational institutions and religious organizations.”
Despite having lived in Australia, Mr. Dellal will be an inspiration to anyone around the globe who enjoys a good read. Married to an Irish-Australian and the father of three daughters, Mr. Dellal lives in Melbourne and continues to serve his community through education and community service.
When Mr. Dellal is not amongst his community, you will find him listening to Sufi music, nibbling on dried fruits and nuts to keep a balanced diet and performing daily prayer to keep himself fit and relaxed.
“The Struggle of İbrahim: Biography of an Australian Muslim” is published by Tughra books and can be purchased online after June 16 at amazon.co.uk.
*Ayse Meva is a freelance journalist from Melbourne, Australia.