August 23, 2014

'Significance of Fethullah Gülen immeasurable for understanding Islam in the 21st century'

Fikir Atlasi*, Episode 5 (Full text)

Philip Clayton
Prof. Dr. Philip Clayton
For centuries people have recognized the geopolitical significance of Turkey.

In its location between Asia and the West, it serves as not only a geographical bridge, but also as a cultural and political bridge.

People also recognize the extreme importance of Islam for the shape of the world in the 21st century.

But what has not been true until now, is that there would be a figure, a person who could represent for the West, the progressive face of Islam, that is, a Muslim deeply rooted in the holy Qur'an, deeply rooted in the teachings of the Prophet, deeply rooted in classic Islamic thought, who could show the political, the ethical significance of the Prophet and his teachings for today’s world.

In my view, until Fethullah Gülen, there has not been a single figure who could represent that attractive face of the teachings of the Prophet, for the entire West.

There have been commentators but not a practitioner, an imam, a mystic himself, a philosopher, and we have seen in the last few years—since the early 90s—his rise to a global significance.

I think his significance is that he represents a wise, deep, spiritual face for the entire religion of Islam, the entire way of Islam to the West.

And I think that is of incredible significance.

Religion is never a given.

There’s no religion that just exists as a timeless product.

No matter how perfect the scripture, God always calls us to take those teachings and to live them, to make them come alive in our own lives.

What Fethullah Gülen and the movement have done is to offer a model for Muslims around the entire planet of how to be thoroughly world citizens, thoroughly citizens of the 21st century, and, at the same time, deeply Muslim.

It’s hard to overestimate how important that task is.

I mean, I think the organization is important, the schools are important, the various features of his teaching and writing is important, but, even more important is that sense that I can be proud to be a Muslim in the 21st century, as a contributor to global culture, and in no way do I need to distance myself from the Prophet, distance myself from the Holy Qur’an, distance myself from the great teachings of the history of Islamic thought and law.

Islam, in my opinion, is like a gem; an extremely valuable pearl of priceless value, that would be the revelation of the Prophet Muhammad in the Holy Qur’an, and then building out from that and upon it, are layers and layers of deeper understanding.

So, first comes the classic Islamic philosophers, Al Gazzali probably being the most important, then comes the tradition of legal understanding, then comes the tradition of Sufism, that beautiful, mystical appropriation of the teachings of the Prophet into people’s life and experience—if I may say—that direct experience of God, and then, beyond that, the understanding of what ‘this’ means for the whole planet.

What Fethullah Gülen has done, what the movement has done, is to take that understanding, that classical tradition of Islam, and to make it relevant to the 21st century.

So that means, the teaching that Muslims need not fear science, that because God is God, everything we learn about the natural world will be consistent with God, the teaching that Muslims need not be in battle with the other peoples of the Book, with Christians and Jews; why? Because one God speaks through his Prophets,

Distinctions exist but no conflict exists.

And finally, to follow the Qur’an, to follow the teachings of the Prophet means to have much to say to politics, economics, culture, morality… all the questions of today’s world.

This gentle teaching, this teaching of the Prophet without violence, comes as an antidote to a very small minority of Islam which seeks violent routes, and it represents, if I may use that American expression, “the 99%” that represents that massive group of those who seek to follow the Prophet. That means the significance of Fethullah Gülen is almost immeasurable for understanding Islam in the 21st century.

Some people would want to contrast the Hizmet Movement as if it was absolutely unique in Islam in the world today.

I actually disagree with that.

People have the impression of Islam that the media gives them.

And that impression is often of the most violent acts, the most hateful words..

What people don’t see is that across the globe Muslims, as Muslims, as imams, as leaders, are engaged in incredibly important work.

Nutrition development in Indonesia led by imams, development work across the continent of Africa, work in the inner cities of America, work with African-American populations, these are done by Muslims seeking to embody the teachings of the Prophet in today’s world.

Having said that, I have to say that, no movement on the planet has had a global reach in the way that the Hizmet Movement has had.

That it takes those positive efforts that are being done really in unknown ways around the planet and it begins to let people see that it’s all part of a deeply Muslim calling which is hizmet, that is, service, to serve the planet, to serve humanity, in the name of God.

And that, I think, is the unique feature of Hizmet. No movement has been as organized and as devoted to the project of service itself, as has the Hizmet movement.

The calling for any religious person to engage in a deep dialogue with another religious tradition is difficult.

Humans are much more inclined to live within one particular house, to have their particular understanding of their religion: “this is home, and everything else is foreign.”

This is a basic human tendency that is as old as the human species.

Now, we find Fethullah Gülen calling Muslims to be engaged in friendship and deep dialogue, listening as well as speaking, with Jews and Christians, with all the other religions.

Humans find that naturally threatening.

We want to create a sense of a truth which we alone inhabit and others are excluded from it.

What is powerful about the calling of Mr. Gülen to interfaith dialogue is that God doesn’t exist in a box.

God is not just concerned with Muslims or Jews or Christians.

The entire creation is traced back to one Divine source.

And God’s concern in every moment is every human being, in fact every living entity on the planet.

So the call to interfaith dialogue is the call of Mr. Gülen and, I believe, of the Holy Qur’an to rise up above our provincial interests and to take the perspective of God.

To be a vice-regent with God, for God, for the whole planet..

We need to be encouraged to move beyond provincialism, which is our natural human nature and to move into a global perspective.

And, in today’s world, the only way to achieve that global perspective is interfaith dialogue.

I’ve been particularly intrigued by the emphasis on education within the Hizmet Movement.

That is interesting for two reasons:

First, how are human beings going to move beyond that provincialism we naturally fall into and to begin to take the global perspective?

Education is the most important means of all to achieve that goal.

Why? Because through education, I read about another religion, another culture, another historical period, and I begin to imagine myself into those other places.

Education is the biggest influence humanity has to expand outward from our own prejudices, from our own narrowness of vision, so that we can take a global vision.

I think it’s fascinating that Mr. Gülen has chosen to invest primarily in education and that he has helped to inspire schools in some 160 countries across the planet…

This is a way for followers of the Prophet, for Muslims, to take a position of leadership in every country of the world, to bring the teachings of the Prophet to the 21st century, to make them relevant to the world’s situation.

How can you do that except by knowing today’s science, today’s politics, economics, religions..

Education is that doorway through which Islam enters into the 21st century.

And, Mr. Gülen has made that the center of his particular project.

Devoted to the gentle teachings of the Prophet, and to seek to dirty it in the context of a particular political struggle, in fact, a corruption struggle in the republic of Turkey—this is what we’ve seen in the last few months—this brings agony to people like me who work in the global dialogue between science and religion, and between the world religions.

On the other hand, I don’t think that the American public has believed these words that are coming from Ankara.

We see a person who is devoted to writing, to prayer, to peaceful relations between Muslims and all other peoples.

And we see him treated as if he were interested in political power and the small details of politics.

Nothing in the history of Mr. Gülen’s work has ever indicated that.

And then you think, so from whom are these charges coming?

When they come from a man like Mr. Erdogan, then you recognize, “well of course!”

If you are engaged in what appear to be corrupt practices, illegal practices, violent practices, the safest thing to do is to find a scapegoat. Find something completely outside your world, find somebody innocent and just dump the entire blame for what your actions have gotten you into on somebody separate.

And, as I watch the film of Mr. Gülen reading, of him answering questions from the BBC, of him engaging in the spiritual teaching that has been his calling as the imam for decades and decades now, it just seems incomprehensible; it seems silly to try to dirty him with the same political dirtiness that apparently Mr. Erdogan has been involved in.

**Profile: Prof. Dr. Philip Clayton is the Ingraham Professor of Theology at Claremont School of Theology. He received dual PhDs from Yale in philosophy and theology. He is a leading advocate for interreligious dialogue, comparative theologies, and the internationalization of the science-religion dialogue. He authored or edited 22 books.

*Produced by Spectra Media exclusively for Irmak TV, Atlas of Thoughts (Fikir Atlasi) connects the scholars, politicians, jurists, religious figures, journalists, and academics reflecting on Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen and the Hizmet Movement with the audience. Each episode features a person from a different segment of the society with diverse experiences regarding the Hizmet activities and its volunteers. If you are interested to hear about the Hizmet and Mr. Gulen from these people’s perspectives, do not miss this show!
Source: Fikir Atlasi (Episode 5), © Spectra Media, 01 April 2014, Thursday

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