My name is Brad Hawkins**. I’m a professor of religions here at Cal State Long Beach.
Currently, my specialty is the study of South and Southeast Asian religions, but I did my B.A. in Islamic studies and have followed pretty closely what has been going on in the Middle East and particularly in Turkey, which I’ve had the pleasure of being associated with for almost four years now.
I have been very impressed Gulen Hocaefendi. He’s a wise man, which is not all that common in the world anymore, I’m afraid.
He’s a learned man, which means that he understands his tradition very very well. And he’s an open man who is interested in dialogue and doesn’t feel that in a religious debate someone has to win and someone has to lose.
He believes that in a truly open religious debate, everybody wins. As people get to know each other, so the barriers that keep us apart are slowly but surely falling in this world. I think that his form of Islam is a tremendously powerful, modern form of religion and has a lot to teach the world about how we should get together.
I think there are a number of contributions that Hizmet has made to the common good.
One of the big ones, in my opinion, is education. Hizmet has made a real outreach to areas where, for one reason or another, education has not been funded or encouraged. Because perhaps the government just doesn’t have the money or there are other factors involved, but the work that Hizmet does, particularly in central Asia towards education but all over the world as well, is good for the countries that they go to. It gives young people a chance to get an education and advance themselves in the world. But, the religious affiliation of their students is not important to Hizmet. What’s important is that young people get an education and they have a better life than they would have had before that.
It’s a genuine democratic, spontaneous action, not run by one single person, or one single group of people, but rather getting people to see the best in themselves and to take that best and to dedicate it to the good of all people not just themselves, or not just their local group.
That kind of example in the world is tremendously powerful.
I think Hizmet goes to the heart of what it means to be a Muslim. The Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) was a man who was not teaching a set of dogmas. He was teaching a revolution of life, a whole new way to interact with the world around them, to interact with God, to interact with other human beings, to interact even with nature…
What Hizmet has done, I think, is to try and go back to that concept of principles. Yes, all of the requirements of the Qur’an should be observed, and I think that is necessary to be a Muslim, and this is reasonable. But the principles, the kind of greater understanding of human beings’ place within God’s plan, I think Hizmet is trying to go back to that, is trying to go back to these fundamental principles that the Prophet preached and which were so powerful in his own day and still are powerful.
Islam has much to teach the world about how human beings should interact with it, and I think Hizmet is doing a good job of saying, “Dogma? Maybe not so much. Principles? Absolutely.”
Once those principles are in place, everything else will fall into place with them.
I think the Hizmet’s interfaith activities have been tremendously fruitful. Certainly, I know here in the United States that the dialogue that has been opened up is rapidly increasing between groups, that every year more people interact with Hizmet and learn Hizmet’s ideas, and are able to present their ideas too.
One of the most fundamental aspects of Islam is charity, which is, if God wants charity to be given to human beings, He wants it to be given to all human beings, not just Turks or Americans or Chinese or whoever…but in fact, all people. And the Hizmet Movement simply says, “We’re just doing what we’re told to do, what Allah has enjoined us to do.” And he hasn’t said, yes you must give zakat, you must give charity to Turks but not to Americans. What He says is, you have to give charity to everybody, to all human beings. And Hizmet has made a real effort to apply that principle to its relief efforts, certainly in Turkey, but everywhere else as well.
Turkey is struggling towards democracy, and, if we take a look at world history, what we see is that democracy is not something that comes to a country easily. It takes years and years of struggle for democracy to truly take root in a country. And Turkey has done an amazing job of that in the last few years, the institution of the Constitution and so forth.
I think that it’s very difficult for a ruling party to stay pure. The call of politics, the needs of politics, it puts stresses on people that are very difficult. It’s always easier to say, “It’s somebody else’s fault.” you know, “this isn’t our fault, this is the fault of another person.” And, the other fact, of course, is Turkish history; Turkish history has a long history of secret societies that have been determined to move the society in one way or another. So it’s very easy to point a finger, particularly if you’re having trouble with the public, and say, “well, this secret society over here, in this case Hizmet, it’s trying to destabilize the government. But Hizmet isn’t a secret society. Hizmet is very straightforward about what it believes, about what it wants to do… It tries to keep its distance from political parties; it is not, you know, one party or another is the Hizmet party.
What Hizmet is looking for is a change in people, not a change of politics. And, the idea behind Hizmet, and this is something that Gulen Efendi has said a lot, is if you change people, everything else will change with it. And so, what I think we’re seeing here is, another step-forward for the Turkish people. It may not seem like it at the moment, and it’s a difficult step forward, there’s no doubt about that. But, people now are starting to say, “We demand a certain level of morality, a certain level of action from our elected politicians.” And if we don’t get that, democracy says we have the right to turn some other direction. And Hizmet is just simply saying, “Well, what direction do you want to turn in?” And, the teachings of Hizmet say you turn in the direction that’s best for people, that’s best for society. Some people may not like that, for one reason or another, because it shines a bright light in dark corners that they don’t want that bright light to shine in, but it’s inevitable.
Hizmet is just part of the development toward a new, democratic, economically secure, powerful Turkey. Hizmet is fully behind the new vision of the new Turkey. And, in time, I think people will recognize that.
**Profile: Prof. Dr. Bradley Hawkins teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at California State University-Long Beach. He teaches courses on Southeast Asian religions, Hinduism and other South Asian religions, and the study of small-scale religions.
*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!