|Fr. Alexei Smith|
I am a Catholic Priest, and I am not only a Pastor of a congregation here, Parish here, in Los Angeles, but I also work for the Archdiocese as the Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer for the Archdiocese.
What does that mean? That means I direct the Catholic churches relations with all other faiths here in Los Angeles both ecumenically with our fellow Christians and inter-religiously with non-Christians.
Pope Francis, in his recent apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel”, speaks in a certain section of that document on inter-religious dialogue.
And he points out specifically things about Islam and things about Judaism.
And in the section about Islam, he talks about “authentic Islam”, an Islam which would abhor violence, and be open to dialogue.
And this is precisely what I see in the Hizmet Movement and certainly in my readings of the teachings of Fethullah Gulen.
It is my understanding that Hizmet Movement means in Turkish “service”. Right?
And that’s one of the things I really appreciate about the movement, is the amount of service you do, not only to your fellow Muslims but to all of us, and the whole aspect then of inter-religious dialogue and certainly education and learning.
Inter-religious dialogue is absolutely essential today in all parts of the world.
It is important that we learn about each other and learn from each other.
I read in Mr Gulen’s book, “Love and Tolerance”, I was intrigued by the title..
I don’t usually use the word, ‘tolerance’. For me, tolerance is a negative term meaning, ‘I will put up with you’.
But that is not the way that I have come to understand Mr. Gulen uses that term ‘tolerance’.
He talks about, ‘let your tolerance… let your heart be as tolerant as the wide open ocean’.
And that indicates to me an openness, an openness to allowing the other to enrich you as you enrich them.
And that’s the perfect definition of inter-religious dialogue.
I certainly see this as a prominent feature of his teachings.
And then, certainly learning…
I am a great advocate of inter-religious learning, where we learn from one another.
You as a Muslim learn from me as a Catholic, I as a Catholic learn from you as a Muslim.
And this is where certainly the entire vast network of the schools sponsored by the Hizmet Movement, come into place so wonderfully.
I think that Hizmet, amongst the Islamic organizations, movements and such, seems to epitomize that triangle that triad of service, dialogue and education.
I, very much, have appreciated my visits with your charitable organizations there in Turkey itself.
And to learn how the Hizmet Movement has taken its mouth—if you will—and put it into action in service to others throughout the world and..
Haiti which is a Catholic country…. After the tremendous earthquake there… the amount of service that you rendered there... That is a stellar example of people of different religions recognizing the basic humanity of one another, setting aside religious differences, concentrating on working together for the betterment of humanity.
Look at the Philippines, where you have schools, where there are sometimes misunderstandings between Catholics and Muslims there.
But when you have Catholics and Muslims studying together in the same school, learning about each other from each other, this is very hopeful for the future.
And that is what I see, the Hizmet Movement bringing hope.
Most people today, sadly, when they think of Islam, especially in United States, they have still these negative connotations.
Because they haven’t had the experience, the unique experience of the Gulen Movement.
In today’s world, it is absolutely essential that we engage Muslims and Christians particularly, Muslims and Jews, Muslims and everyone else, that we engage them in inter-religious dialogue.
What is inter-religious dialogue?
Miroslav Volf, who is a professor at one of the east coast universities here, speaks of inter faith dialogue as an embrace.
What do you do when you embrace someone? You open your arms to put your arms around that person and opening your arms, you’re making room in yourself for the other person.
And that is what we all need to do.
It doesn’t mean that I cease to be a Catholic when I am involved in inter-religious dialogue with a Muslim or that the Muslim ceases to be a Muslim.
Certainly that does not mean that I am trying to convert you to Catholicism nor you trying to convert me into Islam.
We’re trying to make room in ourselves for the other, that we might surface those areas of resonance—and certainly there are many points of resonance between Islam and Catholicism—and acknowledge the areas where we differ and then not permit those areas where we differ to prohibit us from working together for the betterment of society.
I very much appreciate Fethullah Gulen’s differentiation between a teacher and an educator.
I recall reading in one of his books, maybe a couple of his books that any human being can teach, but the number of those who are truly educators is severely limited.
An educator is one who also mentors their students, who spends an extraordinary amount of time with their students, who challenges their students not merely to parrot back what they learn but also to expand themselves to develop their personalities and to develop values.
And all of these things I have seen from my own experience in the Hizmet schools.
I would certainly and do regret any attempt to curtail or to condemn the Gulen Movement, the Hizmet Movement’s activities.
Because I look upon them, I look upon Mr. Gulen, I look upon the whole movement’s efforts as a shiny beacon in the Islamic world, a beacon of hope for the future.
I have seen and I have used the Hizmet movement as examples when I talk about how we should be, how a Catholic Church should be in dialogue with Islam.
I recommend his books in the classes I teach. At Mount Saint Mary’s College for example, as being reflective of what Pope Francis refers to as authentic Islam.
Pope Francis and others within the Catholic Church refer to Mr. Gulen’s teachings as authentic Islam.
I understand that many of the schools, perhaps even the schools that I have visited and been a part of there in Turkey, are threatened with closure. I think that would be a tragic loss.
How can anyone who is educating people and challenging people to the extent that the Gulen schools are challenging people, to grow… how can that be a threat to anyone who truly loves democracy?
**Profile: Fr. Alexei Smith served as an elected member of the Council of Priests of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for six years, and currently is a member of the Spirituality Commission of the Archdiocese. He served as president of the Interreligious Council of Southern California for five years. In 2007, he awarded the prestigious Religious Leadership Award of the Valley Interfaith Council.
*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!