My name is Allen Maller**. I am a rabbi. To be specific, I am a Reform rabbi.
My first trip to Turkey was a long time ago. Since that time, I have been back three or four times.
As I mentioned before, we have been to Turkey on several occasions. Once we went on a tour of educators, and we visited a school in Konya. My wife is a teacher and so were many of the people on this, educators’, it was actually a religious leaders' tour. And so we all were quite impressed by the school that we saw, in terms of, not just the physical plan, which was very nice, but even more important, what we saw going on in the classrooms; the way the teachers were, the way the children were. First of all, they seemed very excited about being in school and learning. We were told about the curriculum. And I know that, because I met several people who were involved as teachers in Hizmet schools, not just in Turkey, but in, we met one who'd been in Afghani—, not Afghanistan, in, I think, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, I even met somebody here who'd spent a couple of years in Taiwan in a Hizmet school. So I was impressed, number one, by how excellent the schools were in Turkey itself, and number two, by the fact that here was a Turkish movement, and there's obviously a lot of work to be done in Turkey with improving education, and yet, some of their resources and some of their personnel were involved all around the world in different schools. There are even Hizmet schools now in the United States.
I appreciate the openness, the fact that one doesn't simply do something … I mean, you have to take care of your own people, obviously, but one can do that and feel that you have a responsibility elsewhere. And it's to Hizmet's credit, and all the people in Turkey who support it, that, that they have a school system like that.
Actually, we visited the elementary school in Konya, we also visited a college in Istanbul—university—as well as a, I guess kind of a business college, or teaching English school, all of which I understand were affiliated with Hizmet. And we talked to some of the students. And I think that one of the advantages of a state school, and a state school that has a commitment to a religious outlook on life—which I can appreciate as a rabbi—is that there's a sort of idealism, that you don't get in an ordinary state school. And that's really what I felt in talking to the people, that they were students who felt that it was not just that they were being educated to make a difference primarily in terms of their own life and their own benefit, but that they were being educated to feel that they had to make a contribution to the overall society, in terms of their own personal integrity, their own personal commitment to, to doing good. The Koran says that you're supposed to prescribe the good, you know, and I get the feeling that Hizmet schools really lived up to taking that commitment seriously.
Today we're in a world where everybody is interacting, and Hizmet seems to me to be a very good representative of the best in Islam, in terms of being open, feeling a responsibility to the world, and the pluralism that is evidenced in the Koran, which tells us to respect all the prophets and all the people of the book.
I've been studying Islam off and on since I was a college student.
The last several years I've been studying with several Imams who are products, I guess, of the Hizmet Movement. I think they went to their schools, they were involved with the Movement here, and it's just wonderful to be able to study with people who share a common commitment to respecting other religions, not having the kind of narrow-minded fanaticism that we see in too many parts of the world.
It's really important. Unfortunately, there has been, especially in the last ten, twenty years or so, and after, in this country, the United States, after the World Trade Center attacks, people who take advantage of Islamophobia. That you should be afraid somehow; the Muslims are going to take over, gonna introduce Sharia law, and everybody's gonna have to wear a veil, or other ridiculous things, and, unfortunately, there are some people who hope to convert Muslims to Christianity, who use that fear for those purposes, mixing politics and religion, which is always a terrible thing to do. And Hizmet provides a model for people to see, not just in this country, but all over—the United States, Canada, and Europe, Asia—that that's not true Islam. True Islam is really a religion that supports pluralism, and all Jews know that basically Jewish life under Islam was always much better than it was under Christian domination.
Hizmet, I think, is the embodiment of the good forces. There are always some narrow-minded forces around, and it's important to have the good forces there, to keep them under control, and to keep them from setting public policy, and really, disgracing the name of God, and profaning the name of God.
And I think that any movement—and Hizmet is a movement like that—that contributes to the non-Muslim world's understanding of Islam is contributing to the future peace of …and not only peace… I don't mean by peace just that we’re not gonna have war, not gonna have conflict; I mean more than that. I mean, you know, it's like, Salaam, it's like, Shalom, in Hebrew.
Peace is a kind of wholeness. It's a harmony.
I remember reading something that Gülen wrote some time ago, where he speaks about, you know, an orchestra, where people play different instruments, and they actually have different things to play, I mean, they don't all play the same sheet music. Each one plays according to his instrument. But there's one conductor, and there's one composer. So, each of us has our one prophet who brought us the Book. And, of course, the composer we know is all, the same One. And you don't have a symphony if you don't have people with different instruments. If you had eighty-four people with violins, and nobody playing anything else, it wouldn't be a symphony. And that's the richness of the symphony, and that's why people want a symphony when it's got twenty or thirty or forty members, and not just when it's got five or ten, and lots of different instruments, 'cause they can do lots of different things. The composer composes for an orchestra playing different instruments. And if we understand that, that, I think, would help to alleviate a lot of the tensions, the suspicions, the hostilities that exist between people. 'Cause when you get to know people on a one-to-one basis, you always find that they're much better than what you hear about the mass, the stereotype, the propaganda.
**Profile: Rabbi Allen Maller is a graduate of UCLA and the Hebrew Union College. He was the spiritual leader of Temple Akiba for 39 years, and now is President of the National Jewish Hospitality Committee. Maller has taught at Gratz College in Philadelphia, Hebrew Union College, University of Judaism, and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
*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!