November 23, 2014

'Hizmet is really something that demonstrates what's universal about Islam.'

Fikir Atlasi*, Episode 17 (Full text)

My name's Kathleen Moore**, and I'm a professor of Religious Studies, and chair of the Religious Studies department at UC Santa Barbara.

The Hizmet Movement is something that I've gotten to know over the past several years by taking trips to Turkey and by going to the Anatolian Festival, by visiting many of the schools and the hospitals and the dialog centers and, but what has been most valuable is meeting the people that I've known over the years, that identify themselves with Hizmet, meaning service. And so they've really demonstrated, in this encounter, the values that are the core of Hizmet. And, you know, those are about hospitality, and, you know, the genuine empathy and warmth that I've experienced with my relationships that are growing. People who identify with the Hizmet Movement really have influenced the way I view it, in that I can see that it's gonna have a lasting impact, because Hizmet is really something that demonstrates what's universal about Islam, for the members of the Hizmet Movement, that there are universal values that you find in other faith traditions as well. For instance, if I might say, I am the Board of Directors president of a non-profit organization in Santa Barbara, which is called the Interfaith Initiative. And so, we get into interfaith dialog with many groups, and I find that the Hizmet Movement is the one that has been the most sustained group that is committed to genuine dialog, to really talking about all of it. Not just the best parts of their tradition, but every part of the tradition. And connecting what that means for their lived experience; commitments to taking care of people, to disaster relief, to feeding people. I've been invited to people's homes for Ramadan dinner, and it's, you know, when you engage in dialog with that level, at the personal level, in people's homes and not just at formal luncheons or friendship dinners or talks, that really true dialog happens. And so, you know, I think that they've really got something in the Hizmet Movement.

Obviously Fethullah Gülen has had a great impact on young and middle-class Turks and Muslims, that he is able to inspire the growth of so many schools, and to inspire people who are in the business world, to be able to go out and volunteer, and also contribute, not just of their money, but of their time, in promoting the ends of their charities.

Hizmet Movement represents Islam in the sense that the members who identify with the Hizmet Movement are really inspired and motivated, for community service and for their professional lives, from the values that they locate in Islam. And some are very universal values, like the concept that God is merciful. And so they represent Islam in the sense that these kinds of things, that are not specific only to Islam but that they have in common with other faiths, are very important, and that becomes a basis for the dialog. And there's, in the interfaith movement, there's a man named Krister Stendahl, who was a Lutheran bishop, who was located in Stockholm for many years, but at the end of his life he came to the United States and taught at Brandeis University. And he established three rules of interfaith understanding, which I think are very important. And the third rule is one that's called “pious envy.” And his point was to say, you know, you may see something in another person's faith that you really like, but you're not allowed to appropriate that and make it your own. You know, you need to respect boundaries. In other words, if you see something in another faith tradition that you like, you can admire it, but don't try to adopt it and claim it as your own. And that is really, I think, the basis for a lot of mutual respect between religious traditions. And what I really like about the Hizmet Movement is that I see that demonstrated in their approach, is that there is a recognition of the universal things that we all have in common, but then there are certain things that are specific to Islam, that when I go on the trips, you know, to Turkey, for example, I see and admire, but I've learned how to live with the ambiguity, the desire to want to have that for myself but not to pursue that. You know, to respect that it has its place and its time, and for a reason. And an example of that is to go to Turkey, like to go to Konya, which is a really beautiful city, you know, where the Seljuq Empire, and the history there, and to go to Rumi's tomb, and watch as worshipers go through Rumi's tomb, and the great devotion that they show, and the whirling dervishes and so forth, that is specifically, you know, a manifestation of Islam, and something I admire and I'm drawn to, but, and I know that there are other pilgrimages around the world where, you know, the same kind of devotion, or similar devotion is demonstrated. But this is something, in my mind, that creates an impression that this is what Islam is really about. And so, that's what Pacifica Institute and the Hizmet Movement have given to me, is to be able to experience that for myself, to remember, to be reminded of that rule of pious envy, that this is something that is valuable, I see in another religion, it’s not part of my own, but I've been blessed to be able to witness it, and to be able to empathize.

A key difference between the Hizmet Movement and other social movements in the Muslim world, the Mediterranean region, and so on, is that the Hizmet Movement really is dedicated to dialog across boundaries. And the Hizmet Movement doesn't serve just Muslims. It's there to serve the needs of the world. So, in disaster relief, you know, there's never a second thought given to where they're going to go; they go where they're needed. In education, you know, as I've said, they educate the whole person, and it doesn't matter whether the person's Muslim or not. And the Hizmet Movement is really inspired by Gülen's philosophy, and the message that it isn't about the “I,” it's the “I” within the whole. And it's an organic, holistic system, and so there's a real conscious emphasis placed on how the actions of individual members of the Hizmet Movement have ramifications for the rest of the world.

I was really impressed visiting Hizmet schools in Turkey, even in places that were far from city centers. They would build these enormous and well-appointed schools, and it was clear that there was a lot of money, you know, donated to create these schools that were then used to promote science and technology and mathematics, and subjects that are really important for an educated person, and that they made this education available to all, regardless of their income level, their ability to pay for it. So sometimes, you know, private schools are pushing the envelope, and challenging national schools to be able to keep up. And some of the places we visited in Turkey were of that model. They were really kind of on the cutting edge, and shamed the national schools to be able to try to meet the new bar that they had set.

Charitable activities of a group that serves people regardless of their faith tradition is really, you know, the model. I think that being able to give charity or to give disaster relief where it's needed is really the highest priority. And when we break up into our own ethnic or religious or national groups, then we're really dividing rather than uniting, and so it does no good for a Muslim to say, to criticize a Muslim organization because they're serving those beyond the Muslim community. It's counterproductive.

**Profile: Dr. Kathleen Moore is the professor and the chair of Religious Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara. She received her doctorate from University of Massachusetts Amherst. Kathleen wrote several books about Muslims in United States, Muslim women in America and Islamic law. She teaches courses like Muslim Diasporas and the law, introduction to religion and politics, Islam in America, and law, religion and secularism, and religious liberty.

*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 17), © Spectra Media, 18 April 2014, Friday

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