My name is Dr. Gerald Grudzen. I live here in San Jose; I’ve lived here for over 30 years now and I teach at San Jose City College and Gavilan College and online for the University of Phoenix.
These are undergraduate institutions, but I also am President of Global Ministries University which is an international graduate program in theology and interfaith studies.
Well, I’ve been involved with the Hizmet Movement for about 5 years now, and I’m very impressed with the work of the Hizmet Movement both here in the United States, in Turkey and in other parts of the world, such as in Kenya, which I’m very much familiar with because I’ve been meeting with them and collaborating with them. We’ve done a variety of projects together, I’ve travelled with them to Turkey and we’ve done a retreat program here in the Bay area with the Hizmet Movement, bringing together Christians and Muslims.
So, I think the interfaith work of the Hizmet Movement and its charitable work, its educational work is a model for almost any religious group in the world today.
I would say that the most significant aspect of the Hizmet Movement is its interfaith work. We live in a world that is segregated by different types of classes, groups, religions.. and, in order for humanity to understand that we’re linked together as one family, we need to reach beyond our denominations and realize that we all share a common humanity and a common spiritual principle.
And, I think, in the modern world, since a lot of the spirituality has been secularized, what I like about the Hizmet Movement is that it’s a spiritual movement but it also is attempting to help humanity unite.
It’s not fundamentalist in the sense of some religious groups; it’s reaching out, it’s joining together and it’s doing service—so, hizmet means service.
I think the Hizmet Movement is probably the most…has the greatest outreach of any Muslim movement today in the world. You are in over a hundred countries. I’ve visited some of your schools; I’ve been to Bangladesh, I’ve been to Kenya, I’ve been to Turkey, and I’ve been to schools here in the United States also.
So I think that this outreach you’re doing is actually bringing humanity together in a way very few other movements can.
The focus of the Hizmet Movement on education, in particular, I think, is very encouraging, and I’m hopeful that we can spread this movement particularly in developing countries, like in Africa, where there’s a young population and education is the key to overcoming some of the sectarianism that we find in the world today.
Sectarianism divides people. The Hizmet Movement and what Mr. Gulen is inspiring is uniting people around spiritual ideals. And I like the idea in your schools that you don’t really teach religion directly; you teach ethics. I think that’s another hopeful sign that out of this spiritual movement you’re bringing people together of different religious-cultural backgrounds, but they’re uniting around a certain ethical principle of love and care for humanity and service of humanity.
If we can all share that ideal, then there’s a positive future for humanity. If we don’t do that, then I think it’s not as encouraging for the future.
But, I think you have done so much already, and I’m hopeful that you can continue to expand your movement.
Here in San Jose, I’ve been part of several interfaith conferences we’ve done with the Hizmet Movement; one at Santa Clara University, we did one on Sufism at City College. These interfaith programs that the Hizmet Movement sponsors—and I’ve been part of several of them, I went to the one in Chicago that we had, for example, I’ve been to Houston also—basically, they help to clarify what unites different religious traditions rather than separates them.
So, the idea of interfaith, which tries to show, for example, common ideals, common principles that different religions share—such as love for your brother and sister, the golden rule, the idea of non-violence as an ideal that pretty much every religion has—that these are some of the common themes that come out in these interreligious dialogue programs. And, people begin to feel, well maybe there isn’t such a big gap between my Muslim friends in my neighborhood and the Christians down the street; we all share a lot of the same ideals. We may practice different rituals, we have different ways to pray, but when it comes to the way we act toward each other, when we come together in interfaith programs—like I mentioned the retreat program we had—we actually appreciate, even more, what we have in common. And so, this has taken different forms, and, I think, the more we can do this, the better it is for humanity.
I like the schools very much because I know some of the schools are even in inner-city areas. Many of the schools are obviously interfaith and intercultural. So they bring young people together, and one of the things that is very clear when I visited some of the schools is the sense of commitment that the students have to these ideals but also to science and math education.
Many times, particularly in developing nations, the students do not have a strong background in science and math.
I like the idea of the Olympiads that you do where you bring together the students and they show their skills in science and math, because, if these developing nations are going to progress, almost in any part of the world, you need a strong math and science curriculum. These are not just parochial schools teaching, they’re not even teaching religion, they’re teaching ethical ideals, but they’re also giving the students the skills they need to be successful in the world and a lot of self-discipline—I like the fact that the teachers that teach in these schools bring a lot of commitment to the students. These schools are models—the ones I’ve seen—of success. So, most of these students go on to become very successful in their lives and also good people. So you emphasize both becoming a good person but also having the skills you need to function in the modern world. I see the Gulen schools as similar to the parochial schools that I went to growing up as a Catholic.
So I think there’s a role for these types of schools and they play a big role in helping to bridge the gap between… particularly in low-income areas. I’ve noticed that there’s also an emphasis upon recruiting students from all socio-economic backgrounds and I think that’s a very encouraging thing too.
When I went to Turkey, I visited the relief organization and saw the work that they’re doing in different parts of the world—they gave us a presentation, and I know the organization started at the time you had the big Turkish earthquake.
So, I think, any religious group or spiritual group has to be involved in charitable work, and I know that one of the pillars of Islam is doing charitable work.
And I know that, for example, the Hizmet Movement has been in many parts of the world, not just in Turkey.
So, this idea of philanthropic work of raising funds when there is need—for disasters in any part of the world—is part of our obligation as religious people, as spiritual people, as part of the human race, and I think you have become a model of that also.
So, in many areas I think you are active and doing good work. I’ve visited some of your work in even as far away as Bangladesh, where you have schools there and doing projects there, in a very poor country, in Kenya you’re active… So, you just don’t go to developed parts of the world, you’re involved in all parts of the world where there is need. I think that’s wonderful.
**Profile: Gerald Grudzen is a Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Religion at San José City College. He teaches Humanities, American History and Comparative Religion. He received his MA in Theology from the Maryknoll School of Theology. He completed his Ph.D. in History at Columbia University in New York.
*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!