December 1, 2014

'The work of Hizmet followers is really tackling the fundamentals of what is needed in the society'

Fikir Atlasi*, Episode 20 (Full text)

I’m Chui L. Tsang**. I’m the President of Santa Monica College. I’m on my ninth year right now.

I came to know the Hizmet Movement through my involvement with the Pacifica Institute, and through some of the activities that I participated in the Pacifica Institute. The way that I came to know it is not that I wanted to find out about Hizmet Movement, but because of the work that Pacifica Institute was doing in promoting cross-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.

The kind of understanding that it’s trying to promote among different peoples of the world, beliefs, and backgrounds. I came to know some of the people and attended some of the functions, and through them, I learned about some of the actions that this Hizmet Movement is trying to find out.

And it’s not in any kind of a reading. But more like an observation of the activities, and the kind of dialogues that were taking place.

Hizmet Movement is represented by the people that I’ve met. I see that there is a common purpose of like-minded people, in a very grass-root way, coming together, pushing for some ideals that they believe in, in the society, and I’m touched by the genuine motivation of the people that I’ve met. I am impressed with the sacrifice that individuals that believe in this contribute to this collective goal that they are trying to reach.

And there are instances when I was in Turkey and also here in the US, I come across individuals and small groups of people who have contributed heavily to the this movement in their own efforts as well as in financial ways, far greater than I see what an average American would contribute to something they believe in.

There is a simple, deep belief in it and it’s very genuine, and I think that is really really impressive because that’s where the dedication is, and it has to be something that is for the greater good of the society that folks are doing that.

I think in Islam, as we know it, as it is presented to the public in the United States, it’s very negative because we see extremists being portrayed in a far greater proportion in the news media than we see how it is represented in everyday life of common people.

As in many other religions, it has its social values of spreading goodness, spreading love, and brotherhood amongst its believers, and, what I’ve met through with the people of the Hizmet Movement and the Pacifica Institute, what I see is really that side of the religion. It’s a universal love for each other, and there’s a gentleness in it, that is very different than what I see in the news and what is being portrayed typically in American news media… there’s the violence, there’s the extremists, the jihadist movements, and that’s almost exclusively that..

Hate does not advance the world, it does not improve human understanding, it will not bring us to a better place, yet the message that we hear is that, almost exclusively Muslim, is hate, and I know that that is not true. But, until one comes into contact with people who are really true believers, and they’re everything not like what we hear in the news watching TV or read about in the newspaper.

That’s when we come to realize that there’s also the other side of the religion, and I think it’s the bigger side of the religion that’s not being portrayed accurately in the media.

And, of course, in my dealings with people who are Muslim, the only people I have come across so far are folks who have been very sharing, who are willing to express themselves openly, and I didn’t detect any kind of hate, but, instead, accommodation and willingness to work with each other, and I think that is really important.

I think it’s extremely important, as an educator, as someone in an institution that deals with 30+ thousand students every year, that we allow our young people, our students to come to realize that they need to have a greater understanding of the different religions, and they are stepping into the world that’s much more complicated, in direction between the West and the rest of the world, are much deeper.

It would be very possible in their lifetime that they will have to deal with different people from different cultures, from different countries; they need to have a basic understanding of it, it’s not this caricature that we have of each other. Indeed, the world has improved over the years because we understand each other, or we’re willing to devote time to gain a better understanding of each other, not just to build walls separating us, and, as these walls come down, we need folks who have knowledge and the willingness and the empathy to want to understand each other, to work with each other, to make this a better place for us.

We cannot have enemies all around us. This is not how we want to live. We ought to be able to resolve issues by compromises, by negotiations, by gaining an understanding of each other, and not by going to war every time.

One of the examples of what I thought was very very impressive was that there’s this universal belief in providing education to children.

And, regardless of their background, and trying to promote the talents that are in people, boys and girls alike, they both have equal opportunities to access education. I thought that was something fundamentally important for any civilization, any group of people to move forward, that we provide these opportunities to the next generation, and as wide a scale as possible, so that we can create these knowledgeable people who can then help create this own way of living in an improved manner than it had been before.

And I think this cross-roads that we are seeing in many of the developing countries, and the little that I know about Turkey is that, in a way to become a modern society, to adopt many of the modern ways of democratic society and equality for all, it is an important step. We don’t have all of the answers, but I think we have got to find the answers, in order for us to find ways to combine the old values but in a modern society, in a modern way, where individual rights are respected, religious freedom is observed, and we’re doing it with a common goal of creating a better society for our people.

And so, I think it’s really important that we create these opportunities for our young people because with every person that we can add to the roster is another brain, another child being fostered, being nurtured and come to realize their potential.

And what better way is it then to have a massively well-educated population, to advance the country, to advance the living standards, to advance understanding for each other.

We know that education is really basic to a lot of the solutions that we can have. By having a larger, well-educated population, it only benefits society in the long run.

And, I think, the work that has been done by the followers of this thought, I think it’s really tackling the fundamentals of what is needed in the society.

**Profile: Dr. Chui L. Tsang is the President of Santa Monica College since 2006. Before Santa Monica College, Dr. Tsang served as President of San Jose City College for nearly nine years. Dr. Tsang earned a doctorate in linguistics from Stanford University. He has had a long and distinguished career in education, workforce training, economic development and nonprofits.

*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 20), © Spectra Media, 24 April 2014, Wednesday

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