April 10, 2015

Gülen presented with prestigious award for dedication to peace

Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen has been presented with a prestigious peace award in recognition of his “life-long dedication to promoting peace and human rights” at Atlanta's Morehouse College, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s alma mater.

 Fethullah Gulen was given the 2015 Gandhi King Ikeda Peace Award
Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen was given the 2015 Gandhi King Ikeda Peace Award during a ceremony held in Atlanta on April 9, 2015.

The Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College honored Gülen with its 2015 Gandhi King Ikeda Peace Award on Thursday for promoting ideas shared by the world's leading peace and civil rights activists. Past recipients of this award include Nobel laureates Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Michael Gorbachev, as well as Rosa Parks.

Representatives of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel, which has presented the award since 2001, say the award is designed to promote the importance of positive social transformation by honoring “those who demonstrate extraordinary global leadership toward reconciling differences.”

Alp Aslandoğan, the president of the Alliance for Shared Values -- an umbrella body for US-based organizations affiliated with the Gülen movement -- accepted the award on behalf of Gülen. Aslandoğan said Gülen was unable to come to the award ceremony due to his medical condition.

“I am humbled,” Gülen said in a statement read by Aslandoğan after he received the award. “I can only accept this award on behalf of the participants of the Hizmet movement who devoted themselves to serving fellow humans without expecting anything in return,” Gülen said. Hizmet -- which means “service” in Turkish -- is used interchangeably to refer to the Gülen movement.

Gülen hailed sympathizers of the movement scattered across the world in his powerful statement, recognizing educators who defy sub-freezing climates thousands of miles away from their homes and those who continue to keep their schools open in northern Iraq despite the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), a notorious group of militants that overran large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria last year.

The Gülen movement has spread to more than 160 countries around the world and has a vast network of schools, charity organizations, health institutions and cultural dialogue centers. The volunteers of the movement often have to confront dire conditions in countries they serve, ranging from Ebola-stricken nations in Africa to conflict-ridden countries in the Middle East.

In recognition to their sacrifices, Gülen commended the activists, volunteers and educators in those countries, mentioning in particular Nigeria and Afghanistan, who provide educational opportunities to girls. He also praised the doctors, nurses and humanitarian relief workers who serve in Somalia and Sudan in difficult conditions as well as entrepreneurs who "compete in donating to charitable causes despite facing economic hardship themselves."

“These devotees of love who come from different nations, religions, and ethnic backgrounds are the ones whose work is recognized with this award,” Gülen said. “They are the ones who seek happiness in the happiness of others. What unites them and the pioneers of human rights in Asia, in Africa, in the United States, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and all around the world is their commitment to humanity. To hold every human as dignified and to be committed to the dignity of every human is a sign of respect for their Creator,” the Islamic scholar added.

Lawrence E. Carter, the dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel, presented the award to Gülen, saying he is honored to present the peace award to a Muslim religious leader for the first time.

"We're honored today to present this award to Fethullah Gülen... who contributes to global peace. ... We're honored because he has expressed that humanitarian value and morality is a shared value of every human being," Carter said, adding that the college is also honored to present the award to Gülen because he has raised his voice loudly against suicide bombing attacks and has said that jihad cannot be done by killing innocent people.

Scott Alexander from Chicago's Catholic Theological Union delivered the keynote address to explain about the Gülen movement to hundreds of participants who filled the hall from across the US. He hailed the Gülen movement for its activities, praising its volunteers who travel thousands of miles around the world with “their hearts and pockets only full of sincerity.” He noted that Gülen is honored not just because he has a “great soul” but also for his contribution in promoting education.

Alexander noted that Gülen could be considered a modern-day Moulana Jalaluddin Rumi, a great sufi mystic and poet known for his preaching of tolerance seven centuries ago. Recalling that Gülen promotes peace and tolerance in his educational activities across the world, Alexander hailed the volunteers of the Gülen movement for possessing "compassion. "

Canvas portrait of Fethullah Gulen
Canvas portrait of Fethullah Gulen
unveiled at the award ceremomy.
The organizers of the event unveiled a canvas portrait of Gülen, which will be put alongside other past recipients of the award in the chapel.

On the margins of the award ceremony, the Atlantic Institute -an interfaith dialogue center based in Atlanta -is holding a conference on the role of social and religious movements in fostering education and peace-building in collaboration with Soka Gakkai International, a worldwide Buddhist movement. The conference includes speakers from across the world. The organizers said the conference aims to show how “peace in today's turbulent world can be achieved through informal, apolitical, educational, and grassroots mechanisms.”

Published on Today's Zaman, 10 April 2015, Friday