My name is Rabbi Haim Beliak**. I’m pleased to be here today… I live here in Los Angeles, but I also work quite a number of months of the year in Poland with the Jewish community in Poland.
First of all, I have been charmed and intrigued by the wonderful attitudes and approaches of the Hizmet Movement.
But, the Hizmet Movement has been just disarming in its reaching out to people, its willingness to include and to dialogue with people.
I understand that there is a very serious part to the Hizmet Movement, but—listen—the most important thing when you meet somebody from the Gulen Movement is “Would you like some tea? How about some baklava? Let’s build a human relationship.” So, that has been a big part of being a part of this dialogue.
I have never met Mr. Gulen, but I have read some of his essays. I have, more importantly, met the people that he has influenced. So, I feel, in many ways, that I do know him from his works, from his activities and from the people he has inspired. Clearly, the work of Mr. Gulen has been to help people, think about what it means to be a religious person.
A religious person is, first and foremost, a person that approaches other human beings with a sense of awe, with a sense of respect, with a sense of wonder and friendship. So, Mr. Gulen has inspired that, not only in members of the Hizmet Movement but also in the fact that people who have participated in friendship meetings and so forth have had the opportunity to see the activities of people in Turkey and other places.
First of all, I think, one of the things that I find important about the Hizmet Movement is that it’s, first and foremost, not so much about doing. When you first meet people from the Hizmet Movement, one of the things that, frankly, may even put people off is that there is very little in the way of what I would call, “strings attached”.
You are welcomed, you are embraced, you are offered a meal, you are offered friendship and this builds trust. And I think that is a key thing that we have very little of. In many parts of the world, there is a sense that, why is this person being friendly, why is this person so generous? So, one of the things that is a key part of the Hizmet Movement is indeed how they welcome people.
Hizmet Movement is a great reflection on Islam because, as everyone knows, Islam is a very large mansion; it is not one thing. And Hizmet Movement is not only seeking the welfare of people who, let’s say, come from Turkey, but it is seeking for people to understand Islam as a living faith. Without being missionary, without seeking converts, the Movement seeks the welfare of the societies that it is a part of.
Openness, religious openness, and an interest in other people is one of the ways that Islam and especially Hizmet Movement is able to help in repairing the negative images that are so prevalent in Western society.
First of all, in America at least, interfaith dialogue has often been an opportunity for people to become discouraged because sometimes people will take on, what are called, interfaith projects; a pantry for people who are hungry, or some kind of activity that will target some kind of work together, and, with a lack of understanding, people will begin to discover one thing; that they each have a different approach if not spent enough time preparing the conversation, so that when they work together they have an understanding more or less of what should be the goal of their work.
So, the interfaith movement that I have participated in through the Gulen Movement has taken care to do the careful work of explaining the tenants of Islam, of inviting people to understand the historical context of the different countries in which Islam has participated in. And the interfaith dialogue has also helped us in the West understand that we don’t have a monopoly on insight and learning and a commitment to the good. It has forced a conversation that has allowed people to gain respect and dignity, to see that respect and dignity are a part of every culture, and that they are the goals of interfaith dialogue, not only in America, but now internationally as we think about a world that has not only monotheistic religions but other religions as well.
I think I have a pretty good sense that education is not at the center of most religious life anymore. It’s ancillary.
There are schools in America that once were connected to a certain faith. And here, the schools that are associated with the Hizmet Movement are not expressions of Islam, but they do have an ethos of respect for learning, respect for science, respect for the modern world’s benefits, at the same time that they convey us a sense of values that are religious without being one specific denomination or another.
The early work of Hizmet which was the founding of these dormitories to help people make the transition from areas where education was not so strong, rural areas, and making sure that those educational opportunities were available not just to the rich kids or the kids that were born with a silver spoon—so to speak—but to the children of people who were often poor, whose families didn’t have the means or the tradition of education.
When I met with people in one of the hospitals in Istanbul that’s sponsored, the hospital was a learning institution. There was a sense that the doctors and the nurses, the administration, were working for a higher purpose together, and that I think you see reflected in lots of Hizmet institutions, the sense of the community working with respect.
Just the name alone ‘Is Anyone There? Is Anyone Listening? Does Anyone Care?’ is the kind of a serious self-questioning that every religious person has to ask. It’s not a rhetorical question, it’s always a question to one’s self; Am I listening to the voice of the poor? Am I listening to the voice of the people less privileged?
We know from Biblical sources, we know from Quranic sources, from many religious traditions that sometimes wealth helps people to distance themselves from the poor, from the people who are less beneficial.
As I understand the lore of the Hizmet Movement, people who began to make a little money in Turkey could see that they were not dealing on the most basic level of subsistence but had extra would consult Mr. Gulen. And his response was; well, bring together friends and start a school, bring together friends and do something for the common good. And, the idea that a religious leader would be consulted and that the response would be do something with your wealth and do something with others, is echoed again, in just about every institution I’ve ever heard of that’s associated with the Hizmet Movement.
Kimse Yok Mu or other institutions have just been another way of expressing those same values.
Mr. Gulen is not the first person who has had to deal with questions around what he’s teaching and who has been the target of politicians who feel that they can try to manipulate things. So, I’ve been impressed with the way that people have stood with dignity in the face of these questions. It’s not an easy thing to do.
The easiest thing to do is, of course, fan the flames of suspicion. We’re right, they’re wrong; we’re superior and they’re inferior; we are ‘we’ and they are ‘them’; all those kinds of things that are used in political organizing to create a sense of group often lead to misunderstanding, to animosity. And, I see the movement trying to lead away from that kind of approach.
**Profile: Haim Dov Beliak is the Executive Director at Friends of Jewish Renewal in Poland. He is also the founder and spiritual leader of the HaMifgash (The Gathering), for the adult learners of Jewish learning. He served for 19 years as Chaplain and Hillel Rabbi for The Claremont Colleges.
*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! .