July 4, 2015

Reverend Ficca: "Every tradition, every religious and spiritual tradition needs a Fethullah Gulen"

Fikir Atlasi*, Episode 32 (Full text)

My name is Reverend Dirk Ficca.**

I am an ordained Presbyterian minister who for the last 20 years has worked extensively in the Interreligious Movement. I served for 20 years with The Parliament of the World’s Religions, one of the world’s largest interreligious organizations, which has taken me around the world, introduced me to all the world’s religions, in all their cultural permutations. In the course of that, I began to bump into the Hizmet Movement in different places in the world.

Every tradition, every religious and spiritual tradition needs a Fethullah Gulen. It needs somebody who, on the one hand, holds onto the essence of the religious tradition without compromise, and, at the same time, helps practitioners of that tradition express it in new contexts, express it as time moves on, express it as human understanding in general increases.

For the Muslim world, at this point in history, Hocaefendi is doing that, for a significant portion of the Muslim world with some spillover to people of other traditions.

I find it, first, remarkable that Fethullah Gulen offers a fairly traditional, kind of, right down the middle, theological approach to Islam, and, in offering that very traditional theological approach to Islam; he says that the default position of Islam is peace.

He says this is not something optional; this is the essence of what traditional Islam teaches. He says that Muslims should be compassionate, kind, just towards other people—whether or not they embrace Islam. I find those two characteristics of his reading of the Islamic tradition, his interpretation of the Islamic tradition to be quite remarkable. He also is not afraid of modernity. He says that there are other kinds of knowledge that human beings can have apart from explicitly religious knowledge and that we should learn everything we can about the world, about what it means to be human, in a general way, that that is not in conflict then with the values and the perspective and the relationship to the Divine that religion offers.

I admire him so much because he has brought an intellectually credible synthesis of modernity with religious tradition.

It’s clear from the writings of Hocaefendi that dialogue is essential to Islam, not something additional. It’s at the core of the tradition, not something optional.

So, from his reading of the Prophet (pbuh), from his understanding of the revelation in the Qur’an and then the tradition of the Hadith, that to be Muslim is to, in fact, have to be in dialogue with others and that over much of its history Islam has not been fearful of interreligious dialogue. It had a kind of interreligious and philosophical confidence that it could engage with people of other traditions, perhaps learn from that, and yet, not be diminished as a tradition. So, I see that, again, in the people in the Hizmet Movement.

First of all, in some ways, the growth of the Hizmet Movement mirrors Fethullah Gulen’s autobiography. I see so much of what the Movement got into or how it developed as following the pattern of the evolution of the work of Fethullah Gulen. And early on, he saw the need for education, building on Said Nursi’s notion that the three most critical things facing the world was ignorance, poverty and social discord.

Education, learning about others, learning about the world is critical to addressing the ignorance question; not only for personal empowerment but also for the relations you have with other people. Education is a core need for human beings. So if, as a movement, you provide high quality education for young people, that’s going to create a value in the community but also respect.

I find, again, it’s amazing that the Hizmet Movement founds schools for general education, not to teach Islam. There’s a place for that certainly, the movement recognizes the place of that, but when it comes to education, this is about a general kind of education. And it’s remarkable that all these schools are devoted to that kind of education, and, again, I think that helps to build bridges between the Movement and other communities in the world.

Again, what’s very special about the Hizmet Movement being motivated out of an Islamic rationale expressing Islamic values, is that there is no partiality in terms of where they will provide humanitarian aid, that they’re willing to provide it in Muslim countries, and in non-Muslim countries, to people who espouse Islam, and those who espouse a different tradition or no religious tradition at all.

I’ve found that the approach, too, of the humanitarian aid goes beyond just disaster relief. I was able to visit a number of examples of humanitarian aid in the world where, sadly, the international aid organizations come in for 3-5 days or two weeks to provide much needed emergency service—water, food, sanitation, medicine—but then they have to move on to somewhere else in the world. But, it seems typical of the Hizmet Movement that they have a longer term view, that they stay with it longer, they provide resources for longer, that they begin the community in need to help build their infrastructure again so that they can take ownership in their life.

Everybody I’ve met says, “I serve this movement voluntarily, the minute somebody wants to tell me what to do I’m gone, but because I can freely choose how to work in the movement I am fiercely loyal to it and I will go to any place at a moment’s notice in terms of serving others through the Movement.” That’s a remarkable characteristic. The two sides of that; I make up my own mind, I choose to do this myself, and therefore, I choose to do it freely.

A phrase I kept hearing over and over again is “solely for the pleasure of God”. I have yet to encounter a Hizmet school named for a donor; I’ve yet to find a Hizmet hospital or community center where it’s named for the person who gave money. And the people—largely the middle-class business people—who are providing the millions of dollars for the Movement, they don’t want credit. They don’t want anybody to know that they’ve given this money. In fact, in a way, they see it as diminishing the spirit of generosity if they get some side benefit from getting some accolades for giving the money.

I’ve heard some people say that to serve others so that I get to Paradise also cheapens the nature of the service. I don’t serve others so that I get to go to Paradise; I serve others solely for the pleasure of God. This is what pleases God and, either in this life of the life beyond, I do it for its own sake. And that’s a remarkable characteristic that I found in Hizmet people around the world.

As somebody who has come to respect and admire the Hizmet Movement, it is very painful to see what’s happening currently in Turkey. To see how the Movement is being defamed, to see how the good work of the Movement is being thwarted, that’s very hard and painful to see.

One of the things I admire about Hocaefendi is the way he has threaded the needle in the relationship between civil society and politics. My understanding is that when the current prime minister was elected, and the current prime minister said, I have a commitment to democratic society, we have a constitution currently that was written in 1980 during a military coup, that we need a new constitution, we need to recognize the full rights of minorities, such as Alewites, Armenians and Kurds in our own country, that the Movement was in favor of those values and that direction, so they said, we will support this party and this prime minister because you are pursuing those goals.

And, of course, it’s always tricky when you do that and some people say, aa you’re really showing your cards now, you’re really a political movement, not a civil society movement. And the movement said, no.

Then, when the prime minister backtracked and began to back away from that full commitment to democracy, then the movement criticized those actions.

I think Fethullah Gulen has said it very well and very succinctly; we have not moved, we are—and continue to be—where we are at in favor of working for true democracy out of the context of civil society. It’s the political game in Turkey that has shifted. And, my guess is that the people committed to the movement were always committed to the movement for its values, its principles, its ideals, not for some kind of personal benefit. And now that the movement is currently under siege, they’re not going to abandon the movement. They’re going to continue to be where they have been, and, probably, this will only deepen the commitment of those in the movement as they experience this turmoil.

**Profile: Dirk Ficca is a Presbyterian Minister in Chicago. He is the Executive Director of the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions. He also directs the Metropolitan Chicago Interreligious Initiative. He teaches at DePaul University, the Lutheran School of Theology, and Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary.

*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 32), © Spectra Media, 19 May 2014, Monday

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