The intellectuals shared their views of the movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, and how they have been impressed by the followers of the movement and the teachings of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement.
Gülen is a Turkish Islamic scholar well known for his teachings promoting mutual understanding and tolerance between cultures. Now residing in the US, he pioneered educational activities in a number of countries, along with efforts to promote intercultural and interfaith activities around the world. He has written more than 50 books in Turkish, some of which have been translated into several languages.
James Harrington, a human rights attorney and the founder and director of the Texas Civil Rights Project told Irmak TV that the Gülen movement is one that reaches out to people. Harrington, who is also the author of “Wrestling with Free Speech, Religious Freedom, and Democracy in Turkey: The Political Trials and Times of Fethullah Gülen,” said he has been very impressed by the teachers who work at Gülen-inspired schools.
"It's a movement that accepts science, is very open, tolerant and nonjudgmental… I am amazed at the dedication of the teachers. These folks that are teaching are really dedicated. It's not a 9 to 5 job. They stay with the kids at night. They work with them; they work with the families," said Harrington.
It has been nearly a quarter of a century since the first Turkish school was opened by Turkish entrepreneurs in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic in 1991. Now there are more than 1,000 schools in 160 countries. They are funded by generous Anatolians who are encouraged to open these schools by Gülen.
Gilbert Friend-Jones, senior minister at the First Congregational Church of Chrystal Lake in Illinois told Irmak TV the Hizmet movement seems to him to be about creating or envisioning a new world where people will live together in fellowship.
"There's a serenity and a peacefulness and a dedication… a generosity of spirit," he said.
Gülen has inspired a vast network of schools, charitable organizations, health institutions and cultural dialogue centers around the world.
According to Muhammad Shafiq, executive director of the Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue and a professor of Islamic and religious studies at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, it is possible to see education, spirituality and charity everywhere in the Hizmet movement, with an emphasis on all three of them in combination.
He said the Hizmet movement does not distinguish between a believer and a non-believer, a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew or an atheist or anybody else; it does not distinguish between those in the service of humanity.
The volunteers of the movement often have to confront grave conditions in countries they serve, ranging from Ebola-stricken nations in Africa to conflict-ridden countries in the Middle East.
Hizmet represents real Islam
For John Suthers, the former attorney-general of Colorado, Hizmet is a movement that represents Islam very well and shows a segment of Muslims that understand what it takes to survive, succeed and prosper in the modern world. Likewise, Roxanne Stoehr, an instructor of communication sciences and disorders at Southeastern Louisiana University, said she thinks the Hizmet movement and Fethullah Gülen himself represent a moderate and compassionate face of Islam.
"And I just have, I've met a lot of Muslims now, through the Hizmet movement, and they are the face, for me, of what Islam is -- which is compassionate, loving, inclusive and supportive people," Stoehr told Irmak TV.
Helen Rose Ebaugh, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Houston, also said she thinks the Hizmet movement is one of the moderate voices condemning terrorism and violence of any sort. "I'm hoping that now in the light of this increasing terrorism around the world, we'll hear more of the moderate voices," she added.
In the dozens of books Gülen has written, he promotes ideals such as peaceful coexistence with others, interreligious and intercultural dialogue, democratic values, altruism, deepening one's religious values and the fight against extremism and radicalism.
Particularly after the Sept. 11 attacks in the US, Gülen took a leading role in calling on Muslims to stay away from violence and extremism and remain loyal to the core values and real meaning of Islam.
Gülen was among the first to condemn the recent terrorist attacks perpetrated by the extremist terrorist organization the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Paris that left more than 100 people dead last month.
In a strongly worded statement, the scholar called on everyone to join in rejecting the terrorism “without ifs and without buts.”
Fouad Abdurrahman al-Banna, professor of Islamic political theory at the University of Taiz in Yemen, called on thinkers, researchers and academics to ponder carefully over the bridge Gülen built -- the bridge connecting reason with the heart. He said despite the weak and backward state of Muslims and the dominance of the West on their world of thought, Gülen focuses on universities, academies, schools, research centers and many other educational activities.
According to Safvet Halilovic, professor of Quranic exegesis and anthropology at the University of Zenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina, rather than expounding on Islamic rulings and judgments in his work, Gülen is emphasizing the spirit of Islam and its values.
"To me, the most important quality of Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi is his devotion to God as well as his gradual spiritual training and counseling. He thus becomes a source of inspiration to reflect upon the greatness of God Almighty," Halilovic said.
Yasmin Ratansi, a Canadian politician, has said she has been to some of the Hizmet schools in Toronto and thinks they do a fabulous job in not only balancing the academic curriculum but balancing their ethical behavior as well.
"And I think that comprises or that creates a complete human being -- by balancing your social and your intellectual capabilities together,” Ratansi said.
The Gülen movement came under immense pressure from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) after a corruption scandal that erupted with a wave of detentions on Dec. 17, 2013, involving senior members of the government. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan openly declared last year that he would do whatever it takes to eliminate the “parallel structure,” a term he invented to refer to alleged sympathizers of the movement within the state bureaucracy, even if this requires a “witch-hunt.”
As part of the smear campaign against Gülen and the movement, terrorism charges have been directed at Gülen and the people who follow his teachings despite the lack of any evidence to this end.
While the Turkish government is doing its best to crack down on the movement, Rabbi Stephen Booth-Nadav, a chaplain at Kavod Senior Life in Denver, says he thanks God that Mr. Gülen and his students have come to the United States.
"It has enriched our country already. It will continue to enrich our country. You have helped open dialogue and interfaith relationships in this country in a way that already has made a difference here," Booth-Nadav said.
Published on Today's Zaman, 19 December 2015, Saturday