My name is Steve Jolly**.
I am a pastor at Freemason Street Baptist Church in Norfolk, Virginia. I have been in clergy work for about 40 years, but I also have an academic side. I have a PhD in Sociology. So, the idea of studying cultures, the idea of stereotype and individual prejudices has also been an intriguing element of study for me.
So, my faith is very important but also to be a person who understands the differences within a culture and appreciates them is very important as well.
My personal views on the Hizmet Movement are extremely positive.
When you look at the construct of both interfaith dialogue and interfaith cooperation, what I believe very firmly is a group of Muslims who are living out the deepest part of their faith tradition.
It’s an extremely warm, loving, open-minded, open-hearted, dedicated-to-the-service-of-humanity movement, and I am very positively inclined towards it.
My opinion of Gulen is… I’ve read several of his books. The theological constructs out of which he operates are incredibly insightful. As a person whose own tradition is not of the Islamic background, to read his interpretation of Islam is both eye-opening and insightful. I think it brings a perspective to the table that most Americans, particularly Americans of the Christian tradition, would find very enlightening to understand that there is not this uniform, monolithic mindset within Islam but there are great textures of interpretation of understanding Islam as something that one indeed wants to submit to the will of God, but that we are all in this together, that this is an endeavor of care and concern for all persons, because, in the end, we are all in this together and regardless of our backgrounds, regardless of our culture, regardless of our faith traditions, it is a view that we are all God’s children and, therefore, all deserving of a sense of respect and care and that the least of us should be cared for.
To me, some of the most significant contributions that the Hizmet Movement and Mr. Gulen have brought to the table have been the idea that there is, within Islam, a structure of egalitarianism. That theology allows person to see each other across the table as fellow human beings on this journey of life.
Moving from that then, since we are in this together, one of the great contributions is the idea that we care for each other. We serve our world and we do so with a recognition that there is a diversity within God’s order. … Because service is so vitally important the idea that each individual has gifts and talents, gifts of time and treasure, of personality, to bring to the care and the service of God’s world, the idea is that one should make the best of the gifts and talents one has been given. So therefore, education is critically important.
The more educated I become, the more knowledgeable I become, the more tools that I have in this knowledge basket, the greater I can give service to my world. And therefore, what I bring is even more multiplied in the care of those who are in need.
The Hizmet Movement has been a marvelous force for good in our world.
If you’ll allow me to tell you a story out of my own tradition; my prophet, Isa, tells the story of a Samaritan who cares for a person who has been beaten, robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. The idea at the time is that a Samaritan is somebody who’s not accepted in society, they are someone different, they are odd, they are the stranger. And, here’s a person in need.
Two points; if you are the person who is robbed, the person who is in need, you don’t really care who comes to bind your wounds and care for you. But secondarily, it is a statement that we are all in this together, that caring for those who are in need is what God loves for us to do. And therefore, the Hizmet Movement is a blessing of God to those who receive the care that is given.
I’m a Baptist in my background. At the roots of the Baptist tradition, again it’s a very egalitarian tradition, and what it says is, my experience of God is a very personal, intimate experience; however, you have a personal, intimate experience with God. Rather than viewing your experience as somehow alien or different from mine, the earliest Baptist says; you have something to teach me about the nature of God. And, if I listen very carefully to you, I actually may know more about God than I will ever know on my own.
We each use the lens of our tradition, whether it is Jewish or Muslim or Christian, by which to understand and see that particular element, but it is being willing to be open of heart and mind to say; there is something here of value, the larger experience of God’s nature that we have to learn from each other about.
The Hizmet Movement presents an Islam which sees the breadth of God’s creation, that there’s a diversity of the human condition across the world, there’s a breadth of human intellect and thought, and yet it sees it all as God’s world. The Hizmet Movement is willing to embrace those in far corners of the world, who are willing to serve God, who are willing to experience God, who are willing to submit themselves to the understanding of God’s will.
So, Hizmet Movement has brought insight and wisdom, a warmth—if you will—to the Islamic tradition that most Americans are unfamiliar with and don’t experience in their daily lives.
My opinion of the Hizmet Movement’s interfaith dialogue experience has been absolutely fantastic.
Mr. Gulen has said, to the effect that, if you can listen with an open ear to someone else’s perspective—and this rings true with what I said earlier about my own tradition—is that you can understand another perspective, not only about that other person’s world and experience but perhaps even about that person’s experience with God. Therefore, to be engaged in a dialogue with a Buddhist, or a Christian, or a Jewish person is to encounter another way of experiencing the presence of God.
Interfaith dialogue allows not just tolerance but understanding. I may disagree with you about a particular perspective but if I understand it, I don’t see you as crazy or somehow outside of the bounds of civilized society. If I can understand how you come to the table on a particular issue then I know why your advocacy is in that direction; I know why you practice in the certain ways that you do.
Therefore, two things happen; number one, I can appreciate that in you and, number two, I understand that you and I are alike in the ways that we both carry these thoughts, perspectives that are ours.
It is a marvelous way of recognizing, again, we’re in this together. You and I are both children of God; we’re not that different at the core. Our traditions and our experiences may make us somewhat different in how we see our world, but we’re all God’s children.
The Hizmet Movement’s emphasis on education is twofold; number one, if I am well-educated, if I have taken the time to better my intellect, I come to the world with a greater—as I’ve said—toolbox on how to help the world improve. I may invent something; I may engineer something even better…
So, education is a way by which I can bring to the world a way to make it better.
The second thing that it does is, education introduces me to different ways of thinking, to approaching a situation. So, therefore, by my being educated I can understand you better. Through my education, I see your culture or that culture, and it’s not just an alien thing; it’s something which I may learn from and enhance my own living.
**Profile: Dr. Steve Jolly is a pastor at Freemason Street Baptist Church in Norfolk, Virginia. Besides 40 years of experience in clergy, Jolly holds a Ph.D. in sociology.
*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!.