My name is William Martin. I am Emeritus Professor Sociology at Rice University, and currently, the Senior Fellow for Religion and Public policy at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, also at Rice.
I have been associated with some members of the Hizmet Movement for, now, 12 years since about 2002. And, as I have gotten to know individuals, particularly here in Houston, we have developed, I think, some real friendships and I have gone to their homes during Ramadan, we have shared a number of meals at lunch time at other situations. So, I feel like I have some real friends whom I look forward to seeing and enjoy their interaction.
Going beyond that, when I have traveled to Turkey and gone to a number of the homes of people and talking with them, what I have been impressed with, as much as anything… often they give us gifts, and rather lavish gifts and I brought a little refrigerator magnet from Houston, I feel sort of foolish about it, but beyond that, talking with people who will talk about the number of scholarships they have paid, bursaries for students and see people a very modest means and find out that they are supporting 25, or 50, or 100 students to go to the schools there. I am just overwhelmed by the generosity and also the kindness that I feel in response, so the idea that these are Muslims who are trying to do evil to you is just incomprehensible to me, so I would say in that my experience has been one of a great warmth and appreciation and I think I have grown intellectually from that and also grown personally and my heart is larger and fuller for that experience.
It seems to me that the Hizmet movement represents a healthy alternative to many forms/many expressions of Islam that we see around the world which people are acting on the basis of what they believe to be the authentic Islam. And a lot of that has very negative and destructive outcomes. It seems to me that the Hizmet movement, as I have seen it, is much more modern, much more involved with particularly education which as an educator it strikes me very positive and also with trying to interact with non-Muslims in Houston and elsewhere in a straightforward and healthy way.
I have read some of Mr. Gulen’s writings but not a great many of them. As a matter fact much of my impressions of Mr. Gulen comes through members of Hizmet, his people who are attracted by his teachings and inspired by them. So, for that reason I have a very positive view of him. What I have seen his emphasis on education, his emphasis or approval of engaging in the business world in a straightforward and significant way and also importance of dialogue and condemnation of violence. I am also much impressed by my understanding that he believes that religions people have a right to participate in government as equal participants. That he believes in the separation of religion and government, which is in the US separation of church and the state, that my own feeling about this is religion is best able to flourish when the state itself is not governed by religion where all people have an opportunity to practice their religion freely. The US has done that in, I think, an exceptional way perfectly. We can’t say other countries should do this but I think we can commend them to do it and feel good about that accomplishment.
I think that the Hizmet movement represents a very positive view of Islam. Because Islam historically produced some of the great science in the world. And instead of saying “we know all about science and let’s stop studying it, Hizmet movement emphasized scientific education. That’s very positive. I think it is also shown historically Jews and Christians were treated, well they were subordinate, but they were treated generally well in many Islamic countries. And now there is a greater emphasis on equality and dialogue with non-Muslims which I think is quite positive.
So, basically entering in the modern world. Modern world is pluralistic. There is no getting around that. And the efforts to try to get everybody shape into one way is bound to fail. It can exist in an authoritarian way for a short time but it doesn’t hold up. I think that Mr. Gulen and the Hizmet Movement recognize the pluralism as inevitable in the world and said let us learn to live with that rather than we can stuff it all in a box.
I think what I have seen particularly in Houston, Texas is very positive in this respect. I am personally aware of a great many people from other religious traditions who come to events at now the Turquoise Center or its earlier versions when there wasn’t such a fine facility and have met with Muslims and said we can share this and help us to see there is an openness to appreciation of other people’s faiths without saying “I must believe that, I must convert you to that. That has created an atmosphere in which people can share their views honestly and openly without feeling they are either being oppressed or make others feel oppressed for feeling different.
I will tell you how I first became aware of these schools in a dramatic way. We were visiting Urfa. We were up on a high hotel and looked out over the city which is mostly low setting. And there were I believe three rather tall buildings and I asked our guide Mr. Muhammed Cetin “what are those?” “Those are our schools.” And that day we visited those schools and I was really impressed by modernity of them and I asked questions to see the students there were excelling. Some were going to American and European universities and universities of Turkey. Seeing how important this was.
Well of course charity is a basic principle of Islam. In expanding that beyond just your neighborhood to other countries, I think that is an example where hizmet is exemplifying one of the basic principles of Islam. And that is all quite positive. I am happy for it. And I have seen the fountain of that in Istanbul. It is also important to recognize that charity is important but it shouldn’t be a short term thing. So it is more important to work for changes that can make charity less necessary. You educate people so that they do not need charity. It is good to work in soup kitchens but it is better to work for situations so people do not need soup kitchens. I think opening schools is one of the most positive things that Hizmet Movement does that I am aware of. That does not root out the need for charity. People fall into situations particularly in situations of disasters, immediate needs where charity will save lives. I am by no means opposed to charity. I contribute to charities that is most worthy. I just make the point that the long term effects of the Hizmet Movement much more largely come through education and spreading through business , banking and things of that sort to facilitate the rise of economic independence in a number of places is beneficial. And charity.. without charity is not a good thing.
Many people are frightened by things different from themselves. One of the secrets of religious fundamentalism and also political fundamentalism is to stay within your shell. Just don”t interact with anybody else because some people we know have interacted with other people and they’ve changed their minds. They have changed in different kinds of ways. As long as you keep your blinders on, you will be just fine. When you open yourself up to someone else, there is always the possibility that you will not convert them and you may change in the process. That can be very frightening to people. We know that in Christian fundamentalist communities or in Islam there is not just talking with people who are not Muslims but talking with people who are the wrong kind of Muslims and wrong kind of Christians. I studied Christian fundamentalism a good bit. There were Christian groups who would not associate not just with this group but anybody associated with this group. So they would just try to remain pure and try to draw a circle around and shut the people out. That can be one aspect of it. I think, from what I know about Turkey, not being expert, you can also have a dimension, that for members of Hizmet to be interacting with people who are not Muslims may seem to people who are in power and have been in power for a long time as a way to gain greater acceptance in the world and influence and power in Turkey. And that can be not simply for religious reasons or even for secular reasons but can be a threat to people’s position. And that could be one aspect.
**Profile: Professor Emeritus in the Department of Sociology at Rice University. He currently works at the Baker Institute at Rice University. He taught courses on Religion, Public Policy and Drug Policy. He received numerous teaching awards, including a Lifetime Award for Excellence in Teaching. He received his Ph.D. at Harvard Div. School in Religion and Society. He authored A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story.
*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!.