May 2, 2016

'Hizmet is a movement with principles, with spirituality that appeals to people'

Fikir Atlasi*, Episode 44 (Full text)

My name is Jim Harrington**. I am the director of the Texas Civil Rights Projects. I also teach at the University of Texas.

Well, I think I first got introduced to Hizmet Movement back in 2008, which is about 6 years ago. And I think my views over the period of that time have obviously changed and grown. I have come to see the Hizmet Movement really as a community service organization but service in a deeper sense, not just providing food or else but also trying to build a community working with people and the community, different faiths, different economic groups. So I see that, that kind of movement that has some depth to it and also motivated by folks and their faith.

My views about Fethullah Gulen are pretty interesting in the way that they have developed. Because when I first went on interfaith trip to Turkey I knew nothing about Turkey, nothing about Islam and nothing about the movement. So as I learned more and more, you know you never get a good picture, it evolves and I ended up writing a book the political trials that happened in 2000. And I think as I was writing the book I got a greater knowledge of course of Mr. Gulen and people in the movement. And after the book was published, I actually went and met him. I think what I see in terms of Fethullah Gulen is the ability to inspire people and is the ability to get people think about their own spirituality outside of themselves. And also to be part of the community.

And I think the other interesting thing he has done, you know he is coming out of the Sufi tradition. What is good about that is that he has a very wide view of world. It’s a movement that reaches out to people; it’s a movement that accepts science is very open, tolerant and nonjudgmental. And probably many religious groups are judgmental. You have to be in this group or you’re out. I think inclusiveness is important. I think it’s particularly important to show that to Americans or to different parts of the world where Islam is relatively new.

The more knowledge we have theoretically at least we ought to be more understanding and more tolerant. But or I should say and what I come to learn is the other good part of dialogue is that it’s also helpful to yourself. I think my building a acquaintance with folks who are in Sufi tradition. I mean that has help my own spirituality. I look at Rumi for example or some of the Sufi mystics and go let me see what’s going on in Christian traditions or the Jewish tradition. Because I think ultimately at the end of the day I get to the same place. We all agree on that. We have different ways to get there, different paths. And I think dialogue is good in that way. It’s not just tolerance but it’s also growth.

For a Christian to say I don’t need to a Muslim because I belong to the true faith doesn’t work. I mean we have to…. The same thing vice versa. Fro a Muslim to say I don’t want to talk to a Christian because I belong to the true faith is to say that we can’t grow from each other. We can grow from each other, we do grow from each other. The question is are we afraid. And many people are afraid of dialogue. And I think people afraid of dialogue are people that aren’t grounded enough in themselves.

I see a lot of criticism going on these days particularly in Turkey in the political turmoil that PM has caused. I think part of the criticism that’s going on is because he recognizes the threat in a sense of Hizmet because of the integrity of the movement. This is a movement with principles this is a movement with spirituality that appeals to people. When Hizmet criticizes something in the government, it is a very serious criticism on the behalf of the PM. He feels threatened. I think people have to understand that dynamic. If Hizmet was not doing a good job it would be criticized. The fact that it’s being criticized means that it is actually doing good work. Hizmet has a challenge to the way business has been done in Turkey. People though there was gonna be a lot more change with the AKP Party. It turns out that it’s not. In many respect,it’s continuation of the way government had been going on. And part of that continuation is that “we don’t like Hizmet telling us what we need to be doing a better job. “ It’s an opposition.

I think any time you have an organization like Hizmet that is driven by principles other political principles, principles of religion or spirituality that sort of thing. There is always gonna be criticism. Because people don’t like if you’re living in the status quo people don’t like to see –either by word or by example, that they shold be doing better. So as human being we tend to criticize anything that is different or makes us uncomfortable rather than looking at them. Movement for example,what is the message the movement is giving me. I mean how can you possibly fault an education program, how can you possibly fault hospitals, how can you possibly fault getting the kids ready to go to college. So, those are all good things. Maybe what’s going on with people sometimes is that they do not want to become as involved or they don’t want to become as generous. So there is criticism.

I think the fact that schools are everywhere and Hizmet committed itself to these schools is terrific. You know around the world. I am particularly happy to see them in poor areas where kids would not have the quality education they’re getting from Hizmet schools. I think it’s a tremendous work. I think Fethullah Gulen was totally right when he said “what we need are more schools not mosques” I think the same thing when you look at the US, when you look at Texas you see huge churches going up. They are next to communities where kids do not get good education. The way you become a very good person a good member of the society and develop spirituality is through education. Really is through education. So it’s so important.

I am amazed at the dedication of the teachers. These folks that are teaching are dedicated. It’s not a 9-to-5 job or an 8-to-5 job. They are dedicated. They stay with the kids at night. They work with them they work with families. It’s a part of that spiritual component I was mentioning earlier that helps people in their work. It’s not like I’m going out to make living… I get make and then I go home. But I am dedicated. This is part of my mission in life is to help kids get educated. So I think the schools are terrific.

I think running any sort of charitable foundation anywhere is good. You know we do it in the US. We have Christian groups that go to Muslim countries or go to non-Christian non-Muslim, Hindu societies. Just part of our own religious beliefs and spirituality is sharing. We share in the sense that we don’t put strings on it. “Here’s some food. You need food. You don’t have to become a Christian when you eat. My job as a Christian is to feed you. And the same thing. We ought to respect the religious groups doing the same thing. The movement has set up a foundation that helps in earthquakes, typhoons and floods and I’m sure helping in the situation in the mines. It’s good. Go help folks in other parts of the world. Whether they’re Christian or non-Christian or whatever. It doesn’t matter I think ultimately, right. Our duty is to serve people. Our duty is to help people. It doesn’t matter what believe they have.

**Profile: Human rights attorney and the founder and director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. He is graduate of the School of Law, University of Detroit. He taught at the University of Texas School of Law as an Adjunct Professor for 26 years. He served on human rights delegations in different areas of the world. He is the author of: Wrestling with Free Speech, Religious Freedom, and Democracy in Turkey: The Political Trials and Times of Fethullah Gülen.

*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 44), © Spectra Media, 04 June 2014, Wednesday