My name is Dr. James Puglisi and I work at the Campus Ministry office at St. Edward’s University in Austin Texas, a Roman Catholic University.
And I also serve on the advisory board for the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest here in Austin.
I have not had the opportunity to meet Mr. Gulen—I would like to. He actually lives in my home state, Pennsylvania.
From the writings I’ve been able to enjoy what he’s written. I find appreciation for the intellect that he brings to the interfaith movement, his promotion of citizenship—I believe—of people being involved in their communities, whether it’s from their faith perspective, whether it’s Islam, Christianity, Judaism, whatever… but that we bring our values into our life in the community, and that’s a good thing.
We are all value-centered people. So, I find that a very positive thing about him. His own personal history is actually very similar to the founder of our university, the religious order that founded our university, both wanting to promote education in a time of transition within their country and just wanting to help their country evolve and grow and enter into the modern world in that sense.
I’m most amazed sometimes at the diversity of the people that have been able to come together at various Dialogue Institute events, bringing in politicians, people from the religious community, people from the educational community, from the business community all into the same space to enjoy discussions, learn about interfaith dialogue, learn about various religious traditions, whether it’s Judaism, Christianity, Islam. So, the ability to bring such a diverse group of people together is not the easiest thing to do sometimes. I’ve been very amazed at the movement that’s been able to accomplish that.
I think some of the most important contributions that Fethullah Gulen and the movement, particularly in the Austin community has contributed, is the ability to bring a diverse group of people together; politicians, educators, people from religious communities, people from the business community, to bring all those people in to the same room to enjoy events around dialogue, to understand what dialogue is, to learn about religious literacy, to know a little bit more about Islam, about Judaism, about Christianity, whatever the religion is.. just increasing that religious literacy, which is something that I think is very vital, particularly in the United States.
I think that’s one of the primary contributions that I’ve really appreciated. And I know that in our community, at the university I work at, the ability to collaborate and provide opportunities for our students also to enjoy the same type of experiences…
And then I think providing people from here a chance to go to Turkey, to be in a different cultural setting—anytime that you can immerse yourself into another environment, another background, it breaks down stereotypes and misunderstandings that you have about different places, different cultures, because you have to meet the people and when you dialogue with people you find that we’re all pretty much the same, we’re mostly interested in raising our kids, making sure we have a good job, a good place for our family to live… the things of life.
My knowledge of Islam through the Gulen Movement has greatly increased, particularly understanding its desire for dialogue, its desire to interact with all people. It’s a very embracing, very hospitable religious tradition, which is not always what we hear in the media in the United States. So, I believe, my experiences provide a very moderate view of what Islam is about.
And it’s not just about the teachings and the writings; it’s the experiences I’ve had with those who, in a sense, follow Mr. Gulen.
When you’re in people’s homes and you interact with them over a meal, you learn a lot about not just the person but the things that they value and things that have informed their values. So, it builds a lot of trust. So, I have found the opportunity to learn about Islam through the Gulen Movement. It’s been invaluable for me, particularly in my work, where I work with religious diversity within our Catholic campus.
I think the role of whether Muslims should have dialogue with non-Muslims, I think, it’s a very important activity. One of the leading voices in the United States around interfaith dialogue is the gentleman, Eboo Patel. I recently heard him quoted as saying, “If you’re not in a room with somebody that you disagree with, you’re not in dialogue.”
We have to talk with people who believe a little bit differently than us, think a little bit differently than us. It helps us to grow; helps us to grow individually, as a people, and helps that we’re in dialogue to grow as well.
I work in a Catholic campus, we’re very much interested in developing our own Catholic identity, as a Catholic Christian, and the more I talk with people of other religious traditions—Judaism, Islam—the more I learn about Christianity. And I think that’s vice versa.
I remember one of the events that we had with the Dialogue Institute; we had a conference here several years ago. We did a survey of 100 Muslims students and 100 Christian students. We found that the more that a Christian knew about Christianity, the more tolerant they were of a Muslim. The less they knew about Christianity, the more intolerant they were of a Muslim.
For the Muslim, the more they knew about Islam, the more tolerant they were of the Christian, and the less they knew about Islam, the less tolerant they were of Christians. So, knowledge is so important to break down misunderstandings, both within ourselves and with people who come from other traditions. I think it’s one of the main doorways to not just religious tolerance but a world that people live together and thrive together; not just tolerate each other but actually help each other to grow.
I think the use of education within the Hizmet Movement to strengthen their community is a very important thing and I think the ability to create environments where students can advance intellectually but also have the mentoring of values, not necessarily teaching certain things but just having role models of people that live good lives, that have a positive influence on how people would live. I think that’s an important way to educate.
In our tradition we say, you cannot educate the heart without the mind, that the two have to go together. So, it’s not enough to teach the students skills but you have to teach them how you make good decisions about what’s the best use of those skills that help common humanity.
So that comes with good role models, teachers that are able to model good living, family values, a way to live in the world, otherwise you’ve just created people with skill sets but they may use them for good or bad.
The Hizmet Movement has been very active in providing relief efforts people that have been impacted by natural disasters, poverty and such.
I think for people coming from any religious community, that’s central to who we are. Within Christianity, that’s essential to our work. We say; a preferential option for the poor. I know in Islam it’s one of the pillars to provide for the poor and the needy. It’s because we are all interrelated.
One of the members of the local community here, I remember him once saying that for the Muslim, your neighbor is not the house next door, it’s the next 100 houses, meaning there’s no end to who your neighbor is.
I think that’s a way to think and a way to orient our lives to always be serving those that are our neighbors and that there’s no end to that.
We have to help those that are in need. We give from what we’ve been given. God has given us things, we need to help those who have not been given as much.
It’s the way to make the world a more peaceful place. Violence comes out of people’s desperations and manipulation and such. Those things can only breed when there are people that are in dire need.
So, if we can help people in their need we’ll have a much more peaceful world.
**Profile: James Puglisi is the Associate Director of Campus Ministry at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. He holds Masters of Arts in Higher Education and also in Applied Theology. He received his Doctor of Ministry from Catholic Theological Union in the area of Practical Theology. He is a member of the Austin Advisory Board for the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest, he teaches courses in the area of migration and culture.
*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!.