July 8, 2016

'The Hizmet Movement represents what Islam really is about, what Islam is at its best.'

Fikir Atlasi*, Episode 48 (Full text)

My name is Fred McCall. I’m the pastor of a small Presbyterian church here in Norfolk and have been for four years now. I’ve been a Presbyterian pastor since 1978 in Oregon and now in Virginia.

I got acquainted with the Hizmet Movement through an interfaith group that I coordinate, and one of the members was a Turkish doctoral student at Old Dominion University. And through that, I was able to go on a trip, one of the Hizmet trips, to Turkey.

One of the highlights of that trip—in addition to going to places like Ephesus and, of course, Istanbul—was my conversations with this same doctoral student who was—I guess you’d say he was our guide on the trip. And we were talking about; well, what does Islam teach about that, or, how does Christianity practice that. And we learned an amazing amount about each other’s faith and our view of the world from our different perspectives, coming from different countries and being of different faiths. And, of course, a lot of what we went to see was the educational work of the Hizmet Movement.

Hizmet says we need a government of the Constitution, not a government of strong men. We need to have an independent judiciary and we need to have laws that determine what’s permitted and what’s not permitted. And within those laws, people are free.

And I think the educational effort of Hizmet, the schools, are meant to raise up a generation or multi-generations of people who share those ideals. The schools give a good solid education with particular emphasis on technical education. They also teach good citizenship. They teach the students—many of whom are not Muslim—about Islam, but with no sense of trying to convert people to Islam. If you come in as a Christian, you leave as a Christian, but they want you to know what Islam is about at its best.

And I think if all Turks shared the ideals of Hizmet, Turkey would not be experiencing some of the problems it’s experiencing right now.

I understand Fethullah Gulen to be a spiritual and intellectual inspiration for the Hizmet Movement. That it’s not a movement where there is one person who runs it. He’s not in charge of it, but he is the one who inspires the people, has inspired the people who are involved in it, and I think for good reason. He seems to be a man of deep thought, who has strong convictions, but the convictions are what I’ve already talked about, in terms of a democratic government of law, a respect for all religion.

And my sense of Fethullah Gulen is that he is modeling what he understands to be a true Muslim, which is, I think, very similar to what it would mean to be a good Jew or a good Christian in the public arena, that is, to be present, not for the achievement of power but to help set the proper tone and push for the proper overall structure, again, a government of laws, the… not just tolerance of people of different faiths but welcoming people of different faiths. I’ve been struck for some time by the Quranic idea that God created us different so that we might learn from each other, and I think Gulen very much exemplifies that.

And we appreciate those differences. We may not be able to share all of each other’s faith commitments, but that’s part of the richness.

So, that’s, I think, a major contribution that he has made and wants to continue to make to Turkish life and more broadly to human life around the world. It’s not accidental that the schools of the Hizmet Movement are not just in Turkey; there are a number of them in the United States and in many other countries because this is something that every country needs.

I think the Hizmet Movement represents Islam as an open, tolerant faith, not saying that we are the best and only legitimate religion. They’re not looking down on people of other faiths but welcoming the participation of people of other faiths in national and world life.

The movement itself—and again this may display some ignorance—is primarily a movement of Turkish Muslims and I see that as, in part, an effort to say; this is what Islam really is about, it’s not about Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, it’s not about people who may claim to be Muslim but violate the tenants of the faith, it’s about what is Islam at its best, it informs our participation in the public sphere but not to the point of excluding the participation of people of other faiths. And I think that’s part of what is meant by government of law..

Well, I’ve experienced the Hizmet Movement’s efforts in interfaith dialogue or conversation—because it’s not just with one other group but many—as being people of very open-minded stances. Again, there’s no sense of; we want to convert you to our faith, or, we’ll listen to you but we really think our faith is better for everybody. I get the sense of; I’m a good Muslim and you can be a good Christian or a good Jew, and that’s just fine, we shouldn’t be trying to convert each other.

And I think inviting people to come on trips to Turkey so people can be shown the country—one of the things we did was go to the battlefield at Gallipoli, and, as a historian, I was fascinated by that, partly because that’s how Kemal Ataturk became famous but also the national pride in having defeated a European power and in protection of Turkish sovereignty. And, as an American, I understand that very well. But, again, it’s not from a sense that we’re a better country than others, but simply, we have a place in the world community and we have something to say that the world needs to hear.

My sense of what’s going on in Turkey today with the Hizmet Movement -and without getting into the particulars of the government itself- is that Gulen and the movement, as a whole, are continuing to focus on their sense that any legitimate government needs to be a government of law that adheres to the Constitution, that represents the interest of all the people, that’s not about aggregating power for itself. And, because of that, the Hizmet Movement has been pushing on the issue of an openness about the allegations of corruption in the government, not with a sense of; we don’t like this particular political party, we don’t like this particular leader, but, if there’s corruption it needs to be admitted, it needs to be dealt with by the judiciary, and people who have violated the law should be punished. This is not an attempt to replace the current government with the government of another party. Hizmet is not a political movement in that sense. It’s a political movement in the philosophical sense; again, we want good, open government that adheres to the law, that is responsible to the people, that doesn’t try to cover up by dismissing members of the judiciary who are working on issues of corruption, that doesn’t try to silence the press, but says, we shouldn’t have anything to hide, if we do, call us on it.

But, my sense is that Hizmet Movement has no interest, zero interest in being a political party and in taking power, but wants to influence the national conversation and keep it focused on what is good government, particularly good government that fits within the Islamic tradition, but that’s good government anywhere…

**Profile: Alfred McCall is the pastor of Squires Memorial Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, VA. He has Ph.D. in American church history from Union Theological Seminary. He is also a leader in Presbyterian Pilgrimage, which conducts Christian spiritual retreats. He is actively involved in interfaith programs such as Rumi Forum, Theophilus Club and Nexus Program.

*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 48), © Spectra Media, 10 June 2014, Tuesday
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