December 5, 2014

"Fethullah Gulen is one of the leading Islamic thinkers in the world"

Fikir Atlasi*, Episode 21 (Full text)

My name is Azam Nizamuddin.**

I am an attorney in Chicago, an activist, and I also teach Religious Studies at Loyola University of Chicago.

I first met members of the Hizmet Movement in the late 1990s when I attended a panel discussion about the interaction between religion and science. And I was really struck by the sophisticated understanding and appreciation of science from a religious perspective, and in particular a Muslim religious perspective.

I remember meeting Dr. Zeki at that time and listening to his keynote address about that concept, and I was quite impressed with their level of understanding and appreciation and the whole notion of engaging religion and science. And I had thought that was very intriguing at that time.

My general view of the Hizmet Movement is that it is one of the leading, I would say, Islamic movements in the world today. It’s also one of the leading global spiritual and social movements in the world because of its impact, not only within Turkey but also in various Muslim countries in central Asia and now today in North America as well.

My views about Fethullah Gulen are that, I believe he is one of the leading Islamic thinkers in the world, but, more importantly, I think he is also an important global figure, particularly in today’s divide between the East and the West.

He’s somebody who tries to transcend the divisions that have been artificially constructed by either political players, religious players or other social-economic factors. And he tries to bridge the gap between human beings so that they can not only present the best possible light of a human being, the notion of insan al-kamil, the perfect human being, so you develop yourself spiritually, but his push towards development of education, particularly in underdeveloped communities, is really important today, to fight not only poverty but also ignorance. And, as you know, ignorance leads to misunderstandings, leads to poverty, and leads to hate. His push towards a better educated society, I think, is really very significant.

I think the Gulen, or Hizmet, Movement represents Islam by, on the one hand, maintaining a strong connection to and being rooted in the Islamic primary sources, such as the Qur’an and the Prophetic teachings, but, at the same time, not neglecting the world around it.

Unfortunately, there are many other movements around the globe, Muslim movements around the globe, which have decided that they don’t want to have anything to do with the West, they don’t want to have anything to do with modernity, or, in some instances, reject the modernity in the West.

And, I think that Fethullah Gulen promotes Islamic values, Islamic teachings without necessarily rejecting the world and rejecting the West, and I think that’s a very important and this really innovative development of the past 100 years of Islamic thinkers.

I think my view about Hizmet and other organizations involved in interfaith and interreligious dialogue is one that is a very necessary engagement in today’s reality.

We are no longer living in the Dar-ul Islam vs. the Dar-ul Harb dichotomy anymore.

Some people may still think we are but generally we are not.

There are Muslims in almost every single country. Many of them are as minorities, religious minorities, like in Australia or Sub-Saharan Africa, and, of course, in Europe and North America.

On the other hand you have Christian and Jewish communities in the Muslim world; in the Middle East, in South Asia, in North Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia, for example.

And, in those scenarios you have to be able to have positive engagement with other religious communities.

In fact, we know from our own tradition that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had engaged with religious minorities.

In fact, we know that the Christians of Najran, for example, visited him at the mosque and stayed in the masjid and prayed in the masjid in Madinah. They had positive interaction; they disputed, they argued, but, nevertheless, after three days they departed on positive relations and left.

That to me is the Prophetic model that Fethullah Gulen and the Hizmet Movement also want to follow, which is positive engagement.

Secondly, I think it’s important to understand for Muslims that religion—despite what certain people have argued in Europe—has not gone away.

In particular, in the United States, religion plays a central role. So, even, for example, when legislatures at the state and federal level begin any opening session, they begin with prayer.

Whenever a terrible incident, a tragedy occurs, religious notables will appear at ceremonies, immediately, to bless or to offer prayers. Muslims need to be at those events, and they need to be front and center to show that they are also involved.

So, if you are not engaged, with your fellow Catholics, with your fellow Protestants, with your fellow Jews, and others, then, you’re going to be isolated and, ultimately, you’re going to be ignored.

And, Islam has never been a religion that was ignored and that did not participate in the world and particularly, in events of the world.

And, I think, Fethullah Gulen and the Hizmet Movement understand that and that’s why they’re willing to take those risks because, in some sense, it involves risks. But to do that, you have to be positive, and you have to have confidence in your capabilities and in your knowledge of your religion, and I think that’s what Fethullah Gulen provides.

What I think about the development of the schools and the educational program of Hizmet is that it is really, I think, an integral part of not only the Movement itself but also in terms of how a religious movement can be successful.

In other words, many Islamic movements make the mistake of trying to work from the top down.

They think by attaining political authority that somehow their ideas will filter to the bottom, almost in a trickle-down effect.

But, that really has not been a very successful program; it has never worked in any society. We can see that in Pakistan, we can see that in Egypt.

But rather, if you have a program where people are educated from the roots, from the ground level, you can inspire and educate those people then to develop into significant players in the world scene, particularly as teachers, as educators, as journalists and other professionals.

And that, I think, has been a strength of the Hizmet Movement.

Secondly, I think that the Hizmet Movement draws its inspiration and teaching from Said Nursi who, in the early 20th century, argued that religion and science are compatible; that the science that the West has promoted since the late 17th and 18th century, particularly Post-Enlightenment, has permitted people to develop but at the expense of faith and morality, and I think Said Nursi argued that you can have faith, morality and science together.

And I think the Hizmet Movement, and in particular Fethullah Gulen, draws from those teachings and has that engaged in very positive aspects of promoting education.

So he promotes these schools which produce students who excel in Math, who excel in Science, and who even will excel in other subjects, particularly in Social Sciences and Humanities.

Therefore this educational project, as envisioned by Fethullah Gulen’s teachings and as reflected in these schools, promotes a positive development within those respective communities but also on a more global scale.

The charitable work and efforts of the Hizmet Movement, are a very important component of Fethullah Gulen’s teachings. It’s inspired, of course, from the Prophetic teaching and the Qur’anic instruction to provide people with charitable giving, not only in terms of what you normally refer to as zakat but also in terms of sadaqah, which is general charitable giving.

This is an essential pillar of Islamic ethics and Islamic social discourse. You not only help those in need but help those who ask, help your relatives, help your next of kin, help orphans, etc.

And, I think he is continuing that legacy within the Islamic tradition but also on a need basis today. With so much poverty in places like Somalia and Afghanistan and Iraq where, when many NGOs left, the Hizmet Movement went into dangerous places such as Somalia to provide support to individuals and communities who have been really hurt by the war that has been engaging for a couple of decades.

My thoughts about the conflict with respect to the recent tensions in Turkey and the corruption scandal with the AKP movement and party as well as these allegations that Hizmet Movement has been trying to undermine the AKP are simply that I think this conflict to me demonstrated the consistency and the credibility of the Hizmet Movement in the sense of, it is not interested in attaining power, it is not interested in political power in Turkey or elsewhere in the world, but it wants to adhere to a certain pro-democratic, pro- liberty and freedom agenda so that those who are elected to political power not only have a responsibility to provide economic development and to provide education to their people but, at the same time, are held to the highest ethical standards of conduct.

I think the Hizmet Movement has been consistently asking for that without necessarily asking for anything in return as a quid pro quo, in terms of being quiet and then attain power.

I think that’s a positive reflection upon the Hizmet Movement.

**Profile: Azam Nizamuddin is an activist and an attorney. He is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Theology at Loyola University of Chicago. He teaches courses on Islam, and History of Islamic Thought. He has previously taught at Elmhurst College in Illinois. He lectures on Islamic theology and law, and on Islamic civilization to churches, synagogues, civic organizations across the country.

*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 21), © Spectra Media, 30 April 2014, Tuesday

More posts on Fikir Atlasi