July 6, 2016

Breaking fast with Turkish friends

Steve Nwosu

Having grown up around Muslims, I’ve always looked forward to the Ramadan season and the fasting that goes with it. Of course, I have never joined in the fasting. In fact, I hardly fast – neither during Ramadan nor during Lent. But I long promised myself that even if I’m unable to join in the fast, I must never fail to ‘assist’ in the breaking of the fast. Please, don’t laugh!

So, it was with immeasurable joy in my heart that I headed for Ikeja, Lagos, last weekend to join some Turkish friends for the day’s Iftar.

Of course, my friends are of the Hizmet Movement. And I must confess, there is something so agreeable with the way they practise Islam that you soon get sucked in. No compulsion. But it would seem this type of Muslims are now an endangered species.

In my interaction with Muslims over the years, I’ve come to one conclusion: Nobody who ever read and digested the Glorious Quran on his own is ever violent, fanatical, radical or extremist. The people who take up arms against fellow Muslims and faithful of other faiths are often those who have the holy book interpreted (or misinterpreted) for them. They are those who, rather than read the Quran, would settle for other books, claiming to be interpretations of the message contained in the Quran, or sit at the feet of some Islamic teacher (or leader), who often has a hidden agenda, as he spews out hate and indoctrinates his naive followers. The same also applies to the Christians and their Holy Bible. There is no way you can read and understand the teachings of Christ and raise a finger to hurt a fellow human being – be he Christian, Muslim, animist, Jew, Hindi or whoever.

Central to the message of all of the faiths is peaceful coexistence, equity, justice, freedom and the sanctity of human life. So, when your pastor tells you to go burn a mosque – either as a retaliation or an offensive move, just know that he is a pastor from hell. When an Islamic cleric brainwashes worshippers at the Jum'a prayers to move from the mosque and unleash mayhem on Christians and their property, such a cleric is clearly an agent of Satan.

Back to my Turkish friends. Almost every good impression I have about their country, including an all-expense paid trip to the country, I knew through my interactions with the members of the group. Turkey was a strong economy. A good business and tourism destination. It was on the verge of joining the EU. It was in two continents, has several Christian pilgrimage sites and was high on the freedom index and was highly tolerant, as per religion. But everything is now going down south – simply because somebody is using politics to give Islam a bad name.

As we we ate dates and other fruits, in readiness, for the main meal, a friend, Ken Ugbechie, drew my attention to the slogan on a banner of the UFUK Dialogue at one corner of the small hall. It read: “Reserve in your heart, a seat for everyone."

UFUK is one of the spin-offs of the Hizmet Movement, a civil, non governmental, non political and, definitely, non violent organisation built around the teachings of Turkish philosopher lawyer and Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gulen.

Now, if you ever had anything to do in, or with, Turkey, it’s unlikely that you have not encountered the Hizmet Movement. It is into Education, Charity, Dialogue and the promotion of peaceful co-existence. If you have no business with ABINAT (Association of Business People and investors of Nigeria and Turkey), then you must have encountered the First Surat group of companies – Nigerian Turkish Nile University, Nizamiye Hospital in Abuja, the NTIC Foundation, Nigerian Turkish International Colleges, etc.

But today, if the regime in Turkey had its way, Hizmet Movement would be declared a terrorist organisation – in the cast of ISIS and al-Qaeda. The reason is simple: The movement’s activism (albeit, non-violent) is seriously pricking the conscience of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as he transforms from President to Prime Minister, and rapidly goes from partial democrat to autocrat and now, dictator.

Several members of the Hizmet Movement have practically been declared persona non grata in Turkey. Their newspaper, the Zaman, which was Turkey’s largest circulating, has been taken over by government decree and the editorial team replaced by the premier’s apologists. Many Hizmet people have had their international passports dubiously cancelled. There is a new law of ‘Reasonable Suspicion’, which allows the government to arrest and detain anybody on the mere suspicion that he might be planning something against government. Critical judges have been removed and replaced with those who would do government’s bidding. Meanwhile, Turkey’s hope of a civilian constitution – a break away from its current military constitution – has literally vanished into thin air. The promise of that new constitution was one of the reasons the Hizment Movement somewhat endorsed Erdogan during his first election in 2002.

Ankara seems to be doing just everything to provoke the organisation into protest and violent reaction, so the government can have reason to officially brand it a terror organisation.

None of these would have been of any concern to me if Erdogan were not making pretension to Islam and using it to blackmail the Hizmet. But in truth, Erdogan is not nearly as Muslim as Gulen and his people. The points of divergence is that Hizmet feels politics must not be part of religion, that Turkey should remain a secular country, in spite of its over 95% Muslim population; that extremism, radicalism and fundamentalism must be taken out of religion and that democracy and freedom is the best sharia that any Muslim can ever hope for. That is why the movement is not active in three countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea.

Summary? Politics becomes irrational, brutish and dangerous the moment we bring religion into it. Many of the issues troubling our country today would be more sincerely and dispassionately addressed if we take religion out of it. Politics is good. Religion is necessary, but when we mix the two, the concoction retards development.

My prayer, therefore, is that as our political and business leaders invite both Muslim faithful and non-Muslim faithful to the breaking of fast, we use the opportunity to re emphasize those things that bind us together and encourage peaceful co-existence for the common good, rather than setting us against one another.

Published on Sun News Online, 6 July 2016, Wednesday