The basic values that mark the twenty-first century are modernism, pluralism, individualism, and religion. Some claim that modernity embraces individual and social life as a whole, and that it has created new forms of religious, cultural, and political pluralism. There is no doubt that the world today is in need of dialogue between cultures and civilizations more than at any other time; this is of the utmost urgency.
Fethullah Gülen’s call for intercultural and interreligious dialogue finds for its voice at the very spot where the standard of humanity has been knocked down. With hundreds of educational institutions spread all around the world, this project is applied to real life, where both the social foundations of dialogue and tolerance have been laid down, and where efforts are made to respond to the need of contemporary civilization—i.e., to act as a role model.
This tolerance was initiated by Muslim Turkish Sufis, and was injected into the roots of the nation, follows a line that stretches from Yesevi to Rumi, then from Yunus to Haci-Bektas-i- Veli it has a history that is long deep. Gülen, following this very basis, re-generates this tolerant interpretation and understanding of Muslim-Turkish Sufism within contemporary circumstances, albeit highlighting a broader, more active, and more socially oriented vision.
Fethullah Gülen believes the road to justice and real global peace is dependent on the provision of an adequate and appropriate universal education. Only then will there be sufficient understanding and tolerance to secure respect for the rights of others. To this end, he has, over the quarter century, encouraged the social elite and community leaders, powerful industrialists as well as small businessmen, to support quality education. With donations from these sources, educational trusts have been able to establish many schools, both in Turkey and abroad.
Gülen has stated that in the modern world the only way to get others to accept your ideas is by persuasion. He describes those who resort to force as being intellectually bankrupt; people will always demand freedom of choice in the way they run their affairs and in their expression of their spiritual and religious values. Democracy, Gülen argues, in spite of its many shortcomings, is now the only viable political system, and people should strive to modernize and consolidate democratic institutions in order to build a society where individual rights and freedoms are respected and protected, where equal opportunity for all is more than a dream.
Gülen, in his press release denouncing the September 11th terrorist attacks on the USA,, he said, “. . . terror can never be used in the name of Islam or for the sake of any Islamic ends. A terrorist cannot be a Muslim and a Muslim cannot be a terrorist. A Muslim can only be the representative and symbol of peace, welfare, and prosperity.”
Fethullah Gülen’s efforts for worldwide peace have been echoed at conferences and symposiums. “The Peaceful Heroes Symposium” (April 11-13, 2003) at the University of Texas, Austin, produced a list of peacemakers over 5,000 years of human history. Gülen was mentioned among contemporary heroes of peace, in a list which includes names such as Jesus, Buddha, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Teresa. In one of his inspirational book (Yeseren Dusunceler, 1996, p.19), Gulen wrote:
Be as vast as the oceans and take every soul to your bosom! Let faith keep you alert, cherish a never-ending affection for humanity, and leave no broken heart forgotten or ignored! Applaud the good for their goodness, appreciate those who have believing hearts, and be kind to them. Approach unbelievers so gently that their envy and hatred shall melt away. Like a Messiah, revive people with your breath.
Fend off evil with goodness and ignore rudeness! The attitude of a person reveals their character. Favor tolerance and be magnanimous toward those who do not know better. The most distinctive feature of a soul overflowing with faith is to love all love that is expressed in deeds and to feel enmity for all deeds in which enmity is expressed. To hate everything is a sign of insanity or of infatuation with Satan.
We should have such tolerance that we are able to close our eyes to the faults of others, to have respect for different ideas, and to forgive everything that is forgivable. In fact, even when faced with violations of our inalienable rights, we should remain respectful to human values and try to establish justice.
Furthermore, Gülen posits that it is not possible to talk about common ideas or a collective consciousness in communities where individuals do not look upon one another with tolerance or in countries where the spirit of forbearance has not become fully entrenched. In such countries, ideas will devour one another in the web of conflict. The work of thinkers will be futile, and in such countries it will not be possible to establish sound thought or freedom of belief or expression. These things will not be allowed to flourish. In fact, it cannot be said that in such a country the state has been based on a true system of justice; even if this appears to be the case, it is nothing more than a sham.
For Gülen , tolerance does not mean being influenced by others or joining them; it means accepting others as they are and knowing how to get along with them. Being tolerant does not mean giving up one’s own traditions, religion, and culture, yet it means developing skills that will nurture mutual understanding, respect and coexistence. In this respect, as individuals, as families and as a society, we have to speed up this process that has already begun. Gülen believes that even the people who do not share same/similar feelings and thoughts will soften when they are approached with these universal values. In fact, it can be said that democracy is out of the question in a place where tolerance does not exist. Advocates of democracy should be able to accept even those who do not share their views, and they should open their hearts to other people from every segment of society. In his Yeseren Dusunceler (1996), Gülen writes:
“In all probability, time will clarify everything and prove that those who started the trend of tolerance were right. Again, time will discard feelings and thoughts of grudge and vengeance. Only feelings fed with love, forgiveness, tolerance, and dialogue will continue. People of tolerance will build a world based on tolerance. Those whose lot is not tolerance will drown in their malice, hatred, and anger in the well of intolerance.
We must be as if “without hands against those who strike us and without speech against those who curse us.” If they try and fracture us into pieces even fifty times, we still will remain unbroken and embrace everyone with love and compassion” (p.22).