In the past five years, through my involvement with the Rumi Forum of Old Dominion University, I’ve become intimately familiar with the work and faith perspective of the movement which emerged from the life of Fethullah Gulen. As both an ordained Baptist minister in the Christian tradition and as an adjunct professor who teaches sociology, I am tremendously impressed as well as have become an ardent supporter of the Gulen Movement. In it I have seen strong evidence of a passion for peace, justice, mutual understanding and compassion for all humanity.
Within the writings of Mr. Fethullah Gulen, one finds a philosophy which truly respects all persons as children of God. As such, he teaches each human being is of value, regardless of their background, faith tradition or culture. Indeed, undergirding this is the idea that amid our diversity, all people need each other, have something to teach each other and, simply because we are all human, are called to love and care for each other. He writes, “Remaining indifferent to others’ values restricts what is normally broad and universal, [and] is an obstruction to growth..” Simply, Fethullah Gulen believes we are all in this journey of life together and are called into a peaceful, respectful and caring life. In his writings, one finds an interpretation of the sacred Islamic texts in which good works, mercy and selfless compassion are central. In both what he proclaims and in how he lives, you see the presence of “Salaam” – peace – for a broad and diverse humanity.
The broader movement under his name has displayed a multi-layered approach toward moving our world to a better place. Let me speak to three I have personally experienced. First, the Gulen Movement places a strong emphasis on inter-cultural understanding. As noted above, adherents of the Gulen Movement travel with respect to others and build healthy, caring and friendly relationships with all. Out of this, I have seen the fear and ignorance many Americans have about Muslims melt away into respect and collegial care. Likewise, I sense Muslims have come to appreciate the best of both Jewish and Christian traditions. At the core, there comes a celebration of diversity, rather than fractious or defensive hostility. From the simple sharing of meals, to hospitals to events of international cultural dialog, I have seen firsthand the difference the movement has made toward peace and harmony.
Gulen Movement and Education
Second, the Gulen Movement holds high good works of care and concern. For example, the members of the Rumi Forum in my home town understand there are lonely senior adults who are without local family and are often alone during holiday periods (as Christmas or Mother’s Day). They volunteer to visit, talk with and encourage such lonely people and brighten their day. Over and over again, such simple acts of kindness and care are a hallmark of the lives of those within the movement.
Finally, they are active in education to establishment advanced, progressive and scientifically focused schools. In a belief that education makes the difference in allowing an individual to value the broader world and improve life quality, the Gulen Movement produces young people with high educational outcomes in such areas as engineering, physics and mathematics. Yet more importantly, these persons have been exposed to the broader ideas of a multi-cultural world. As such, they are not threatened by opposing ideas, but relish in the opportunity to engage them; to refine their personal perspectives and share freely of the rich Muslim traditions and background which is their own. They believe, only through such an education can a respectful and fully integrated world come to be.
From all I have noted above, the work of the Gulen movement can have a significant impact on American culture. From helping Americans cease to stereotype all Muslims to the example of service to the hurting and lonely, all these would benefit our society. Members of the movement believe we are called to improve the local community in which we live. If Americans were to adopt such an
ethos, every component of community life would be greatly enhanced, from our schools and hospitals to respectful debates among the political leadership. Most important, in a post 9/11 world, the rampant fear which has gripped the American mind would be overcome, understanding that the term “Muslim terrorist” is as much an oxymoron as if one said “pacifist terrorist.” Americans would grasp the idea that those who do violence on the innocent do so from the lust of power politics, not the heart of God.
A little over a year ago, I was privileged to visit Turkey and see a number of the institutions birthed from the Gulen Movement as schools, hospitals and community centers. In every case, I saw persons dedicated to making the world a better place. They were motivated by their faith to love their fellow human being. As such, teachers treasured both students and knowledge; physicians mended bodies and those hurting or poor were supported to improve themselves. In every institution, I was greatly impressed with the caring, loving and respectful way all persons, regardless of race, class, gender or faith perspective, were treated. Indeed, as a Christian and American, I found open hearts and minds at every turn.
In my opinion, there could be nothing better for our fractured world than the work of the Gulen Movement to carry forward an ever increasing circle of international and intercultural understanding. If the movement is allowed to take root across the globe, it could become a powerful voice for peaceful change into a more democratic, open and economically healthy world. All persons with
a heart for economic growth and democratic ideals should be fully supportive of the movement. I believe it is why, across the globe, you find the work of Fethullah Gulen, much like the work of the Dali Lama or Mother Teresa, capturing the heart of many. The Gulen Movement, centered on the godly work of love, compassion, justice, respect and an enhanced quality of life for all humanity, inspires people across the globe, for these are the values of the divine.
For the treasured friendships which I have through the movement, for the ideas I have gleaned and the opportunity I have had to share of myself with others, I am deeply grateful for the life, faith and ministry of Fethullah Gulen. It has made a difference in my life and pray it will continue to do so for others.