Gülen Movement in increasingly Radicalized World

Eleven years after the horrible tragedy, which changed the lives of many and seems to continue effecting our lives for the years to come here at home and across the globe, as the nation is getting ready to commemorate the victims of 9/11, a religion and specifically followers of this peaceful religion are once again being put under spotlight.

Eleven years after, everything is still as fresh as all just happened yesterday. Paying a short virtual visit to the days, weeks and months following this tragedy, it is equally saddening to see that deliberately or unintentionally a religion was again put under fire. Billions of innocent followers of this peaceful religion have been continuously offended not only by been considered and labeled as “potential suspect” but also by reflecting on persistent pain of having their religion hi-jacked by this tiny notorious terrorist group who label them falsely as devout followers of this religion. Indeed a new era had begun; an era of “religious divide” which has been manifesting itself even after 11 years as in the form of “intolerance towards other cultures, religions and value system”, and this systemic ideology was then branded itself as “you are either with us or with the terrorist” slogan, leaving no room for others to breathe without been trapped in this religious divide. All of a sudden citizens of this aging world once more woke up in a different world with an echo on their ears whispering that “the world would be much safer if all Muslims are gone”. The believers of this idiosyncrasies then launched a massive campaign of labeling, tracking, following and questioning –some with legitimate, but many with not so legitimate reasons- of the innocent followers of this peaceful religion.

What came as complimentary, as though 11 years of uninterrupted physical and virtual scrutiny was not enough, is the disturbing news appeared in an article released by CNN on September 5, 2012, highlighting the rising anti-Islamic sentiment in America. The article mentions about a group of Tennesseans who planned to gather at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Franklin for a commemoration, but on their menu is the program, called “The Threat in Our Backyard,” is a lecture on Islam in public schools and a short film on Sharia finance. CNN reports that It’s a program organized by people who feel the American way of life is threatened by Islam and Muslim.

The article further reports that hate crimes against Muslims spiked 50% in 2010, the last year for which FBI statistics are available. That was in a year marked by Muslim-bashing speech over the Islamic center near ground zero in Manhattan and Florida Pastor Terry Jones’ threats to burn Qurans. Supporting the data included in this article, the Council on American-Islamic Relations indicated that this year’s “holy month of Ramadan, which ended August 19, was marred by a spate of violence at U.S. Islamic centers that included a fire, a homemade bomb and pig parts. The incidents were unprecedented in scale and scope.” At least seven mosques and one cemetery were attacked in the United States during Ramadan, according to the council and other groups that track such incidents. Particularly visible on the anti-Muslim radar has been the state of Tennessee, where a mosque opened during Ramadan after two years of controversy. The new Islamic center in Murfreesboro opened a few weeks ago after delays caused by legal wrangling, community protests and vandalism, CNN reports on this article.

Escalating the issue from the public sphere to legal arena in order to watch and monitor Muslim communities, such organizations as Concerned Citizens of America, Jihad Watch, Freedom Center, Anti-Defamation League, Middle East Forum, and several other foundations were able to successfully pursue state legislators to pass anti-Muslim bill. In this line, the article also reports that only this year alone, 33 anti-Sharia or international law bills were introduced in 20 states, making it a key issue. Six states – Louisiana, South Dakota, Kansas, Arizona, Louisiana and Tennessee – adopted such laws prior to 2012. The scariest part is that two Tennessee lawmakers attempted to pass a bill this year that would have made it a felony to practice Sharia, but it failed. What is even more tragic and worrisome than seeing rising these anti-Islam movements, all these legal obstructions and non-sense political manipulation and misinformation has been occurring in this great country. A country acting as a breeding cradle of democracy, where freedom of speech, religion and thoughts all deemed to have been guaranteed by the constitution, let alone singling out a religion and banning the practice legally hurt the minds and hearts of those consciences citizens of this great country.

As much disconcerting as reading about growing domestic hate towards Muslim, nothing was ever surprising at all. Nothing was anymore out of the realm of unexpected, especially after so many pervasive negative publicity against Islam both in domestic and international arena. It was just a month ago before we this article printed, on Aug 6, Monday morning, nation woke up with another hate crime towards Muslim, but tragically at the wrong place. Failed to have distinguish Sikh religion from Islam, the gunman attacked Sikh temple instead thinking of a Mosque. Ignorance is very cheap!. An army veteran, murderer Wade M. Page, who is reportedly belong to white supremacist group, stepped through the door of Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, a city of about 35,000 just south of Milwaukee, and fired randomly killing 6 people immediately and wounded many others, according to New York Times. “Everyone here is thinking this is a hate crime for sure,” said Manjit Singh, who is a devout follower of Sikh Temple, “People think we are Muslims”, quotes New York Times.

Examining the issue at the global scale, rising anti-Islamic wave in America had already reached the seashore of Western Europe. Not so long ago, on July 22, 2011, a man planted a bomb in an Oslo government building that killed eight people. A few hours after the explosion, he shot and killed 68 people, mostly teenagers, at a Labor Party youth camp on Norway’s Utoya Island. By midday, pundits were speculating as to who had perpetrated the greatest massacre in Norwegian history since World War II. Numerous mainstream media outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic, speculated about an Al Qaeda connection and a “jihadist” motivation behind the attacks. But by the next morning it was clear that the attacker was a 32-year-old, white, blond-haired and blue-eyed Norwegian named Anders Breivik. He was not a Muslim, but rather a self-described Christian conservative. On July 26, Breivik told the court that violence was “necessary” to save Europe from Marxism and “Muslimization.” In his 1,500-page manifesto, which meticulously details his attack methods and aims to inspire others to extremist violence, Breivik vows “brutal and breathtaking operations which will result in casualties” to fight the alleged “ongoing Islamic Colonization of Europe.”Based on Breivik’s sheer number of citations and references to the writings of these individuals, it is clear that he read and relied on the hateful, anti-Muslim ideology increasingly gaining public and political support in the United States. A recent comprehensive study, called “The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” released by Center for American Progress (CAP), exposes disturbing chain of media, politicians, scholars and financial supporters established for anti-Islam movement. According to CAP, Some of these foundations and wealthy donors also provide direct funding to anti-Islam grassroots groups. According to CAP’s extensive analysis, seven major charitable groups provided $42.6 million to Islamophobia think tanks between 2001 and 2009—funding that supports the scholars and experts and as well as some of the anti-Islam grassroots groups.

Most recently, an egregious 14-miute long film called ‘innocence of Mohammed”, ridiculed the prophet Mohammed, produced by a conservative American-Jew, named Sam Bacile, was a well-planned deliberate and shameful assault on cursing the holy values of Islam and humiliating the dignity of Muslims. This film, as the last drop in the glass of hatred against Muslim, was enough to trigger massive protest and riots in primarily newly established Northern African countries where people had little or no experience with the democracy. The film produced by one ignorant hypocrite unfortunately used as a tool in the hands of other extremist to justify killing of innocent people. In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, the filmmaker Sam Bacile, characterized his movie, as “a political effort to call attention to the hypocrisies of Islam.” “Islam is a cancer,” , quotes Wall Street Journal from him. Daily mail writes that anti-Muslim activist Steve Klein, who was a script consultant for the movie, said that their “ intent was to reach out to the small minority of very dangerous people in California and try to shock them into understanding how dangerous Islam is,” revealing their ill- intention to incite a dangerous fire between the right-win extremist of the world’s two largest religion; Islam and Christianity.

The movie got even more notice after it was promoted by anti-Islam activists, including Egyptian-born Coptic Christian Morris Sadek and Terry Jones, the Florida pastor whose Quran-burning last year sparked deadly riots in Afghanistan. Fueled by this ugly assault to their religion, uneducated Muslim extremists in recently liberated Libya, when a mob stormed the U.S. Consulate and set it ablaze in an attempt to show their anger, unjustifiably killed the Ambassador of United States, and four other innocent personnel. Again, a well-planned tactic by an anti-Islam activist to draw uneducated Muslim into a deadly trapped to be labeled as “Muslim Terrorist killing innocent Americans.” In deed a picture-perfect Hollywood scenario. The Benghazi consulate was one of several American diplomatic missions that faced protests after the online release of a film that ridiculed Muslims and depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a child molester, womanizer and ruthless killer

Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen has strongly condemned at attack on US Consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including Libyan ambassador, and expressed deep condolences to the American people. He said he was saddened to learn the death of Christopher Stevens and three other consulate workers and described the ambassador as “guest in Libya.” He said in a statement on Thursday that he strongly condemns the attack and curses “every kind of terrorism no matter who the perpetrators are”

Coming from Sunni tradition, and having adopted strong Hanafi understanding , and living with the fundamental principle of “love the creature because of the creator”by Sufi scholar Yunus Emre and grabbing the “branch of olive” of Mawlan Rumi to “have a seat in our hearts for everyone”, Gülen went further on to declare on September 13, 2011 that; “Bin Laden is among the persons in this world that I hate most. Because he has defaced the beautiful face of Islam. Bin Laden replaced Islamic logic with his own desires and wishes and lives as a monster. The men around him are like that as well. If there are people who think like that, they are also locked into monstrosity. We equivocally condemn their perspective”

It is this kind of vision from the Islamic world view that had to be internalized by all Muslims, especially those who live in the West. Unfortunately Muslims who hate the Western countries due to ignorance, and lack of proper education have been vulnerable to Fundamentalist Islam and its sub-sectarian interpretations that is very far from being representing the true Islam as in the case of other fundamentalist such Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 92 people in Oslo, then during the police interview he claimed to be representing the Christian supremacy.

The Gülen movement is a transnational civic society movement inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic theologian Fethullah Gülen. His teachings about hizmet (altruistic service to the “common good”) have attracted a large number of supporters in Turkey, Central Asia and increasingly in other parts of the world The movement is mainly active in education and interfaith (and intercultural) dialogue], however has also aid initiatives and investments on media, finance, and health. As the world has been increasingly radicalized by the marginal extremist groups, Gülen movement offers two important recipe for all social, political, cultural and religious conflict around the world.

A.    Intercultural Dialogue

Long before 9/11 Gülen movement had established various institutions to create awareness between different world cultures, build bridges to nurture dialogue, tolerance, understanding, empathy and across world cultures especially between the Christian West and Muslim East. The importance of Gülen movement is therefore due to its long term sustained effort to bring west and east together to prevent what so many have been wishing to see happen “ Clash of Civilization”. Therefore, Gülen movement deserves careful study not just because of the quality of Gülen’s ideas but also because it represents one of the few such progressives and inclusive mass-based civil society movement in the world.

The Gülen movement with so many dialogue foundations located in almost every capital of the world, and with countless number of civic and media organizations, has been presenting a renewed Rumi practice that emphasizes love, mutual respect, understanding, socio-cultural activism, education, social innovation, peaceful coexistence, dialogue and cooperation with all for a cohesive society. For example, with the establishment of various schools in about 100 countries in North, East, West and South, all over the world, many people, not only Muslims, are getting a good and quality education in a multicultural, multi-faith environment with English primary language of instruction so that in future they will continue to be open to dialogue and they will hopefully attain good socio-economic status within their societies.

B. Interfaith Dialogue

Forbes magazine cited “the main characteristic of the Gülen Movement as not seeking to subvert modern secular states but rather encouraging practicing Muslims to use to the fullest the opportunities those countries offer”  while the New York Times describes the movement as “coming from a moderate blend of Islam that is very inclusive.”  Gülen personally met with leaders of other religions, including Pope John Paul II, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomaios, and Israeli Sephardic Head Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron .

Realizing the unfortunate fact that most Muslims from other conservative countries neither do wan to know about other faiths, nor want to establish any relationship with others, the importance of Gülen movement in reaching above and beyond these artificial borders to bring world cultures and religions together for peaceful tomorrows. Even more surprisingly, it has been observed that in recent years movement initiated dialogue with also those of no faith. For example, the Dialogue Society in London, which is inspired by Gülen’s teaching, has more atheist and agnostic members of its Advisory Board than it has Muslims.  Gülen is very clear about his disposition that a true world peace would be possible only through an interfaith and an intercultural dialogue, and receiving his fundamental teachings form the Holy book of Qur’an, he states that Islam recognizes all religions previous to it, and accepts all the prophets and books sent to different epochs of history. Not only does it accept them but also regards belief in them as an essential principle of being Muslim. By doing this it acknowledges the basic unity of all religions .

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