THREE GREATEST ENEMIES: Ignorance, Poverty and Disunity

Fethullah Gülen has stated that society’s three greatest enemies are ignorance, poverty, and internal schism (disunity) and inspired people to consider applying some practical solutions.

Ignorance is the most serious problem, and it is defeated through education, which has always been the most important way of serving others. Fethullah Gülen has been encouraging people to serve humanity through education, intercultural and interfaith activities in formal and institutionalized efforts and projects.

For Fethullah Gülen Education is the most effective vehicle for change – regardless of whether it is in Turkey or abroad, and whether or not people have systems working or failing – as the solution of every problem in human life ultimately depends on the initiative and capacities of human beings themselves. Throughout his public life, Gülen has taught that learning is a duty for all humans and “by fulfilling it we attain the rank of true humanity and become a beneficial element of society”. Gülen is not only addressing the education of children in his writings but the education of all. The participants in the movement see themselves as learning or attempting to learn all the time and the dominant theme of the movement is the struggle for self-improvement. Gülen’s educational philosophy derives from his faith, and for him scientific and religious knowledge are essential and complementary parts of the same whole. Gülen movement participants support this synthesis of rational and religious knowledge. Consequently, Gülen-inspired schools value science and mathematics. Most of these schools have excellent computer technology and science laboratories.[1]

Support for the educational activities in the Gülen movement derives from shared values between the schools and communities they serve and is reinforced by the immediate benefits accruing to students and families in terms of improved social relationships and high academic standards. From the perspective of organizational theory, shared values legitimize formal and informal local leaders in the eyes of the communities gathered around an organization as the use of normative power resources to influence is invariably seen by those subject to it as legitimate and evokes moral commitment..

To defeat ignorance through education, Gülen and his followers opened many colleges and educational facilities from Europe to Central Asia, from Africa to the Far East. These schools serve all people, regardless of their races, colors, or faiths. It is in these colleges, students of all cultures are taught universal values and ethics along with modern sciences.

In Gülen’s thought poverty is mitigated through work and the possession of capital, justly deployed in the service of others. Fethullah Gülen encourages people to tackle with this problem in a larger scale and inspired people to from organizations like Tuskon and Kimse Yok Mu Association.

The Gulen movement fights poverty with Kimse Yok Mu Association, the main channel of aid and relief for the Gülen movement. Principle of Voluntariness executing the function of base of the Kimse Yok Mu association’s working systems. All kind of aid activities as well as various national and international aid organizations distributions are carried out by volunteers of Kimse Yok Mu. Volunteers actively take charge in the process of all activities to be signed by the association, starting from planning until the implementation of it [2]. Although Kimse Yok Mu Association began by striving to address the question of poverty in Turkey, their efforts quickly moved into the field of international aid and relief. After the underwater earthquake and resulting tsunami in the Indian Ocean that on 26 December 2006 devastated parts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand, and produced a death toll of over 128,000 people in Indonesia alone, Kimse Yok Mu was one of a host of international agencies that provided emergency relief and engaged in the effort at reconstruction of the region. Kimse Yok Mu undertook a campaign to raise funds for the affected regions and delivered clothing, food, and medicine to those who had taken refuge in camps, and provided chemicals to purify drinking water. The association funded repairs to houses and schools and reactivated a school destroyed by the tsunami [3]. Kimse Yok Mu also helps the needy families delivering clothing, food, and medicine in Philippines, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Sudan, and Kenya. By 2007, aid programs administered by Kimse Yok Mu had reached 37 cities in Turkey and 42 countries around the world. Although the majority of these were in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, Kimse Yok Mu has also carried out aid and relief programs in six European countries and in Peru in South America.

TUSKON’s story started in the early 1990s by businessmen with social responsibility awareness and who are sensitive to country problems, forming associations in several cities. These associations were founded in order that little and middle-sized enterprises which form the mainstay of Turkish economy and also big and growing companies can develop themselves and expand to foreign markets in variable and dynamic economy. Tuskon launched its first foreign trade bridges conference three years ago, focused on African nations. Since then it has held similar events targeting the Asia-Pacific region and Eurasia. When the organization was approached to hold similar conferences with other regions, it decided to host the global trade summit open to everyone. Turkey’s strategy of developing ties with African nations is paying off now that Turkish companies are suffering from the recession in Europe and its neighboring countries. Turkey World Trade Bridge 2009 conference held in Istanbul, Turkey, June 2-5. More than 3,000 Turkish businesspeople met with some 2,300 representatives of companies from 135 countries. Turkey’s ties to Africa have resulted in the establishment of 12 African embassies in Istanbul, a three-fold growth since only a few years ago.

Today, one of the most dangerous causes of disunity is ethnical-racist separatism. When the world is gradually becoming a small village, nations should come together and establish unity, and the universal targets appeal to people all over the world. This kind of disunity is difficult to understand. It is unnecessary and it is a dangerous behavior.

In Gülen’s thought internal schism and disunity are vanquished by striving, through forbearance, tolerance and dialogue, for unity.  For Gülen, dialogue, tolerance, and trust reinforce each other: tolerance is the acceptance of differences that arise from dialogue in order to further the wider goal of cooperation. Tolerance is based on the idea of charity, or love, and therefore is a duty to. [4]

Gülen’s approach: his vision of how the practice of tolerance of the other needs to be a component of one’s own religious devotion. Gülen argues that the true marks of religion, as the connection between humanity and God, should be to benefit all people, not sanction discrimination and violence. Here he is at his most poetic when he connects the religious dimensions of love with the ethical obligations of tolerance and concern for the other. In Gülen’s thinking there is no greater religious concept than love, there is no greater religious action than love: “Love is the most essential element of every being, and it is the most radiant light, and it is the greatest power; able to resist and overcome all else”. True religion is therefore how we move from being merely human to in fact becoming humane. In this way, Gülen teaches, spiritual people are open to the flow of the divine.

In Gülen’s thought, dialogue appears as a natural consequence of humanism. Mr. Gülen defines humanism as a doctrine of love and humanity. He warns against an unbalanced understanding of humanism, for instance one that misunderstands jihad and views non-Muslims as the antagonistic others. Gülen’s humanism opposes a fanatical jihadist approach to humanity, and instead intends to actualize ‘love of all humanity.’ To Gülen, humanity is the most valuable being in the universe as the greatest mirror of God’s names and attributes. Every human being is equally endowed with capacity to mirror divine nature and has the capability to be developed to an excellence greater than the universe. Thereby, first, all humans are equal as a mirror of God’s attributes, irrespective of religion, race, wealth and social status. And second, since humans are created by the Creator’s own love, love is the most essential element in humanity. These concepts of equality, love and humanity are the basis of Gülen’s humanism, and serve as the founding principles of the Gülen movement.[5]

Gülen’s vision of devotion and tolerance is tied with the Islamic understanding of the importance of education as a necessary component of religious commitment. As we also see confirmed in Gülen’s work, the goals of inter-religious dialogue are two-fold with respect to education and removing ignorance. Interfaith dialogue helps us to experience how we can learn about the religious beliefs and spiritual identity of the other while at the same time learning more about the religious beliefs and spiritual identity of ourselves.

“Mr. Fethullah Gülen is the most influential representative of love, tolerance and dialogue in our world today. In the West, especially in the United States, an increasing number of scholars have discovered Gülen to be a man of love and tolerance and consider his teaching as a model of dialogue among religions, cultures and civilizations.”

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