Fr. Thomas V Kunnunkal SJ, the President of Islamic Studies Association, was recently invited to go to Turkey to meet the members of the Hizmat (Gülen) Movement. Here he shares his experiences during this visit:
I must say that I was very happily surprised by all that is connected to the Hizmat or Gülen Movement. Turkey, whose population is 99% Muslim, presents a unique picture of Islam. It is a very strongly secular State, so secular that it will not allow any teaching of Islam in the school during school hours. Nor has it any Madarsa. Yet they are very devout Muslims and keenly follow the Muslim faith practices and rayers. In the famous Blue Mosque, it was inspiring to see the young, the old, the ordinary and well off people all flocking to join in the namaz.
Sayyid Nursi had the vision of using the power and strength of the Islamic faith to find practical solutions to deal with the harsh realities affecting the wellness of society. He identified three major issues affecting the world society: poverty, ignorance and disunity. Fetullah Gulen followed it up and propagated the vision, by talking to persons and through his writings. He invited his listeners to open schools and boarding houses to educate students in Turkey as well as in other places. He motivated them to add a personal sacrificial dimension to their work. Many internalized the vision and new paradigm and then acted on it.
It felt so good to meet several Muslims in Turkey who had been evangelized by this vision and were ready to act on it. To cite one of several such experiences: we had one Mustafa, who is a well-todo businessman, who found it possible to accompany us for a week. Normally business people may make a car available for our use. But Mustafa personally drove his BMW, whether to take us to the airport at 5 a.m. or to reach us back near midnight to the hotel. All that was done with a smile all the time! It was such a joy to meet several such beautiful Muslims.
We visited a couple of Gülen Schools and two universities. I asked why there was no mention of Gülen or of his vision in the school bulletin boards. The secular character of the Government forbids this. Yet what I saw was a remarkable application of faith getting converted to works. There is no central organization nor is there any central fund raising, even though Gülen has now service institutions, like schools, colleges and clinics in 142 countries. The schools and universities that we saw were of high standard, and had national standing and recognition. Without any centralized structure it works through persons motivated and powered by the vision of Gülen to serve humanity. Individual Muslims make contributions to buy land, donate money for construction and persons so energized by this vision run these institutions.
Gülen movement sounded like a fairy tale until we saw them walk the talk and do so much It is indeed a modern miracle! I asked myself: how does this happen? The only answer I could find is the spiritual power firing the motivational cylinders of these persons. Their approach to dialogue has a lot to teach all those involved in interreligious dialogue. The major or almost exclusive emphasis in the Gülen movement is on dialogue of life, dialogue in action. We were told that several students at the school or university stage do imbibe the vision of Gülen and carry it into their adult years.
What can we learn from the followers of Gülen movement? Any movement is powered by an ideal, an ideology, a value frame. In other words, the inner is driving the outer action. The gift of Jesus to us was an invitation for an attitude revolution, and not another religion, with a new set of rituals, prescriptions and practices. We have hundreds and thousands of transformations brought about by Christians over the centuries.
What I increasingly find is that there are so many, from other faith-traditions and ideologies – Muslims, Buddhists or others – who are also actively engaged in ushering love, peace and unity into our battered world. For us Christians, gradually the outer seems to have taken over from the inner and what we see now is the over dominance of the outer. When that takes place, necessarily much deterioration results, Values inspired by faith die. Efforts to re-kindle the dying embers and to start the fire again is the challenge.
Having a personal sense of mission and responding to that call is a constituent part of the Christian mystery. Mere efficiency, though necessary for our institutions, is lethal, if it is not combined with values and principles. A life devoid of values is destroying nations, religions and our humanity. If we get even a few people in various walks of life energized and motivated – whether priests, religious or lay persons who then pass it on to others, – then we will have started a multiplication process. They must become Kingdom builders, who will contribute to build human communities across physical and pshychological borders that presently divide us and make us less and less human.