“Few people are willing to suffer targeting and deprivation of freedom for the sake of justice.”
My memory clicked live these words of the Most Reverend Salvatore Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco in the United States when more than 50 academicians, Muslim and Christian leaders, technocrats, senior citizens, artists, students, teachers, business people and journalists convened at a five-star sea-front hotel on the western rim of the Indian Ocean in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
It was a Saturday afternoon – a non-working day – meaning one could not just find oneself in town by accident. A firm decision had to be made. Some came from close to a thousand kilometers in the interior of Tanzania Mainland. Others crossed the Zanzibar Channel from the Isles side of the United Republic.
What brought them together is just one agenda at the invitation of the Kilimanjaro Dialogue Institute: “Book Talk and Discussion.” Which book? “Fethullah Gulen: A Life of Hizmet.” Its message: “Why a Muslim Scholar in Pennsylvania Matters to the World”. Author: Prof. Jon Pahl, doctorate holder from the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, literary born and grown on the history of Christianity.
An ex-seminarist moderator sets the tune of the day in a set of four reasons why the occasion is special. The presence of the author himself, an opportunity to carry forward the Hizmet (Gulen’s) Movement spirit of bridging faith and science through engaged empathy, discussing how the world can be made of nations with homes enlightened and prosperous as schools and schools as warm as homes and today’s world state of generating more heat than light leading to all sorts of fatal conflicts as dialogue and consultation enter the society’s list of lost items.
He tells the audience that the book critiques Gulen’s life of taking a family as a sacred school like a mosque but goes on to choose celibacy as his mode of life. It gives the reason as “to show how it is possible to conquer the profound sense of loneliness and alienation experienced … in an alien and hostile environment.” It classifies this as “the art of being a stranger in one’s own land”… living a life for the hereafter.
The book takes Gulen through the times of a sad situation in the world of Islam, seeing him concentrating on positive action focusing less on opponents and more on possibilities. This brings in living a life of purpose, when it becomes essential to keep the young people away from radicalization and violence.
The formula is one of flying on two wings – head and heart together with Islam and science and on one’s own tradition and respect for others. The practice is identifying oneself with the suffering of the world.
While military training focuses on killing or dying for a cause, a courageous man, through Gulen’s mirror, is identified as the one who can live with the people –be happy and sad with them. The youth are taught to conquer their selves by learning to love learning, sacrifice themselves, not to blow up people but to “embrace humanity”, and “make might subservient to right through knowledge of self, nature and of God.” Islam requires existence for others; and existence for others is, finally, the cause that makes life worth living.
The youth have to live for a cause instead – meaning spending one’s time meaningfully. For a useful Jihad, the better choice is the internal one, targeting knowing one’s essence and addressing issues of malice, hatred, envy, pride, arrogance and pomp.
Gulen’s great role model with an ingredient of self-criticism meditation, paves way to human empowerment and social betterment through the establishment of a movement of service with everybody participating in their own way. A generation of trustees is developed elevating the charity pillar in Islam to an act of worship.
The result is what sociologists view as social bonding capital. Empathy-driven education, business and health social enterprises come on board. To deal the final blow to Said Nursi’s professed basically three enemies–ignorance, poverty and disunity– the life of Hizmet is linked to the mass media to mould and try to establish a new power balance of justice, love, respect and equality among people.
It is here that those in political power – those with dictatorial tendencies in particular– don’t trust whoever tries to mould a cohesive and disciplined community through education, mass media and financial networks.
Themoderator hands Dr. Pahl a three-question welcome pack to take to the floor:
- In your works, you sort of connect the two heads of a battery but let the reader switch on the type of light of his or her choice after expressing your own view. Is this by design?
- For about three decades you have been at the centre stage of the world, learning and teaching philosophy, theology, divinity, sociology and the like. Why did you have to wait for so long to put the world back on the course of justice, love, respect and equality? Why have you given the world time to brew more violence in the quest for peace?
- In traversing Gulen’s life, you bring him to the stage where we see a non-violent person being tracked by Turkish police over the years, seen as a threat by autocrats and recently declared number one enemy by the present Turkish dictator. What makes you conclude that now Turkey is under dictatorship? If that is what it is, does it still make sense for the country to pursue EU membership?
Dr. Pahl takes the floor. He grows a bit red. He literally fires an arsenal to the global press. He accused it of compliance to propaganda that paints Fethullah Gulen as a violent person, bent on exploiting religion for self ends and conspiracy for building alternate power.
He dismisses this as efforts to “obscure the authenticity of Gulen.” He goes on to say that “to understand him politically is to distort his integrity.”
He likewise dismisses the possibility of the Hizmet Movement poking noses into local Turkish politics because the institutions born out of Gulen’s ideas are global in character and trade in dialogue and social enterprise. They are formed by individuals who buy his ideas.
Dr. Pahl challenges the global media to part with suspicions and instead assess, engage rigor in critical thinking and keep one of the God’s commandments warning humans against bearing false witness. “We lie… slander our neighbor…” he asserted and called for “speak(ing) the truth to unjust power. Power resides in truth.”
He leads the audience through the book, stressing Gulen’s advice to the youth to “never take to the streets, never anarchy” and clear statement that his “objective … (is) the establishment of harmony, reconciliation and stability in society.”
Dr. Pahl sets five peace-building findings associated with Gulen. Learning literacy, non-violent practice of Islam, engaged empathy, principled pluralism and social enterprise – all targeting to “live well and do good.”
Speaking through an interpreter, Sheikh Ismail Mohammed Salim cautions world leaders against demonizing people the like of Gulen “who stand for peace and common good because at the end of time, truth shall prevail.”
Speakers called for youth conferences, having a children’s version, writing about Gulen’s life from more perspectives and translating the book into Kiswahili and other world languages.
Then only can the dignity of difference be recognized and appreciated as the cornerstone of peace built on the interfaith foundation. While political systems are cases of centuries, faith remains a millennia issue, deserving higher respect and consideration.