Rumi Forum's blog on Hizmet, Fethullah Gulen, peacebuilding, education and interfaith efforts.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fethullah Gulen's new book: The ideal of living for the sake of others

Gulen has inspired many through his sermons and videos. Another way to 'dialogue' with Gulen is through his writings, and a new opportunity has arisen with the launch of his new book: The ideal of living for the sake of others

Many people were at the launch at Ceylan Intercontinental Hotel including İstanbul Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew and Assyrian Catholic Church leader Chorepiscopus Yusuf Sağ. Gulen is World renowned for his teachings of tolerance, acceptance and understanding. His works always encouraged dialogue with the 'other' and it is for this reason that many people from numerous ethnic and faith backgrounds show support of Gulen's work.

Gülen's latest book launch celebrated at İstanbul forum

Journalists, politicians and writers gathered together for a forum in İstanbul on Tuesday to mark the launch of renowned Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen's latest book, “Yaşatma İdeali,” (The Ideal to Let Others Live).

The event, organized by the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV), was held at the Ceylan Intercontinental Hotel. Among the participants of the event were GYV President Mustafa Yeşil, İstanbul Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, Assyrian Catholic Church leader Chorepiscopus Yusuf Sağ, Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, Media Association President Salih Memecan, former Democrat Party (DP) leader Süleyman Soylu and Fatih University Rector Şerif Ali Tekalan, in addition to many high-profile journalists.

Gülen sent a message to the participants of the gathering in which he dwelled on the importance of self-sacrifice for others.

“As you will agree, a person who only thinks of himself is not a human at all, but a human with a deficiency. The way real humanity can be achieved is through self-sacrifice for others. The value of a person in the eyes of God can be measured by the level of their benevolence. The most obvious sign of a high level of benevolence is sacrificing one's personal pleasures and joys for the happiness of others,” Gülen said in his message.

[*** see also Sahin Alpay's column about the same book below this article]

A panel discussion sharing the name of Gülen's book was organized for the event.
Professor Mehmet Altan, also a journalist and writer, presided over the panel. Delivering a speech to the panel, journalist Şahin Alpay talked about the contribution made by Gülen's followers through the opening of schools all around the world. He said these schools are of great benefit to humanity and will play a significant role in raising new generations.

The Gülen movement is a group of volunteers engaged in interfaith and intercultural dialogue, inspired by the ideas of Fethullah Gülen, whose teachings promote mutual understanding and tolerance between cultures. Now residing in the US, Gülen has pioneered educational activities in a number of countries, along with efforts to promote intercultural and interfaith activities around the world.

Former DP leader Soylu said, having read Gülen's latest book, it could be described as a guide for the world which diagnoses the “the diseases of this era” and proposes treatments for them.

Media Association President Memecan said: “Recently, the identity of the individual has been highlighted while being a human being has been placed on the back burner. We should not forget humanitarian values just for the sake of promoting individual identity. People are thirsty for dialogue, but despite this we have become a society in which we are alienated from each other. I have learned much from the speeches made here. It is obvious that I will learn much from the book, too.”

Professor Altan said the most difficult thing in life is to become a human being; hence intellectuals should open dialogue on the importance of being one. “The 'ideal to let others live' is a crucial concept for me, for it looks at life from above the human and accepts that humans are the most valuable and sacred beings. Culture injects into us the notions of a religion, ethnicity or a religious sect more than the feelings of humanity. We cannot cope with problems when we divide people into religions, languages and ethnicities. This panel discussion is a step forward to overcoming these problems,” he said.


What does the Gülen movement stand for?

Last week I was invited to speak at a panel organized for the occasion of the publication of Muslim scholar and preacher Fethullah Gülen's new book “Yaşatma İdeali” (The Ideal of Serving Mankind), in which he explains the main principles of the faith-based social movement serving the nation and the mankind he has inspired.
On that panel, in the hope of contributing to a better understanding and appreciation of the movement, I presented as follows an assessment of it from a social science perspective.

I am not at all a religious person. I do, however, respect religions and religious people. I believe religious beliefs are coexistent with life, because human beings have spiritual as well as material needs and that they are, if not the only main source of moral principles that help societies stay together. I respect religious beliefs, but regard at the same time, the fight against dogmatic and oppressive interpretations of religions that infuse animosity between people as one of the main challenges of mankind. I deeply respect Fethullah Gülen's understanding of Islam, which rejects dogmaticism and teaches love and respect between human beings. I have expressed my respect for Gülen and his work, not just since 2002 writing for the Zaman and later Today's Zaman daily newspapers, which are products of the faith-based social movement he has inspired, but since 1995, while I was writing for the daily Milliyet, which is one of the bastions of Kemalism, that is authoritarian secular nationalism in the Turkish media.

In traditional agrarian society, religion was the main basis of knowledge as well as morality. In the transition to a modern industrial society, dogmas of religion were challenged, science gradually replaced religion as the main source of knowledge, and the universe began to be explained in terms of the laws of nature, society in terms of the laws of history. It may be said that in the transition from the modern to post-modern society that began in the latter half of the 20th century, the validity of the theories about the laws of nature and history were increasingly challenged and limitations of science were increasingly recognized.

It may be said that there were two basic arguments put forward by the Enlightenment philosophy of the 18th century that laid the ground for the notion of modernity: 1) Critical reason is the most valuable asset of mankind. No assumption, including those of religion, is above criticism and questioning. 2) Human beings can establish heaven on earth by utilizing scientific knowledge, which is the product of human reason. Those societies that relied on the former and also subjected science to critical reason were able to gradually constitute liberal and pluralistic political regimes. In such societies, modernity was increasingly identified with human rights, democracy, rule of law, respect for diversity and market economy. (Liberal-pluralist modernity.) Those societies that relied on the latter argument of Enlightenment philosophy formed oppressive and suppressive political regimes in varieties of fascism and communism. (Authoritarian-totalitarian modernity.)

The reaction of religions and religious people to modernity was mainly of two kinds: Those that rejected modernity led to dogmatic, fundamentalist interpretations of religion, while those interpretations that aimed at adapting to modernity assumed both liberal and authoritarian forms. In the 20th century Muslim world, authoritarian modernist interpretations of Islam resulted in various radical and violent Islamisms in various shapes, including al-Qaeda's global Islamism. There appeared, however, also interpretations of Islam that aimed at a synthesis of Islam's teachings with liberal principles.

In Turkey, the basis of an understanding of Islam that combined Islamic values with advocacy of  human rights, democracy, basic rights and freedoms, rule of law, secularism in the sense of religious rights for all, respect for cultural diversity, science and market economy was laid down by the late Said Nursi (1878-1960), a Kurd from Bitlis, while that understanding has been further developed by Fethullah Gülen, a Turk from Erzurum, living in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1998. Turkey today may be said to be in transition from an authoritarian to a liberal form of modernity. In this process of consolidating a full market democracy, besides Turgut Özal's reforms towards liberalizing and globalizing Turkey's economy, criticism of Kemalist authoritarian modernity by liberal intellectuals, reforms led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) towards accession to the European Union, and the movement serving the nation and the mankind inspired by Gülen have also played a role.

Gülen's views have surely evolved over time. That the evolution of his ideas has led him towards the ideal of serving mankind from all nations and regions is best demonstrated today by the schools he has inspired, which have spread to not less than 120 countries, building bridges of peace and understanding between Turkey and all of these lands.