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

Friday, December 18, 2015

Fethullah Gulen's Op-ed in Le Monde: Muslims, we have to critically review our understanding of Islam

 Words fall short to truly express my deep sadness and revolt in the face of the carnage perpetrated by terrorist groups such as the so-called ISIS. I share a profound frustration with a billion and a half Muslims around the world at the fact that such groups commit terror while dressing up their perverted ideologies as religion. We Muslims have a special responsibility to not only join hands with fellow human beings to save our world from the scourge of terrorism and violent extremism, but also to help repair the tarnished image of our faith.

It is easy to proclaim a certain identity in the abstract with words and symbols. The sincerity of such claims, however, can only be measured by comparing our actions with core values of our self-proclaimed identities. The true test for belief is not slogans or dressing up in a certain way; the true test of our beliefs is in living up to core principles shared by all major world faiths such as upholding the sanctity of life and respecting the dignity of all humans.

We must categorically condemn the ideology that terrorists propagate and instead promote a pluralistic mindset with clarity and confidence. After all, before our ethnic, national or religious identity comes our common humanity, which suffers a setback each time a barbaric act is committed. French citizens who lost their lives in Paris, Shiite Muslim Lebanese citizens who lost their lives in Beirut a day earlier and scores of Sunni Muslims in Iraq who lost their lives in the hands of the same terrorists are first and foremost human beings. Our civilization will not progress until we treat the suffering of humans regardless of their religious or ethnic identity as equally tragic in our empathy and respond with the same determination.

Muslims must also reject and avoid conspiracy theories, which have so far only helped us avoid facing our social problems. Instead, we must tackle the real questions: do our communities provide recruitment ground for groups with totalitarian mindsets due to unrecognized authoritarianism within ourselves, domestic physical abuse, neglect of youth, lack of balanced education? Did our failure to establish basic human rights and freedoms, supremacy of the rule of law, and pluralist mindsets in our communities lead those who are struggling to seek alternative paths?

The recent tragedy in Paris is yet another reminder for both theologians and ordinary Muslims to strongly reject and condemn barbaric acts perpetrated in the name of our religion. However, at this juncture, rejection and condemnation are not enough; terrorist recruitment within Muslim communities must be fought and countered by an effective collaboration of state authorities, religious leaders and civil society actors. We must organize community-wide efforts to address all factors that aid terrorist recruitment.

Ways of expressing support and dissent within democratic means

We need to work with our community to set up the necessary framework for identifying at-risk youth, preventing them from seeking self-destructive paths, assisting families with counseling and other support services. We must promote a proactive, positive government engagement so that engaged Muslim citizens can sit at the table where counterterrorism measures are planned and share their ideas. Our youth should be taught ways of expressing support and dissent within democratic means. Incorporation of democratic values into school curricula early on is crucial for inculcating a culture of democracy in young minds.

In the aftermath of such tragedies, historically strong reactions have surfaced. Anti-Muslim and anti-religious sentiment as well as governments’ security-driven treatment of their Muslim citizens would be counter-productive. The Muslim citizens of Europe want to live in peace and tranquility. Despite the negative climate, they should strive to engage more with their local and national governments to help work toward more inclusive policies that better integrate their community into the larger society.

It is also important for us Muslims to critically review our understanding and practice of Islam, in the light of the conditions and requirements of our age and the clarifications provided by our collective historic experiences. This does not mean a rupture from the cumulative Islamic tradition but rather, an intelligent questioning so we can confirm the true teachings of the Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition that our Muslim predecessors attempted to reveal.

We must proactively marginalize de-contextualized reading of our religious sources that have been employed in the service of perverted ideologies. Muslim thinkers and intellectuals should encourage a holistic approach and reconsider jurisprudential verdicts of the Middle Ages that were issued under perpetual conflict where religious affiliation often coincided with political affiliation. Having core beliefs should be distinguished from dogmatism. It is possible, indeed absolutely necessary, to revive the spirit of freedom of thought that gave birth to a renaissance of Islam while staying true to the ethos of the religion. Only in such an atmosphere can Muslims effectively combat incivility and violent extremism.

In the aftermath of the recent events I witness, with chagrin, the revival of the thesis of the clash of civilizations. I do not know whether those who first put out such a hypothesis did so out of vision or desire. What is certain is that today, the revival of this rhetoric simply serves the recruitment efforts of the terrorist networks. I want to state clearly that what we are witnessing is not a clash of civilizations but rather the clash of our common civilization as humanity with barbarity.

Our responsibility as Muslim citizens is to be part of the solution despite our grievances. If we want to defend the life and civil liberties of Muslims around the world, and the peace and tranquility of every human regardless of their faith, we must act now to tackle the violent extremism problem in all its dimensions: political, economic, social and religious. By setting virtuous examples through our lives, by discrediting and marginalizing the extremist interpretations of religious sources, by staying vigilant toward their impact on our youth, and by incorporating democratic values early in education, we can counter violence and terrorism as well as totalitarian ideologies that lead to them.

This article appeared in Le Monde on December 17, 2015.

Original article can be accessed here:


Friday, September 18, 2015

MEDIA: - Turkey’s Witch-Hunt Against the Gulen Movement Should Stop

A new piece on outlines the oppression upon the Hizmet (Gulen) Movement in Turkey by Erdogan and the current Government.

Other op-eds and articles on Hizmet and Fethullah Gulen here

We’re told they are “vampires” and “traitors”, “pawns of foreign powers” and “cancerous cells” and a “blood-sucking virus” to be “annihilated,” “cleansed,” “vaporized,” and “separated into its molecules.”


Hizmet’s approach to “de-radicalization by default”  is a valuable asset in fighting and defeating violent extremist ideologies, reflected in the practices of ISIS and Al-Qaeda..

Is this the violent invective spewed at dissidents from the pages of Pravda at the height of the 1930s Soviet purges or from some official mouthpiece of the North Korean regime promising to crush the enemies of the people? No. These are phrases taken in 2014 and 2015 straight from the front pages of Turkish newspapers, like SabahAksamTakvim, and Star, that are known to be unconditional supporters of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The “virus to be annihilated” is Hizmet, an Islamically-inspired, Turkish transnational civic movement.Hizmet, also known as the Gülen movement (after its founder Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Muslim cleric), was until recently an ally of Erdogan in his fight against the Kemalist establishment that had ruled Turkey since 1923.

The relationship between AKP and Hizmet fell apart in late 2013 after allegations of corruption were made against the Erdogan government by an allegedly “parallel structure” within the state and supposed shadow fifth column controlled by the Gülen Movement. The prosecutors and police officers in charge of these corruption investigations were subsequently removed from their posts and all charges against the suspects, includingsome members of Erdogan’s inner circle, were dismissed. This was only the beginning of the government’s wholesale campaign to discredit and purge Hizmet.
Hizmet itself is a network of businesses, media entities, charities, and educational establishments based on the religious teachings of Fethullah Gülen and emphasizing the compatibility between Islam, science, reason and progress. Erdogan’s government hasalready targeted some of the most visible of Hizmet’s institutions.
In December 2014, Hidayet Karaca, general manager of Samanyolu Broadcasting, aHizmet-affiliated media group, was arrested. As of this writing, he remains in pre-trial detention. The government has also disrupted the work of Kimse Yok Mu? (Is Anyone There?), Turkey’s largest relief organization, known for undertaking extensive humanitarian work in Africa, seized the management control of the Bank Asiya, andraided businesses belonging to the Koza İpek Holding company, all of which are closely affiliated with the Gülen movement.
Parents of students in Gülen-inspired Samanyolu schools in Ankara protest recent government raids. (Photo Credit: Ali Ünal / Today’s Zaman)

Western Silence

Recently, Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK)
 ruled that the Samanyolu Haber TV station, which is also associated with the movement, violated a broadcast principle during one of its news program, paving the way for the channel’s closure.
Just last month, agents of Turkey’s Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Bureau (KOM) raided at least eight Gülen-linked private schools. Perhaps most ludicrous of all, pro-government media have claimed (without a shred of evidence) that investigations have exposed the movement’s “armed leg,” which is known as Otuken, and that movement members committed massacres of Christian missionaries in 2006 and 2007.
These are but a few examples of the state’s relentless campaign of defamation and discrimination targeting Hizmet.
Yet Turkey’s Western friends, the United States and European Union, have never explicitly condemned the vitriolic anti-Gülen campaign. By contrast, the international community, particularly the EU, has been very detailed and direct in its (well-deserved) criticism of Turkey on a number of issues relating to human rights and basic freedoms, especially with respect to the Kurds, Alevis, non-Muslim minorities, the LGBT community, and women. In their 2014 progress reports on Turkish accession to the EU, both the European Commission and the European Parliament criticized the politicized nature of the Turkish judiciary and dwindling freedom of the press. The European Parliament even adopted a resolution calling out the lack of freedom of expression in Turkey, following the arrest of journalists who had exposed the corruption allegations against the Erdogan government.
So far, the EU has, however, been reluctant to denounce the persecution of Hizmet in its own right, rather than as an extension of broader problems with the Turkish justice system and protection of basic rights in Turkey.
Such reluctance may be partly explained by perceptions that the AKP-Gülen conflict is a power struggle between “dueling” Islamist movements in which the EU has no business intervening. This perception is reinforced by Hizmet’s controversial role in spearheading the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer investigations in 2007 and 2010, respectively, which focused on alleged plans for a military coup against the AKP government. Most of the accused were members of the Turkish military, but some were civilian Kemalists. During trials related to these investigations, allegedly fabricated evidence was used against the defendants.
Last December, one member of the European Parliament, in condemning both Erdogan’s slide toward authoritarianism and the Hizmet witch-hunt, declared that the “members of the Fethullah Gülen movement and the AKP have created monsters together in a coalition that long turned against everything in their combined path.” Illustrating the view that the two groups are often seen as equally-matched competitors in an ongoing Turkish power struggle, she added, “Now they turn against each other, leading to even more violations of the rule of law.”
There is some merit to these claims. Indeed, through its media outlets, Hizmet was quite cavalier toward the fundamental presumption of innocence, and summarily condemned the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer suspects even before their cases went to trial. The movement’s failure to condemn the arrest of journalists, such as Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, on bogus charges also remains an utter disgrace.
Still, injustice committed by the Gülen movement does not justify government repression toward the group. There are signs some soul-searching may be happening about past mistakes within the movement’s ranks. More importantly, what is happening between the government and the movement looks more like a regime crackdown on an independent civic group, than a struggle between two centers of power in Turkey. This is especially true when viewed within the context of Erdogan’s ever intensifying authoritarianism.
Another explanation for the international community’s silence may be Western discomfort with Islamically-based or -inspired movements in general. But while Hizmet is certainly an Islamic movement, it is not an explicitly Islamist one. In fact, even when AKP and Gulen were allies, the difference in it outlook occasionally broke through, most prominently in 2011, when Hizmet condemned the AKP-supported Gaza flotilla that tragically ended in the murder of activists on the Mavi Marmara cargo ship by Israeli security forces. At the time, some dismissed Hizmet’s deferential stance toward Israel as a tactical ploy to please the United States (where Gülen himself lives). In reality, however, the episode illustrates the long-standing and deep philosophical differences between the movement and the AKP.
Hizmet’s growing anti-Islamist bent has also led it to take a hostile view toward Iran. This hostility has, at times, expressed itself in aggressively anti-Shia sectarian language, which is strongly at odds with the movement’s professed interest in interfaith dialogue and tolerance.
The differences between Hizmet and the AKP did not, however, prevent the movement from working with the AKP when their interests in confronting the Kemalist state overlapped. It also did not stop the movement from moving closer to the opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP), after its fall out with the AKP. While the CHP’s Kemalist ideology could not, in principle, be further from Hizmet’s core Islamic values and beliefs, the alliance reflects the Gülen movement’s overall strategy – namely, to work with any political force willing to advance its interests and exploit opportunities to wield political power behind the scenes.
In emphasizing its rejection of political Islam, the movement may indeed risk criticism for opening itself up to exploitation and appropriation by Western neoconservatives who are opposed to Erdogan and the AKP. Yet the conflict between the movement and Erdogan has less do to with Islamism than with Erdogan’s expanding authoritarianism. In fact, after cleansing Gülenists (followers of the Gülen movement) from the state apparatus, the AKP brought in many members of the old, Kemalist regime. In fact, many of Erdogan’s closest lieutenants are not Islamists at all. One of them, Egemen Bagis, a former EU affairs minister and a suspect in the anti-corruption probe, was even caught mocking the Qur’an.
A Strategic Call to Conscience?
Whatever Hizmet’s faults, there are at least four good reasons why the West should reconsider its position of non-interference and urge Erdogan to stop persecuting the group.
First, as Erdogan pursues his obsessive anti-Gülen “jihad,” real terrorists are reaping the benefits. While intelligence and security officers are tasked with dealing with Hizmet as the “most serious threat” to the country’s national security, both ISIS and Al-Qaeda have mostly been operating freely in Turkey.
Second, government targeting of Hizmet-affiliated and other critical media seems to be part of Erdogan’s strategy to ensure his ultimate goal: introducing a fully presidential system to Turkey, with Erdogan as the executive in chief. Erodgan hopes that early parliamentary elections set for this autumn will deliver the AKP with the necessary majority to pass the relevant constitutional amendment and accomplish the switch. Opposition media and a more critical electorate may be an obstacle to these plans. But, the chances of success are high. If Erdogan’s presidential ambitions are realized, this would inflict a fatal blow to Turkey’s symbolic position as a democratic and pluralistic model for the Muslim world.
Third, Hizmet’s approach to “de-radicalization by default”  is a valuable asset in fighting and defeating violent extremist ideologies, reflected in the practices of ISIS and Al-Qaeda. This approach emphasizes theological refutations of violent extremism and provides a counter-narrative rooted in Islamic teachings. For his part, Erdogan is doing the fight against extremism no favors by simultaneously cracking down on Hizmet, warming up to Saudi Arabia, and supporting Salafist militant groups in Syria, in what one prominent journalist Cengiz Aktar calls the “Salafization of Turkey.”  Ironically, to effectively tackle the extremist threat, Turkey may be compelled to take a cue from Pakistan, which, after supporting and breeding the Taliban in Afghanistan (much like Turkey now does with Salafist groups in Syria), has turned to Hizmet to counter the noxious effects of its own policies.
Fourth, Hizmet’s global reach endows its approach toward rooting out violent extremism with an international dimension. It is a useful antidote to the Saudi-funded expansion of an intolerant Salafist-Wahhabi ideology, which has and continues to cause great damage to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. But, in order to be an effective player in this endeavor, the movement must convince skeptics that it does not seek to achieve political and religious hegemony and genuinely values pluralism.
For these reasons, and before it destroys the fabric of Turkish society, the witch-hunt against the Gülen movement in Turkey should stop, and attention should be focused, instead, on the country’s real problems, from the resumption of the Kurdish peace process to the fight against the violent extremism of ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

The views set out in this article are solely those of the author in his personal capacity and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union or the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. 

REPORT Chatham House release report on Africa that details Hizmet (Gulen) Movement activities

A new 22 page report by Ambassador David Shinn and published by Chatham House provides current analysis on developing relations between Turkey and Sub-Saharan Africa. An important part of the report details the activities of the Hizmet Movement inspired by Rumi Forum's Honorary President Fethullah Gulen.

Other op-eds and articles on Hizmet and Fethullah Gulen here

Below are some extracts, link to full report is below:

Turkey’s Engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa Shifting Alliances and Strategic Diversification

Humanitarian and civil society organizations

At the forefront of Turkish civil society engagement in Africa is the ‘Gülen movement’ – referred to by the exiled followers of Fethullah Gülen as Hizmet, meaning service for others. The movement began as a faith-based, non-political, cultural and educational effort inside Turkey, and it has since spread globally. It puts a premium on interfaith dialogue, and once had close ties to the AKP – with which it agreed on the need to take advantage of globalization’s opportunities. The movement’s financial support comes from a tradition of Turkish and Islamic charity, especially provided by the business community. Gülenists have been sharply criticized in some quarters for pursuing their own agenda and seeking to place supporters in key government and security positions in Turkey. The movement is best known in SSA for the high-quality schools – primary and secondary institutions, as well as one university – that Turkish business people inspired by Gülen have financed. There is no central organization in charge of the schools, which are fee-paying private institutions with rigorous academic standards, and which follow the curriculum of the host country. There are close ties between the schools and Turkish sponsors doing business in the countries where they are located. A key to their success is the network that they provide. Graduates in the DRC, for example, often speak Turkish and help drive Turkey’s commercial interests....

....The influence of the Gülenist movement on Turkey’s Africa policy has been such that it was credited by many observers with pioneering the opening up to the continent, but the recent schism in relations between Erdoğan and Gülen has led some within the Turkish establishment to call for a revision of foreign policy. President Erdoğan has even urged foreign governments, including those in SSA, to close down Gülen-affiliated projects. At the Second Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit in November 2014, Erdoğan warned the assembled African leaders of the ‘hidden agendas’ of the Gülenists. Pro-government media sources have reported that Erdoğan has managed to convince Gabon and Senegal to shut down Gülenist-run schools, and that the Republic of the Congo and Somalia have implemented processes for their closure, although these schools appear to remain open. However, President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique has expressed his support for the movement, announcing in mid-2015 that he intended to visit the Gülenist school in Maputo from which his son had graduated. Côte d’Ivoire’s deputy education minister was reported as having informed one news agency that Erdoğan’s stance against Africa was ‘similar to colonial states’ in seeking an ‘educationally backward’ continent....

...Kimse Yok Mu (‘Is Anybody There’ – KYM) is a non-governmental, Gülen-inspired relief organization, established after the 1999 earthquakes in Turkey, which has expanded globally. Unlike the Gülenaffiliated schools, KYM has a formal, hierarchical structure and organized mechanism for fundraising. Between 2006, when it began assistance to Africa, and 2013, KYM provided about $65.4 million to 45 countries. KYM assistance to Africa reached its highest point in 2011, but it has since declined; in 2013 it distributed about $17.5 million to 43 African countries, with most aid going to development projects, health, education, water wells and support for orphans. During Ramadan KYM offers iftar (fastbreaking meals) and food packages in many SSA countries. The AKP government’s efforts against the Gülenist movement have even extended to KYM, which has had its bank accounts frozen and which was reported in April 2015 to be under investigation for alleged terrorist activities.101 None the less, KYM, which inter alia aims to build 1,000 new schools in Africa by 2020, has subsequently signed a memorandum of understanding with the African Union on efforts to increase cooperation in aid, development and education...


Friday, August 28, 2015

Fethullah Gulen's op-ed in WSJ: Muslims must combat the extremist cancer

As the group that calls itself Islamic State, known as ISIS, continues to produce carnage in the Middle East, Muslims must confront the totalitarian ideology that animates it and other terrorist groups. Every terrorist act carried out in the name of Islam profoundly affects all Muslims, alienating them from fellow citizens and deepening the misperceptions about their faith’s ethos.

Other op-eds and articles by Fethullah Gulen here

It isn’t fair to blame Islam for the atrocities of violent radicals. But when terrorists claim the Muslim mantle, then they bear this identity, if only nominally. Thus members of the faith must do whatever possible to prevent this cancer from metastasizing in our communities. If we don’t, we’ll be partly responsible for the smeared image of our faith.

[Read more Gulen interviews and op-eds here - including New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, BBC, Politico, Asharq Al-Awsat, Le Monde, Reuters and many more ]

First, we must denounce violence and not fall prey to victimhood. Having suffered oppression is no excuse for causing it or for failing to condemn terrorism. That the terrorists are committing grave sins in the name of Islam is not merely my opinion; it is the inevitable conclusion of an honest reading of primary sources: the Quran and the accounts of the life of Prophet Muhammad. The core principles of these sources—relayed over the centuries by scholars who devoted themselves to studying the Prophet’s sayings and practices, and to the “author’s intent” in the Holy Book—dispels any claims terrorists make of religious justification.

Second, it is important to promote a holistic understanding of Islam, as the flexibility to accommodate the diverse backgrounds of its adherents can sometimes be abused. Islam’s core ethics, however, are not left to interpretation. One such principle is that taking the life of a single innocent is a crime against all humanity (Quran 5:32). Even in an act of defense in war, violence against any noncombatants, especially women, children and clergy, is specifically prohibited by the Prophet’s teachings.

We must demonstrate these values by showing solidarity with people who seek peace around the world. Given the nature of human psychology and the dynamics of the news, it’s obvious that mainstream voices are less likely to capture headlines than extremist ones. But instead of blaming the media, we should find innovative ways to ensure our voices are heard.

Third, Muslims must publicly promote human rights—dignity, life and liberty. These are the most basic of Islamic values and no individual, nor any political or religious leader, has the authority to snatch them away. Living the essence of our faith means respecting diversity—cultural, social, religious and political. God identifies learning from one another as the primary goal of diversity (Quran 49:13). Respecting each human being as a creation of God (17:70) is respecting God.

Fourth, Muslims must provide educational opportunities to every member of their communities, where the study of sciences, humanities and arts is embedded in a culture of respect for every living being. Governments in the Muslim world must design school curricula that nurture democratic values. Civil society has a role in promoting respect and acceptance. This is the reason participants of the Hizmet movement have set up more than 1,000 schools, tutoring centers and dialogue institutions in more than 150 countries.

Fifth, providing religious education to Muslims is critical to depriving extremists of a tool that they use to spread their twisted ideologies. When religious freedom is denied, as it has been for decades in parts of the Muslim world, faith grows in the shadows, leaving it to be interpreted by unqualified and radical figures.

Finally, it is imperative that Muslims support equal rights for women and men. Women should be given opportunity and be free from social pressures that deny their equality. Muslims have a great example in Prophet Muhammad’s wife Aisha, a highly educated scholar, teacher and prominent community leader of her time.

Terrorism is a multifaceted problem, so the solutions should address the political, economic, social and religious layers. Approaches that reduce the problem to religion do a disservice to at-risk youth and the world at large. The international community would do well to realize that Muslims are the primary victims of terrorism—both literally and symbolically—and they can help marginalize terrorists and prevent recruitment. That’s why governments should avoid statements and actions that result in the alienation of Muslims.

Violent extremism has no religion; there will always be people who manipulate faith texts. Just as Christians do not endorse Quran burnings or the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, and Buddhists do not endorse atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, mainstream Muslims do not endorse violence.

Muslims have historically added much to the flourishing of human civilization. Our greatest contributions were made in eras when the faith cherished mutual respect, freedom and justice. It may be immensely difficult to restore the blotted image of Islam, but Muslims can be beacons of peace and tranquility in their societies.

Mr. Gulen is an Islamic scholar and founder of the Hizmet civil-society movement.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Rumi Forum Organizes Ramadan Iftar for Interfaith Leaders in Washington DC

Riham Osman, a member of MPAC, began the brief speeches made by 3 women at the Interfaith Ramadan Iftar dinner, which was attended by 80 people, mainly leaders of interfaith organizations and the ambassador of Mozambique. She discussed her Ramadan experience in DC, explaining that she had attended various Iftars. Her most memorable experience was at the White House and having the opportunity to discuss with President Obama. She recalls Obama’s emphasis on the fact that “across all faiths, young people are pulling away from religion” and called for a discussion on how to attract the youth. Osman also explained how Obama’s experiences as a Christian in Muslim countries helped him relate to the Muslim faith but that “at the end of the day it goes back to being a good human being.”

Patricia Zapor, a National Catholic Reporter, discussed the tradition of Iftar. Iftar has helped her understand Islam to a greater extent, “as well as getting a better sense of what is going on in the world”. She addressed Pope Francis’s actions, applauding his travels and overall message, explaining that it has “raised the level of conversation between faiths.” She further complimented his personal touch, and his speech in South America discussing poverty and economics. 

Cantor Hinda Labovitz, a member of the Ohr Kodesh Congegration, ended the dinner’s remarks. She described a female-only Facebook group she belongs to that “represents a cross-section of Jews and Muslims.” The group has taught her that after reaching a certain level of faith, religious individuals face the same problems. She also emphasized the importance of food in religion, as an instrument to separate impulsive animals and faithful humans. She ended the conversation with a blessing: “I bless us, through our abstinence, through our openness, through our acceptance of others and faiths, to find fulfillment every day. May our active choices as partners and limitations in society provide us new opportunities for growth and belief. May our communication be welcome and accepted by the one to whom we spiritually direct these prayers.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ramadan Iftar Dinner with African-Turkish American Communities

The Inaugural Turkish-African American Friendship Iftar Dinner was held Tuesday, July 7th at the American-Turkish Friendship Association (ATFA) in Fairfax, Virginia. The first meeting of these diverse communities was warmly received as the Turkish community and the African American community gathered around the same table to break bread during the holy month of Ramadan.                            

The room was full at the Association, drawing those from academia, government agencies, NGOs, interfaith groups, etc. Imam Taleb Shareef was the first up to the podium to speak upon his experiences during his time in Turkey and the lessons he wanted to share with the audience that he had learned while he was there. Through his studies of Islam for example, he learned that if we order our lives by beginning with what God gave us first, then that can be the foundation on which we can build upon when we gather together therefore, we will possess the ability to recognize our diversity and our common origin. Imam Taleb Shareef speech then centered on a reflection of the simplicity of nature and the connections human beings have with it during the month of Ramadan. 

The next speaker of the evening was from the Somali Association of the Greater Washington Area who thanked ATFA and the Rumi Forum for bringing everyone together so that the different communities within African American society can see each other and exchange thoughts or ideas with one another when normally (especially in today’s busy society) they wouldn’t have the opportunity to do so. His speech centered on Turkish and Somali relations through history up to present day relations. He highlighted the struggles his country, which has been riddled with civil war and instability, has faced and how grateful he is of the Turkish government and its people for aiding the Somalis in their time of need. They distribute aid, and assist in startup infrastructure projects. ---- ended his speech on a high note saying, “It is also fitting to come to this meeting in the blessed month of Ramadan…it is a wonderful spiritual experience, that is not only about denying food and drink during the day, but has many other benefits like perseverance and self control, concern for others, feeling hunger so you can help the hungry and the poor. This month is a perfect time to come together to talk and experience and pray together. Ramadan is for everybody whether you're Muslim or not.”

Kimse Yok Mu (KYM) is an international humanitarian aid organization and development organization that has branched out to one hundred and thirteen countries since its founding. The main focus of the organization has been particularly concentrated in African countries, as the Former General Director of KYM Metin Cetiner said in his speech during the first Turkish-African American Friendship Iftar Dinner. Metin Cetiner gave examples of his organization's work in Somalia, serving hot meals to hundreds of thousands of people and providing emergency aid in the form of tents, clothes etc. “We constructed social aid buildings, schools and hospitals in [Kenya, Uganda, Somalia etc.]” He then touched upon the various American aid that his organization provides during the month of Ramadan, including the current projects the organization is tackling.

NAACP leader Jamiah Adams was the last of the speakers that evening, given her warmest thanks to the hosts. Her speech centered upon dialogue between communities. Beginning her address she quote a few words from the poet Rumi, “‘This being human is a guest house, every morning is a new arrival, a joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor--welcome and entertain them all. Treat each guest honorably , the dark thought, the shame, the malice, leave them at the door laughing and invite them in, be grateful for whoever comes because each has been sent as a guid from the beyond.’ I share these words because we as humans are kin in one family, desireable to be kind and welcoming to one another. Ramadan is one of my favorite time of year because it embodies that approach. We as Muslims have an opportunity to share our faith, our food with a greater American uma during this time. It is time for us to come together and break bread. It is time for us to reflect upon the words of a God, a contemplate being better persons and better Muslims.”     

Jamiah Adams as well discussed her current works at the NAACP, the oldest and largest civil rights organization founded over one hundred and six years ago. She commented on the diversity that is included in the organization, especially during its founding and saying that, “History has dictated that when we work together across cultural lines, across faith, we resolve collectively our movement. It is time for us to come together dialogue among races and faiths to achieve dialogue that is common, conductive and strategic. It is time for us to smash the ills both at home and abroad.”