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

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.”