Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gulen and Gulen Movement are Transforming People

(Video Duration: 6 mins. 10 secs.)

Ozcan Keles
Özcan Keleş, the Executive Director of Dialogue Society in London, explains how Fethullah Gulen and Gulen Movement are transforming people. At the reception of the following conference titled Peaceful Coexistence: Fethullah Gülen's Initiatives for Peace in the Contemporary World in Erasmus University of Rotterdam he shared his personal experience:

"There is commons about conferences and that is the theme of “Gulen and the Gulen Movement,” and why are we looking at this?

I am aware that there are guests among us here today that have actually attended the conference for the last two days, so those forgive me for repeating some of what's already been discussed:

The interest in the Gulen movement is that it is a transnational movement that concentrates on education and interfaith and intercultural dialogue. What is interesting about it is that the people who are engaged in the movement, who do what they do, they do it out of Islamic sensitivity; because they believe that that is what they need to do. But when you look at what they are doing, they are opening up schools not mosques; when you look at what they are doing, they are opening up schools that are interfaith, intercultural, and nondenominational; that’s interesting. Dialogue is very fact to the Muslim group that is engaged in intercultural dialogue is in itself quite interesting. And this movement is spreading this, I think in about 100 countries and about 600+ schools and counting, so it’s very wide.

There is no central authority, there is no central organization, of the movement, so you have the global vision by Gulen, the principal that these are locally manifested according to the local conditions of the countries in which they are based; and again another interesting point that warrants our academic attention.

I speak here more as a volunteer of the Dialogue Society, I’ll give you experiences from my own life, as I think they are the ones that you want to speak most truly about. As a teenager myself, 14-15 years old, going to school in London, being born and raised there, I went through that stage of ‘identity crisis’: Who am I, what am I? Am I Muslim, am I British, am I Turkish, what is it I am supposed to go through, where do my loyalties lie? Democracy, wow, sounds good, looks good, feels good, but I am a Muslim right? I mean, this is a “foreign” thing. I can’t allow myself to be lead into the values, so I tried to resist that, therefore being Muslim meant resistance, not being open to that kind of influence; be there, take advantage of it, but don’t become a part of it.

And then I came across to the sermons of Fethullah Gulen, because he is an Islamic scholar, a preacher. And I came to realize that this was a man who was spiritually devout, a practitioner, he wasn’t perhaps an academic in that sense, he wasn’t a reformist or a modernist who is sitting afar from the reality and just telling people what things should be done; he was somebody at the grassroots level of society, a practitioner. He would often cry when he gave sermons, he was deeply devout and connected to what he said, and that moved me.

But he was also an intellectual, somebody who has well read the contemporary reading. I remember listening to his sermons that were recorded in 1978 on the Unity and Oneness of God, and he was referring to protons, atoms, astrophysics and philosophers, and that’s interesting as well; that was something quite important for me. And he is an alim, a scholar, so you have this combination of various characteristics which I thought previously to be mutually exclusive; at least the characteristic of being an intellectual and an alim at the same time. And as I got more and more involved with this, in the 1990s I became aware of his views on democracy; at the Journalists and Writers Foundation he said, ‘There can be no return from democracy, it’s not perfect but it is the best system we have, and there is nothing wrong for a Muslim to be a part of the democratic society.’ He said that you have to be proactive in the society, you have to take part in that; that was quite interesting with me.

I can say this with all my sincerity here, that statement coming from a person like himself changed my views on that. If I didn’t end up becoming an Islamist, if I didn’t become a fundamentalist, it is because of those transformative views expressed by a person in the best position to do so; somebody who has the credibility to say these things. His views on human rights, freedom of belief -and I tried to speak about that in my paper- are very transformative.

He was the one that said let’s get engaged, let’s get engage in interfaith and intercultural dialogue; and people resisted in Turkey. They expressed pleasant surprise to share the table with once considered enemies. This changed a lot in Turkey; now we find interfaith and intercultural dialogue meetings, reconciliation, all of that in much abundance in Turkey, but if you were familiar with its history in the last 20 years, you’d know that this at first was quite resisted.

So, what I am really saying is that Gulen and the Movement is transforming, changing people like myself more and more; I think that warrants our academic attention. Certainly in Europe, we hear papers on integration, Gulen’s role in helping Muslims integrate within Europe, very interesting topics and arguments there. Obviously much more can be said about all that..."