Love Is A Verb is an examination of a social movement of Sufi-inspired Sunni Muslims that began in Turkey in the l960s and now spans across the globe. The group is called Hizmet, the Turkish word for “service” or The Gülen Movement after its inspiration and teacher, Fethullah Gülen, a man TIME magazine named as one of the most influential leaders in the world in 2013 for “…preaching a message of tolerance.”
In the decade after 9/11, I was vaguely aware that it was not a good time to be a Muslim in America, nor for that matter, an American in the Middle East. At the time, I never really knew any Muslims, nor did I make any effort to. Then in 2010, I met a group of people who invited me on an interfaith trip to Turkey. Although I am not religious, I jumped at the chance to see Turkey and to have an adventure.
I never dreamed that this trip would be a start of a three-year journey that would change my life.
We met teachers in Sarajevo, who crawled through a tunnel to open a school during the war. We met people who travel to some of the most dangerous places on earth to bring medical relief to those in need. We met a Kurdish woman who is working as an engineer to bring water in the desert. In Somalia we followed two doctors who put their lives at risk in a place where other relief organizations have deemed too dangerous, a place where they sleep under armed guard. We met a conductor whose orchestra is composed of children whose parents fought against each other in the war. We got a glimpse of the interfaith work Hizmet conducts in Turkey, including a visit to Rumi’s exquisite shrine.
At first I was not sure whether or not I believed the goodness that they all seemed to have. I wondered whether it was a con that I couldn’t see through because of our cultural differences. Or what their motivation was. But when I learned about their commitment to the greater good, and their history about why they work toward peace and dignity for all people, I became convinced about their sincerity. I met with Fethullah Gülen and was touched by his genuineness and surprised by his shyness and discomfort in my presence.
My trips to these countries gave me pause, made me glad to be an American, yet also humbled me.
In the West, every so often we hear about Muslims in a negative light. Now, I need your help to tell this amazing story of Muslims who are working toward bringing the kind of change we would all like to see in this world.
The movie I made is named Love is a Verb. I decided to name it that because the generosity of Gülen volunteers is an act, not a feeling or a word. The presents, the food, the concern that they have for others is the physical manifestation of love as a verb.
After three years of working together, my co-producer and I are in awe of Hizmet. I am far too stuck in my Western ways to be a part of this group of pious Turkish Muslims, but they are my friends and for that I am grateful. This film is how I am trying to show it, because through them I learned that Love is a Verb.
This expansive and unique story needed to be told. It was also expensive and risky to shoot. We traveled to Turkey, Bosnia, Belgium, Iraq, and Somalia. We’re finally in the finishing stages of this project.
Yet all of the money we had for this project went into the shooting of the film. We are currently in post-production where the editing, voiceovers and sound, graphics and color correction will be inserted. We need help in funding the post-production work and its publicity, so we can spread the word.
I hope you will help us share this story of service and compassion in a time where there is not enough of either in this world. In a time when the 24-hour news cycle focuses on the negative and the gulf that divides us, we need a story that talks about the values that we share and the hope that can bring us together.
Terry Spencer Hesser
Writer, Director & Executive Producer