Thomas Michel, S.J.
How can the call to dialogue between believing Muslims and believing Christians be put into practice by the followers of Said Nursi? How can his directives to struggle together against the common enemies of ignorance, poverty and disunity be put into practice in a world which has continued to evolve in ways that are sometimes encouraging and in other ways that are quite disturbing? This is the challenge taken up by a contemporary Turkish activist, Muhammed Fethullah Gülen (1941–). Gülen never met Said Nursi and, while he speaks highly of Bediüzzaman and claims to have been greatly influenced by his writings, he denies being a “Nurcu” or follower of Said Nursi in any sectarian sense.
However, some scholars consider the movement associated with Gülen as one of the transformations that have occurred as Said Nursi’s thought continues to be reinterpreted and applied anew in evolving historical and geographical situations. One scholar to study the movement Professor Hakan Yavuz, a Turkish scholar at the University of Utah, notes that “Some Turkish Nurcus, such as Yeni Asya of Mehmet Kutlular and the Fethullah Gülen community, reimagined the movement as a ‘Turkish Islam’.” Another scholar, Dr. İhsan Yılmaz concurs: “Nursi’s discourse ‘has already weathered major economic, political, and educational transformations’… Today, the Hizmet movement is manifestation of this phenomenon.
Where Gülen most clearly answers the call of Said Nursi is by taking up the challenge to combat ignorance. There are now over 300 schools around the world inspired by the convictions of Mr. Gülen, set up, administered, and staffed by his circle of students and associates. The schools try to bring together educational objectives that are too often dispersed among various school systems. They seek to give a strong scientific grounding, together with character formation in non-material values, which includes cultural, ethical, religious and spiritual training. In addition to the formal education carried out in schools, Fethullah Gülen’s movement has pursued non-formal education through television and radio channels, newspapers and magazines, cultural and professional foundations.
Fethullah Gülen and his movement have also been active in the area of interreligious dialogue and peacemaking. Four years ago [in 1998], Mr. Gülen traveled to Rome where he was met by Pope John Paul II. He has met the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church numerous times. His interreligious activities have gone beyond Muslim-Christian relations to include meetings with Jewish leaders at the national and international level. In connection with the Parliament of the World’s Religions, held in cape Town, South Africa, Mr. Gülen delivered a major address on the theme: “The Necessity of Interfaith Dialogue: a Muslim Approach.”
Mr. Gülen’s was one of the first Muslim voices heard in condemnation of the terrorist acts committed on 11 September 2001. Within 24 hours of the tragedy, Mr. Gülen wrote an open letter in which he stated: “What lies behind certain Muslim people or institutions that misunderstand Islam getting involved in terrorist attacks that occur throughout the world should be sought not in Islam, but within those people themselves, in their misinterpretations, and in other factors. Just Islam is not a religion of terrorism, any who correctly understands Islam cannot be thought of as a terrorist.”
As a Christian involved in working with Muslims and other religious believers for peace through interreligious dialogue, I am grateful for the insights of Said Nursi and for the leadership in this field provided by Fethullah Gülen.
Source: Thomas Michel, Peace And Dialogue In A Plural Society – Contributions of the Hizmet Movement at a Time of Global Tensions, New Jersey: Blue Dome Press, 2014. Pages 28-30
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