“Gulen on Dialogue” by Frances Sleap and Omer Sener – 33 pages plus large bibliography – pub 2014 (Hizmet Studies)ISBN 978 0 9929312 0 9 – www.HizmetStudies.org
This new pamphlet in a semi-hard cover deserves serious study and wide distribution.
Hizmet is a Turkish word meaning service, to the world and to one’s neighbour. It is a key idea in the life work of Muhammed Fethullah Gülen. He was born in 1941 in eastern Turkey and is still alive in the USA. He came from a Turkish Sufi background and became a preacher, author, and organizer of the Hizmet Movement, sometimes known as the Gülen Movement. His faith and mysticism were not simply personal but also deeply active and social. He remains a public intellectual. In the Muslim context he states that he is not a liberal, modernist or reformer. He speaks from within the Sunni tradition.
Gülen always saw dialogue as part of the fabric of Islam and as something that corresponds to our God-given human nature. He advocated dialogue for religious reasons, rather than just for pragmatic politics. Love and compassion, he argued, should be the driving forces of dialogue. Its practitioners would need personal humility and empathetic acceptance of the other. If you engage in dialogue “you should have, he said, a chair for everyone in your heart”. A self-critical, non-judgemental approach would be needed. Hüsnüzan, the Turkish word for positive thinking about others, would be essential. This stems from positive thinking about God and about his creatures. Gülen saw humanness as more important than anyone’s personal faith or national identity.
The pamphlet contains 12 guiding principles for inclusive dialogue as well as six points for further reflection. Such dialogues seem greatly needed at present. A national dialogue has helped the difficult transition from dictatorship to democracy in Tunisia. Something similar was tried in Egypt and may be continued with the help of the British University in Egypt. There is a proposal for national dialogue in Bosnia, as part perhaps of the search for a more appropriate constitution.
The Helsinki Agreements of 1975 (or 77) led to dialogues at many different levels, all of which slowly thawed the rigid positions of the Cold War. The need for detente is as great today as it was then. One thinks of Israel, Palestine and the Arab States, or of Iran and the Gulf States, India and Pakistan, or China and Japan. Work on the principles, methods and practice of dialogue could improve the debate about climate change and strengthen campaigns against modern slavery and global poverty. It might even help to prevent some potential conflicts.