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"Interfaith dialogue is a must today, and the first step in establishing it is forgetting the past, ignoring polemical arguments, and giving precedence to common points..."
 BOOK REVIEWS

Toward a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance
by Thomas Michel


Author: M. Fethullah Gülen
ISBN: 1-932099-72-7
Publisher: The Light, Inc., New Jersey





The need for dialogue among people of faith has been underscored by the events of the past few years. Interreligious dialogue is seen as an alternative to the much-discussed “clash of civilizations.” Those who do not subscribe to the theory that a civilizational clash is inevitable are proposing instead a dialogue of civilizations, an exchange of views aimed at mutual enrichment, a sharing of insights that can lead all to a deeper understanding of the nature of God and God’s will for humankind on this planet.

That is what this book is about. It presents the thoughts of one of the most influential Muslim scholars and spiritual leaders in the Islamic world today. The movement inspired and guided by Fethullah Gülen is offering Muslims a way to live out Islamic values amidst the complex demands of modern societies. From its origins in Turkey, the movement has spread rapidly, through its schools in many countries, through its cultural and media activities, and through the social projects and dialogue encounters of Turks in diaspora in Europe, North America, and Australia, to the point that the influence of the Gülen movement is being felt in virtually all regions where Muslims live as majorities or minorities.

This book has a double purpose. On the one hand, it is a call to Muslims to a greater awareness that Islam teaches the need for dialogue and that Muslims are called to be agents and witnesses to God’s universal mercy. Mr. Gülen calls upon his broad knowledge of the Islamic tradition by bringing together the Qur’anic Scripture, the hadith (the Prophet’s traditions) reports from Muhammad, and the insights of Muslims down through the ages, to build a convincing argument that tolerance, love, and compassion are genuinely Islamic values that Muslims have a duty to bring to the modern world.

On the other hand, the book is an invitation to non-Muslims to move beyond prejudice, suspicion, and half-truths in order to arrive at an understanding of what Islam is really about. Someone whose knowledge of Islam is limited to the headlines of the daily newspapers is likely to believe that the religion teaches terrorism, suicide attacks, oppression of women, and hatred for those outside its community. Who would ever want to be in dialogue with people who promote such actions? Who would ever want to live among people with such attitudes?

However, through the writings of Fethullah Gülen, the reader of this book will see that a proper interpretation of Islamic teaching leads rather to truly spiritual values like forgiveness, inner peace, social harmony, honesty, and trust in God. In expressing these Islamic values, which are shared by many religious believers of various faiths, the author is not only calling Muslims to engage in dialogue, but is engaging the non-Muslim in a discussion of commonly held ideals.

I can cite my own case as an example. I am a Catholic priest, an American living in Rome. I have known the members of the movement associated with Fethullah Gülen for more than a decade, and I can state that they are sincerely and impressively living the teachings of their spiritual guide. They respectfully call Mr. Gülen “Hoca Efendi,” which simply means “Teacher.” The lessons in this book, derived from the Qur’an and Islamic tradition, form and shape the attitudes by which these Muslims practice their Islamic commitment. In bringing together his writings which have appeared in a wide variety of journals and interviews, many of which have never previously appeared in English, Mr. Gülen has done a good service for those who wish to know the ideals that characterize this movement.

Last year I was delivering lectures in Urfa and Gaziantep in eastern Turkey. I was invited to address, on my way back to Rome, a group of young people in Istanbul at a gathering organized by the Gülen movement. On arriving, I discovered to my surprise an assembly of perhaps 4,000 youths. In speaking with them, I found that they represented a cross section of Istanbul youth, some university students in engineering, medicine, and computer science, others working men and women. Several of the women were employed as secretaries, travel agents, or schoolteachers. I met young men who worked as bank clerks, drivers of delivery trucks, and in construction.

They were happy, enthusiastic young people who had come together to celebrate the birthday of their prophet Muhammad. It is significant that I, a Catholic priest, was invited to address them on the theme of “The Prophets, a Blessing for Humankind.” My talk was followed by poetry readings in honor of Muhammad, and the evening concluded with a well-known Turkish folk singer singing hymns of praise to God accompanied by electric guitar. My feelings that evening, as on many other occasions, were that if Fethullah Gülen and his movement have been able to instill in so many young people the desire to praise and thank God and to live with love and respect for others, they must be engaged in a very valuable spiritual enterprise.

Non-Muslim believers will agree that these are people with whom we can live and cooperate for the benefit of all, but will undoubtedly ask about the views of Gülen and the movement toward others in the Muslim world who are prone to violence. In this book, the author also takes up these “hard” questions in the chapter on “Jihad-Terrorism-Human Rights,” explaining the meaning of jihad and stating clearly that the true Muslim can never engage in terrorism. I conclude this Foreword by citing a passage that sums up Gülen’s approach as a spiritual teacher:

If I had the ability to read people’s minds, that is, if I had the ability to know everyone with his/her particular characteristics, I would direct each person to the hill of perfection that is the most appropriate for him/her. I would recommend continuous reflection, contemplation, reading; I would tell them to study the signs of God in the universe and in people themselves; I would advise people to busy themselves with the study of the Qur’an; I would advise others to recite a portion of the Qur’an and certain prayers on a regular basis; I would tell still others to continuously reflect on ìnaturalî phenomena. That is, I would designate duties for people in the areas in which they have natural abilities.

Note: This review is taken from the Foreword of the book.










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