Why Turkey is at a Turning Point, Why American Christians Should Care, and What You Can Do
Dr. Jon Pahl
With ISIS and terrorist killings in the news, it’s important to lift up the stories of the vast majority of peace-loving Muslims around the world.
Over the past seven years, I have made close friends among the Turkish Muslim community. I’ve documented that friendship in a previous column, called “Hizmet from the Heart.” “Hizmet” is the Turkish word for “service.” Over the past few decades, millions of Muslims around the globe have been inspired to hizmet by a modest imam who, for health reasons, lives in Wind Gap, Pennsylvania. His name is Fethullah Gülen. But today — due to political changes in Turkey, many of these friends of mine are at risk. They need our support.
The Hizmet movement — which was profiled not long ago on 60 Minutes, exists to do three things: 1) develop schools — mostly math and science academies; 2) build businesses to solve social problems and to sustain the schools; and 3) sponsor interreligious dialogues. These three endeavors are motivated by spiritual commitments. Ordinary Muslims from across Turkey, and now from around the world, have been inspired by Fethullah Gülen’s preaching and teaching to offer their lives in service to others.
Who is Mr. Gülen? I am working on a popular biography of his life. My working title is Turkish Satyagraha. Satyagraha is a term Mohandas Gandhi coined that means “truth force.” It’s not too strong to say that Mr. Gülen is the Turkish Gandhi. He is a dedicated peacebuilder.
But undoubtedly the best way to find out about this movement is to discover for yourself. There is a recent documentary about his life, entitled Love is a Verb (there will be a showing on the LTSP campus on Monday, March 23, 2015 at 7:00 pm). Or you could read one of his books that I use in my seminary classrooms, Toward a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance. Or you could contact your local branch of the voluntary civil society organizations to promote hizmet that have sprung up across the U.S. Many of them are called “Peace Islands Institutes.” It is Mr. Gülen’s idea that people of faith must build “peace islands” to shelter one another from the suffering and struggles of life.
But why should you care? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it well: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And in Turkey, people of Hizmet have recently faced injustice. They have been targeted by the government. Journalists have been arrested and imprisoned. Businesses have been searched and business leaders intimidated. Schools have been closed. And why? Because the movement tried to hold the government accountable for corruption.
What can you do? Write to or call your representatives. Tell them to support freedom of the press and human rights in Turkey. Contact your local Peace Islands representative and invite him or her to your church to speak about interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding. Invite me or my colleague, Dr. David Grafton, to come talk to your church about Muslim peace activists. And finally, and most importantly: pray for peace.