Just last Thursday, the iconic Turkish Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gulen, was given the 2015 Ghandhi King Ikeda prestigious peace award at a very colourful ceremony at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, Martin Luther King Junior’s alma mater in the United States of America.
Although Mahatma Ghandhi was Hindu from India, Martin Luther King Jr, a Christian from the United States of America and Daisaku Ikeda, a Japanese Buddhist, the overwhelming ethical consistency in the global reach of their philosophies and influence still serve as inspiration to all the world’s citizens.
The peace award presented to Fethullah Gulen was in recognition of his “life-long dedication to promoting peace and human rights,” which is in conformity with the ideas shared by the world’s leading peace and civil rights activists. Past recipients of the award include Nobel laureates Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Mikhail Gorbachev and Rosa Park.
Representatives of Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel, who have been presenting the award since 2001, say “the award is designed to promote the importance of positive social transformation by honouring those who demonstrate extraordinary global leadership towards reconciling differences”.
ALP Aslandogan, President of Alliance for Shared Values, an umbrella body for US-based organisation affiliated to the Gulen movement took the award on behalf of Gulen, explaining that Gulen was unable to attend the ceremony “due to his medical condition”.
A statement read by Aslandogan at the ceremony quoting Gulen said: “I can only accept this award on behalf of the participants of the Hizmet movement who devoted themselves to serving fellow humans without expecting anything return.” Hizmet, which means “service” in Turkish, is used interchangeably to refer to the Gulen movement.
The Gulen movement has spread to over 160 countries across the globe and has a vast network of schools, charity organisations, health institutions and cultural dialogue centres.
The volunteers of the Gulen movement are often confronted by dire conditions in some countries where they serve including Ebola-stricken nations in Africa and conflict-ridden countries in the Middle East.
In recognition of their sacrifices Gulen lauded the activists, volunteers and educators in such countries highlighting in particular volunteers in Nigeria and Afghanistan, who provide educational opportunities to girls and praised the doctors, nurses and humanitarian relief workers who serve in Somalia and Sudan in difficult conditions as well as the entrepreneurs “who compete in donating to charitable causes despite facing economic hardship themselves”.
“These devotees of love who come from different nations, religions, and ethnic backgrounds are the ones whose work is recognised with this award,” Gulen said. They are the one who seek happiness in the happiness of others. What unites them and the pioneers of human rights in Asia, in Africa, in the United States such as Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and all around the world is their commitment to humanity. To hold every human as dignified and to be committed to the dignity of every human is a sign of respect for their Creator,” the Islamic scholar added.
Lawrence E. Carter, the dean of the Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel, presenting the award said: “We’re honoured today to present this award to Fethullah Gulen…who contributes to global peace…we’re honoured because he has expressed that humanitarian value and morality is a shared value of every human being;” adding that the college is also honoured to present the award to Gulen because he has raised his voice loudly against suicide bombing attacks and has said that jihad cannot be done by killing innocent people.
Scott Alexander from Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union delivered the keynote address to explain the Gulen movement to hundreds of participants who filled the hall from across the US. He hailed the Gulen movement for its activities, praising its volunteers who travel thousands of miles around the world with “their hearts and pockets only full of sincerity.” He noted that Gulen is honored not just because he has a “great soul” but also for his contribution in promoting education.
Alexander noted that Gulen could be considered a modern-day Moulana Jalaluddin Rumi, a great sufi mystic and poet known for his preaching of tolerance seven centuries ago. Recalling that Gulen promotes peace and tolerance in his educational activities across the world, Alexander hailed the volunteers of the Gulen movement for possessing “compassion”.
The organisers of the event unveiled a canvas portrait of Gulen, which will be put alongside other past recipients of the award in the chapel.
One may ask: Who is Fethullah Gulen, the first Muslim scholar to win the Ghandhi King Ikeda Peace Award? Born in 1938 in Erzurum in Eastern Turkey, Gulen is an Islamic Scholar, thinker, a prolific writer and an accomplished poet.
He was trained in the religious sciences by several celebrated muslim scholars and spiritual masters and he also studied the principles and theories of modern social physical sciences.
Based on his exceptional skills in learning and focused self-study, he soon surpassed his peers and in 1958, after attaining excellent examination results, he was awarded a state preacher’s licence and was quickly promoted to a post in Izmir, Turkey’s third largest province.
In his sermons and speeches, Gulen emphasized the pressing social issues of the times and his particular aim was to urge the younger generation to harmonise intellectual enlightenment with wise spirituality and a caring humane activism.
The subject matter of his speeches, whether formal or informal, was not restricted explicitly to religious questions. He also talked about education, science, Darwinism, and about economics and social justice. It was the depth and quality of speeches on such a wide range of topics that most impressed the Turkish academic community and won their attention and respect.
Gulen retired from formal teaching duties in 1981, having inspired a whole generation of young students. His efforts, dating from the 1960s, especially in educational reforms, have made him one of the best-known and respected figures in Turkey.
From 1988 to 1991 he gave a series of sermons as preacher emeritus in some of the most famous mosques in major population centres, while continuing to deliver his messages in the form of popular conferences, not only in Turkey but also in Western Europe .
In his speeches and writings Gulen envisions a twenty-first century where the world shall witness the birth of spiritual dynamism that will revitalize long-dormant moral values; an age of tolerance, understanding and international co-operation that will ultimately lead, through inter-cultural dialogue and a sharing of values, to a single inclusive civilization.
On the field of education, he has spearheaded the establishment of many charitable organizations to work for the welfare of the ordinary people within and outside Turkey.
He has also inspired the use of the mass media, notably television, to inform the public about matters of pressing concerns to them, individually and collectively.
Gulen believes the road to justice for all is dependent on the provision of adequate and appropriate universal education. Only then, he says there will be sufficient understanding and tolerance to secure respect for the rights of others.
To that end, Gulen has over the years, encouraged the social elite and community leaders, powerful industrialists as well as small businessmen to support quality education. With donations from such sources, educational trusts have been able to establish many schools within and outside Turkey.
Gulen has stated that in the modern world the only way to get others to accept one’s ideas is by persuasion.
He says democracy inspite of its many shortcomings, is now the only viable political system, stressing that people must strive to modernise and consolidate democratic institutions in order to build societies where individual rights and freedoms are respected and protected and where equal opportunity for all is more than a dream.
Since his retirement, Gulen has concentrated his efforts on establishing dialogue among factions representing different ideologies, cultures, religions and nations. He insists that “dialogue is a must” and that people, regardless of nations or political borders, have far more in common than they realise.
Renouncing the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States of Amerrica, which Gulen regarded as a great blow to world peace that unfairly tarnished the credit of believers, he stressed: “Terror can never be used in the name of ISLAM OR FOR THE SAKE OF ANY Islamic ends.
“A terrorist cannot be a Muslim and a Muslim cannot be a terrorist. A muslim can only be the representative and symbol of peace, welfare and prosperity”.
From the foregoing, are the following operating in the holy name of Islam listening to the wisdom of Fethullah Gulen?
The Boko Harams, the al-shabaabs, the Al-Qaedas, the Harket-ul-Jihad al-Islamis, the Jamaatual Mujahedeen’s, the Islamic Jihad Organisations, the Islamic States and all the other terrorist jihadist groups across the globe.
By George Frank Asmah