Challenges in inter-religious dialogue: Initiatives and activities of the Gülen (Hizmet) Movement in Turkey

Fethullah Gülen


No one would claim that inter-religious dialogue was initiated by the Gülen/Hizmet (GH) Movement in the Muslim world in general and in Turkey in particular. Before the Movement was founded there were many attempts and meetings aiming to foster inter-religious dialogue in various Muslim countries including Turkey. Nevertheless, it is not wrong to say that the involvement of the Gülen Movement in dialogue activities accelerated the growth of such events and facilitated their acceptance in many circles. Previously, at least in the Turkish context, dialogue initiatives had been limited to a few Divinity faculty lecturers and had never gained any legitimacy among the people, and so dialogue activities at the institutional level were generally unknown and unheard. However, the Movement’s involvement in dialogue has not been limited to Turkey, and it is now global. So it is no exaggeration to say that although the Movement is not the only dialogue organization in the world it is certainly one of the most powerful and influential. Furthermore, it makes a strong connection between its dialogue activities and its transnational educational institutions. Thus teaching the value of differences and encouraging the young generations to appreciate shared values and think about such contemporary issues as human rights and dignity, intercultural dialogue, gender equality, women’s and children’s rights, poverty, the dangers of racism, the need for clean water, environmental awareness, the problem of illiteracy, war, and democratic values are the main concerns of these activities. In this article, we consider first the relationships and tensions between majorities and minorities, and the perception of Muslims as a minority in the Western world. We then move to discuss the claim that Muslims give priority to engagement in inter-faith dialogue only in the Western world or only in non-Muslim societies while neglecting such initiatives in nations where the Muslim population is numerically and culturally dominant. The validity of this claim will be assessed by examining the inter-religious and cultural activities conducted by the Gülen Movement in one of those nations, the Republic of Turkey. Finally, in order to judge the movement’s sincerity in these activities, criticisms raised by various Muslim individuals are discussed; this will allow a deeper understanding of the conditions and challenges faced by the movement.

Majority and minority relations in general

The word ‘minority’ is generally used in the technical sense, meaninga group numerically smaller than the majority population in terms of racial, ethnic, political, economic, sexual, physical, cultural, or theological differences, though today some prefer to use the term ‘historically excluded groups.’[1] Relationships between minority and majority groups are very complicated. Bearingin mind that over 90 percent of the world’s nation-states are poly-ethnic,[2] it is clear that this issue is very important. In addition, the increase of immigration for various internal and external reasons in our globalizingworld means that we will see more—and new—minority groups in the near future. The existence, sometimes the absence, of multicultural and immigration policies in many states together with varying perceptions of the implementation of those policies complicate the matter further.[3] These relationships are worsened by tragic events such as 9/11, the London and Madrid bombings and so on. Clearly, people are quick to perceive the diversity and presence of minorities at times of crisis and insecurity as fragmentation and separatism.

Majority and minority relations

At this juncture, it is worth summarizingsome assumptions regardingthe power relations between majorities and minorities. Nations are built around core ethnic majority groups, whose level of attachment and loyalty to the state/nation tends to be higher than that of the minorities. This high level of national identification gives the majority a special privilege: to represent the society as whole and enjoy their higher status as the real owners of society’s values, norms and attributes.[4] Sometimes, this privilege empowers the majority to the extent of absolvingthem of the need to justify their attitudes towards minorities. Minorities, however, feel the obligation to justify themselves and convince the majority through their actions.

Minorities, especially newcomers to host societies, are sometimes seen by the majority as the main obstacle to social cohesion, shared values and norms, even public security. Since the immigrants do not share a common past with the receiving society, their sense of belonging to their new home is always questioned by the majority group. When the minorities are viewed and evaluated from the majority’s perspectives, they are seen as a threat to the existingorder and the majority ascribes to them many undesirable and negative characteristics and an inferior social position.[5] Many researchers find a positive correlation between a high level of xenophobia against immigrants and minorities and the majority’s sense of exclusive ownership of and identification with the state and the dominant culture. In addition, a frequent discourse used by the majority to the effect that minorities take jobs, cause unemployment, are a burden on health care, education, and housing services and so on, worsen the relationship further. In brief, the majority views its space as not to be commonly shared. As Nick Hopkins and others underline, there are majority and minority spaces, but any common space must be built on equality between the participants.[6]

When we look at the same issues from minority perspectives, we see a different picture. Minority consciousness implies some degree of fear, alienation, exclusivism and marginalization. They feel that they are excluded from the mainstream of economic, political, and social life. This ranges from gainingnational citizenship to benefitingfrom labor markets. They strongly believe that as the dominant culture of the majority group sets the stage for any contact between them, they are disadvantaged. Some even consider this contact a vehicle to undermine their collective identity and impose gradual assimilation in the absence of a healthy relationship between the two groups.[7] This occurs especially when an insecure minority meets an insecure majority. As a result, we find that many people prefer to live in their ghettos and avoid mixingwith majority groups to save themselves from assimilation. On the other hand, healthy multicultural and intercultural contacts take place when both majority and minority groups feel secure.[8] Nor should we forget the diversity present in majority and minority groups. Because of this diversity, each majority and minority group finds various ways of solving the tension, depending on location, time, ability to adapt and change and so on.[9]

It should be noted that the relationship between majority and minority is not always negative. Societies which internalize real pluralism, understand the richness of differences and value many similarities can manage the shift from monoculture to multiculture by building bridges among the various strata of society and thus achieving real social harmony. In other words, there can be mutual and positive interactions and influences. Serge argues that a consistent minority exerts influence at both latent and manifest levels.[10]

Critical Western perceptions of the presence of Muslim Minorities

When speaking of Muslim minorities in the West, it is safe to assume that the general discussion about power relations between the above-mentioned majority and minority is also applicable to them. Since the power relations between majority and minority groups are unequal, many assume that Muslims have embraced inter-religious and cultural dialogue wholeheartedly post 9/11. Some go so far as to claim that Muslim minorities use dialogue or the language of tolerance tactically to avoid insecurity and fragmentation.[11] When it comes to their own majority countries, they deny their own diversity and overlook minority consciousness, which serves to create serious exclusivism and isolation.[12]

Thus there is a growing tendency among people in the West to see Islam and Muslims as a threat the preservation of their own identity. Since Muslims, in contrast to many other minorities, constitute a visible minority, many treat this identity as a massive, uniform, monolithic block[13] and see them a real threat to social norms and cohesion of Western societies.[14] Beck remarks that the debate on minorities and multiculturalism has become Islamized, which may be the reason the policy of multiculturalism implemented in Germany, France, Holland and many other Western countries is considered to have failed.[15] Although the growing Muslim presence in Europe (and the United States) is certainly not the result of a well-designed strategic plan to conquest, some people who have a strong influence on the decision-making process have voiced their concern and want leaders to take measures to limit immigration from Muslim countries. Many disregard the socio-economic factors behind the immigration and focus on the assumed inability of Muslims to cope with European values and ways of life. On the basis of some terrorist activities, they conceive Islam to be a militant, violent, terrorist, expansionist, misogynist, intolerant, inflexible religion. Fearing encroachingIslamization, they urge the restriction of expression of Muslim culture without recognizingthat this attitude contradicts their own ‘Western’ values. Some go so far as to call for a ban on Islamic clothingand the building of new mosques or minarets while others make it very clear that as Islamic identity is incompatible with Western norms if Muslim minorities want to stay in Europe they should give up their faith.[16]

Although there are some who are skeptical about Muslims’ presence in the West, others continue to support multiculturalism and value the contribution of Muslims to their society. Moreover, it would be wrong to put the responsibility for all these misunderstandings on the shoulders of Westerners. It should be noted that Muslims can also fail to act as proper believers should, and their everyday contact with their non-Muslim neighbors contributes little to improvingthose neighbors’ understanding of Islam and Muslim identity.[17] We can now turn to the contribution of the Gülen Movement to multiculturalism, with special reference to their activities in Turkey.

Minority and Majority: the Perspective of the Hizmet Movement in Turkey

Interfaith dialogue activities in Turkey began as far back as the late 60s and early 70s. Pope Paul VI’s visit to Turkey in 1967 was followed by that of John Paul II in 1979, which initiated inter-religious dialogue officially. Nevertheless, it is striking that there were no significant and genuine activities among the Turkish public before the 1990s.[18] A few dialogue events occurred at the academic level but these had no effect on Turkish society at large or on minority groups. The memorandum of understanding between Ankara University Divinity Faculty and the Gregorian University of Rome is a good illustration of this. In fact, as Yücel rightly says, until the 1990s the meeting of Muslims with non-Muslims was unacceptable at the community level in Turkey.[19] Thus it is safe to assume that the involvement of GH Movement in interfaith dialogue activities in Turkey mark a new beginning. Gülen broke this long-lived unwritten rule and in İstanbul met with Chief Rabbi of Turkey, David Pinto; the Armenian Patriarch, Mesrob Mutafyan; the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, EliyahuBakshi-Doron; the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Bartholomeos; and the former Vatican representative in İstanbul, Monsignor George Marovitch, who then arranged Gülen’s meetingwith Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 1998. Accordingto Gülen, genuine dialogue can only be achieved by the engagement of both majority and minority religious and secular groups in mutual relationships at the grassroots level. Thus he does not stop at interfaith dialogue but advocates intercultural dialogue which welcomes those who have no religious faith. In a country where people have suffered greatly from internal division, Gülen’s initiative has been warmly received by many representatives of groups both large and small and even by some marginal groups.

Fethullah Gülen begins by acceptingthe existence and diversity of Turkey’s own minorities, and their values and norms. This is his way of beginning to engage actively and constructively with those varied groups. We should note that Turkish minorities and their diverse sub-minority groups, are generally not recent immigrants or new asylum-seekers, although some are newly arrived from Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East. Rather, they are historical minorities who have participated jointly with Turkish people in their shared history, experience, sufferingand happiness. This openness and engagement with a variety of groups and views is actually part of the Seljuk and Ottoman legacy, which is being re-activated by the Movement. The Muslim Turks lived alongside Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Assyrian Christians, and Jewish neighbors for centuries under Ottoman rule. The Ottoman millet system, Aslandoğan notes, granted certain autonomies to religious minorities, establishing what were for that time relatively favorable conditions. However, with the decline of the Ottoman state, some minority groups sought independence with the support of British and other Western powers. Upon finding their former neighbors taking up arms against them, Turkish Muslims began to doubt the loyalty of non-Muslim minorities.[20]

Be that as it may, today we are living in a different situation, and to understand others we have first to deconstruct first our previous understanding.[21] Since globalization tends to aggravate tensions amongdifferent groups, we are now more in need of and dependent on each other. The Qur’an gives this global and responsible role to human beings.[22] Since Gülen has a strongfaith in his own tradition, he believes that religions have a positive impact on our societies and that in the near future religions will play a significant role in changing societies for the better.[23] His suggestion during his meeting with Pope John Paul II that a joint Divinity Faculty be established in Urfa is one result of this conviction. Common points between these three religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism) and their shared responsibility to build a happy world for all God’s creatures make dialogue among them necessary.[24]

Since dialogue involves the confirmation of differences, Fethullah Gülen wants every group (whether majority or minority) to live their faith and ideals in the utmost freedom and peace without societal disapproval. He emphasizes the separate character of different groups and believes that there is divine wisdom in these dissimilarities. As Roy expresses it, local differences and particularities play a significant role in creating a unique cultural constellation.[25] Of course, this should be done jointly, otherwise it is very hard to achieve the desired result. Gülen sincerely wishes to end the social exclusion of religious and other minority or marginal groups (such as leftists, Alevi, secularists, Kurdish groups etc.) and encourages them to engage and participate in joint activities. This is not a call for empty dialogue but for a serious paradigm shift in inter-religious and cultural relations. In other words, he urges people to shift from dialogue to collaboration and partnership on agreed universal values. Partners should work for the happiness of all instead of just their own. Following Said Nursi’s (1887-1960) philosophy, Gülen believes that conflict in society stems from ignorance, ambition for personal advantage and profit from the vested interests of particular groups. Religion neither approves nor condones such qualities and motives.[26]

Fethullah Gülen’s key question may be summarized as: Why not work together for the betterment of all people?’ His philosophy sees no need to marginalize any group. He has always attempted to find a middle way between minorities and the majority and take action to integrate minority groups without pushing them into assimilation or ghettoization. His call for dialogue does not merely involve passive tolerance of minorities, or ignoringwhat they have to say or acceptingtheir existence reluctantly, or turning a blind eye to their activities. As Beck rightly states, active tolerance is, rather, a moral concept that implies a particular attitude towards groups and accepts their differences as those of equals.[27] Gülen’s understandingof dialogue is that it does not merely pay lip service to these minorities and act so as to temporarily please them while privately disagreeing with them. He is convinced that dialogue initiatives are not only a moral but a religious duty. His dialogue activities (visiting their places of worship, joint dinners, iftar dinners, joint prayer, seminars and conferences on certain interfaith topics) give Turkish religious minorities the opportunity to express themselves clearly. Cooperation is the only way to remove fear, mistrust, suspicion, intolerance, hostility, violence, and so on. Gülen invites minorities to introduce themselves to Turkish society. He believes that to overcome prejudice bias, communities should work together. Although we find some inspiration in the classical Islamic sources, today the classical notion of dhimmitude (protected people) status whereby minorities ask for protection from the majority needs a new interpretation.

The Hizmet Movement’s educational and dialogue activities are inseparable. On the one hand schools, currently operating in more than 150 countries, contribute to intercultural and inter-religious dialogue immensely; on the other hand institutions including the Foundation of Journalists and Writers, Dialogue Central Asia/Euro-Asia, Intercultural Platform, and Abant Platform serve as an antidote against theories such as the clash of civilization and the end of history. For the Movement and in Gülen’s philosophy, one of the prime functions of education is to foster intercultural understanding. Failure to take the diverse nature of society in education feeds the homogeneous and monocultural dominance in many host cultures. Denial or disregard of the diversity which already exists in society leads to misrepresentation of others. This partisanship is the root of every turmoil and social conflict. In a world becoming more and more globalized, one has to know who will be one’s future next door neighbor. Furthermore, like neighbors, nations also need each other in a global scale. One of the most important factors here is to eliminate causes that separate people, such as discrimination based on color, race, belief and ethnicity. Education, Gülen says, can uproot these evils.[28] In this regard, education is considered an island of unity. Teaching differences and giving an accurate picture of the unfamiliar other give opportunities to move on. Gülen thinks that this is a key for the improvement of relationships amongthe world’s nations. Religiously speaking, in the understandingof Gülen, what is good for all is also good in Islam (and other religions).

In the Gülen Movement schools in Turkey, tolerance education is being practiced energetically although most students have a Turkish Muslim background. Outside Turkey, diversity is part of the movement’s schoolingsystem. For example, in Bosnia, Croatian and Serbian students, though few in number, study peacefully alongside Bosnian students, in spite of the brutal war. This is a powerful indication that the Gülen Movement’s schools have succeeded in establishing a non-sectarian atmosphere in their educational system while respecting cultural and religious differences. It is also worth mentioningthe nature of current religious textbooks in Turkish schools, where there has been a marked change in attitude towards the teaching of Christianity, Judaism and other world religions. Previously, school had taught that these two religions were originally, like Islam, among the revealed (heavenly) religions, but with the passage of time they were corrupted by their followers. There was also no mention of the living(contemporary) nature of those religions in Turkish Religious Education textbooks. From the early 2000s, however, the textbooks were occasionally revised and today these religions are presented in textbooks that are more representative than earlier editions which focused on mainly Muslim perspectives. Hizmet dialogue activities in Turkey played a significant role in this transition, in cooperation with other partners.[29]

Secondly, Prof. Suat Yıldırım, a close associate of Gülen, has produced an outstandingTurkish Qur’an translation, in which he uses extensively many Biblical passages which are presented as parallel to the Qur’anic verses. Despite many criticisms (some of which are not criticisms but open insults),[30] the Hizmet Movement is promotingthis translation to pave the way for textual dialogue. What Yıldırım did is not new in Islamic tradition but it represents significant step in the Turkish context by demonstrating that there are similarities as well as differences in the two scriptures. That some quotations do not correspond directly to the Qur’anic verses does not diminish great effort Yıldırım made to find some significant similarities. Moreover, he has never promoted the idea that the Qur’anic verses and Biblical passages are the same.

It is also important to note that the involvement of the Hizmet Movement in dialogue activities has made a positive contribution to institutionalized interfaith dialogue in Turkey. For instance, the Director of Presidency of Religious Affairs (the Diyanet) had for many years been sent a celebratory letter of Ramadan and Sacrifice days festive greetings by the Vatican, but only recently has begun to reply. As Yıldırım points out, the Diyanet wrote back after the Gülen Movement became involved in dialogue.[31] Clearly, the Gülen Movement is playing the role of a catalyst to facilitate interfaith dialogue in Turkey. Aydın notes that the Diyanet accelerated its dialogue activities after Hizmet’s involvement. For instance, he mentions that the Diyanet organized a second religious consultation meeting in 1998 and one commission out of three was dedicated to inter-religious matters. Consequently, the Diyanet established a dialogue department.[32] In addition, immediately followingGülen’s visit to the Pope, the Director of the Diyanet also made an official visit to the Vatican, after which some important interfaith events were included in the Muslim calendar, although some severely criticized this initiative.[33] As Öktem points out, Gülen’s visit made dialogue international but many came late to an understanding of its importance.[34]

Today’s global discourse teaches us that one’s happiness depends on the other’s happiness, and many crises in the global context can be overcome only by the promotion of tolerance and dialogue. Gülen often stresses the importance of forgoing revenge for past injuries,, disregardingpolemics, and eliminatinghatred from one’s vocabulary. Gülen asks his followers to see their own mistakes clearly and be blind to the mistakes of others.[35] There is a need of need serious engagement with minorities to foster healthy integration. This is only way to overcome our ignorance about many religious minorities, their teachings, and the way of life they promote. In questioning the limits of diversity, we have to understand first that achieving social harmony in diversity is a ceaseless process. Ongoing dialogue activities are the sole remedy for fragmentation. Thus for Gülen, engagingin dialogue and focusing on commonalities are not a luxury but a religious commandment.

In summary, it is safe to say that the Hizmet Movement and its activities are currently supported by almost every segment and stratum of Turkish society. Equally, their activities, especially the intercultural and the inter-religious, are beingcriticized, sometimes severely, by various individuals and groups. Nevertheless, since the Movement active involvement in dialogue activities began, it has been evident that they have never taken a backward step, no matter how harsh the criticism. This is a clear evidence of their sincerity and faith in inter-religious dialogue activities and their desired results, such as a commitment to the common good and to benefits for all, both within and outside Turkey. In order to understand the difficulties and challenges the movement faces, we will now summarize some of the criticisms levelled at the Gülen Movement.

Major criticisms raised by other Muslims and secular groups against Hizmet Movement

In this part we will list and try to evaluate the various criticisms raised by different groups against Hizmet movement’s dialogue activities to point out that these activities are no easy option but difficult and challengingin the modern Turkish context. There is no doubt that this kind of objection is not unique to Turkey and it is possible to find similar criticisms voiced by academics, religious groups, nationalists, leftists, and even free-thinkers in many Western countries, especially those where some political leaders and intellectuals frequently insist that multiculturalism as a policy is dead. Nevertheless, because of the differences within religious traditions, Muslims’ objections to dialogue also vary. Some of these criticisms seem theologically motivated while others appear to be ideologically oriented. It is therefore not surprising to see polemics, distortions of discourse and misinterpretation based on mere refutation. To have some idea of the opposition, it is enough to consider the titles of books written in order to reject or blame dialogue activities in Turkey: ‘the trap of dialogue,’ ‘the betrayal of dialogue,’ ‘dialogue and fear,’ ‘the door opened with unbelief (kufr): inter-religious dialogue’ ‘dialogue which never begins,’ ‘the disease enters the body when it becomes very weak: be careful, the missionaries are coming,’ ‘the other face of inter-religious dialogue,’ ‘inter-religious dialogue as an act of distortion,’ and ‘a lesson for those who are ChristianizingTurks and eliminatingIslam’ are typical examples. Alongside many anti-dialogue works, however, there are also many pro-dialogue publications in Turkey. Here we will mainly focus on the concerns of the anti-dialogue discourses, especially on those that associate dialogue uniquely with the Hizmet Movement. These criticisms can be classified into two main categories: theological and political.

Some theological/dogmatic issues:

Misuse of the Qur’anic and Prophetic data for interfaith dialogue

Although Fethullah Gülen makes it very clear that ‘If the world changes fifty times, our attitude towards dialogue activities will be the same and we share the same view in relation to interfaith dialogue because our sources do not allow us to do the opposite’.[36] Dialogue, accordingto Fethullah Gülen, is not innovation but the revival of the long-neglected dimension of Islam. For the critics of dialogue, however, the Qur’anic verses and Prophetic examples used as evidence are not compatible with these dialogue activities. They hold the view that the readings of the Qur’anic verses and Prophetic reports made by Fethullah Gülen and others in the Hizmet Movement are one-sided, selective and taken out of context.[37] It is interesting to find that sometimes the same verses or anecdotes are used by different people for opposite purposes. Consequently some question how one verse can be read as both pro- and anti-dialogue. Clearly, they oppose the way Fethullah Gülen approaches these sources with the aim of forming a generation ready to embrace and promote dialogue.[38] Some even imply that Fethullah Gülen’s approach to the Qur’an is not Islamic but conjectural and based mainly on the teaching of Nursi.[39] By this critical evaluation, they reject not only Fethullah Gülen’s readingof the Qur’an but also Nursi’s.

Many criticisms of Fethullah Gülen’s readingof the main sources of Islam are ideological and one-sided, and those critics also read Fethullah Gülen’s writings partially, not as a whole. Consequently, they express their dissatisfaction with almost every single interpretation Fethullah Gülen has made of Islamic sources in relation to inter-religious dialogue. For instance, Fethullah Gülen, like Nursi, regards the Qur’an as the book of dhikr (reflection), fikr (contemplation), shukr (thanksgiving), ibadah (worship), shari’ah (law) and so on, and he also finds in it many verses which encourage Muslims to engage in dialogue with other Muslims, non-Muslims and indeed the whole universe. He never limits the Qur’anic function to inter-religious dialogue. However, he states several times that this aspect is also an original contribution of the Qur’an. Rejecting Fethullah Gülen’s views, his critics unanimously object that the Qur’an did not initiate a dialogue; it is a book not of dialogue but of da’wah (callingpeople to Islam).[40] Fethullah Gülen has never denied this aspect; his İrşad Ekseni and Tebliğ ve İrşad clearly show where he stands on this question. Islamically speaking, both are very important but dialogue is different from da’wah. Nonetheless, it seems that his critics’ academic integrity does not allow them to look at without prejudice these works or at his general views.

It is also interesting to note that there have been concerted efforts by some Turkish scholars to disregard many anecdotes from the life of the Prophet which are used by Fethullah Gülen to support dialogue activities. Although there are others whose approaches are very close to Fethullah Gülen, his critics hold the view that reports on the Medina Charter, the immigration to Abyssinia, the letters or messengers sent by the Prophet to some tribes and leaders of the region, the Prophet’s efforts to communicate with people in markets during the early years of Islam, the Hudaybiya pact, the farewell speech of the Prophet, and the Prophet’s meetingwith Christians from Najran are nothing to do with dialogue. For them, people like Fethullah Gülen are guilty of exaggeration in connectingthese events with inter-religious dialogue. Since these events happened in a different socio-historical context, Ido not think that Fethullah Gülen himself applies them only to today’s dialogue activities. Nevertheless, if these narratives are studied carefully, it will be seen that they contain many hints as to future dialogical engagement with others. If the Muslim immigration to Abyssinia is evaluated only in the asylum-seekers context, it is easy to miss the point of what Fethullah Gülen is tryingto do;[41] however, if one considers the dialogue between Ja’far b. Abi Talib and the Kingof Abyssinia (the Negus), the Muslims’ long sojourn there, their relations with the native people, and so on, it becomes clear that there are dialogical aspects in this process. Fethullah Gülen’s difference from many other contemporary Turkish Muslims lies in his deep knowledge of siyar (the genre of the life/biography of the Prophet) and makingthis knowledge relevant to the contemporary world. A similar comment can be made about almost every single event. While Fethullah Gülen does not claim that this is the only way to read the siyar literatures, I would argue that many critics misuse and abuse his writings to justify conclusions they have already reached.

Problematizing the usage of the term ‘Abrahamic religions’

Many critics have raised this issue. They believe that the concept of ‘Abrahamic Religions’ (for some this is just a fabricated story or legend)[42] was first used deliberately by Louis Massignon, a French Catholic orientalist. Instead of adopting an obviously negative attitude towards Muslims, Mehmet Bayraktar claims, Massignon prefers to use this umbrella term to reshape Muslims into the form he wishes.[43] For others, as this concept does not exist in the Qur’an and Prophetic tradition, the main aim of this deliberate and constant usage is to separate Muslims from the Prophet Muhammad. Some go further and argue that the people who use it are denying the importance of tawhid (Oneness of God) and tryingto unite these three different religions under the name of Abraham.[44] They also note that when people accept the so-called sameness of these three religions, they become insincere and lazy towards religion.[45] In other words, indifference to the particular nature of their own religion gradually alienates people from their religious practices and turns them into mere secularists; thus the idea of Abrahamic religions has sown serious doubts and confusions in the mind of many Muslims.[46] Obviously, for those who hold this view, the notion of Abrahamic religion does serious damage to Muslim identity. Other critics concentrate on the notion of Prophethood in these different religious traditions and conclude that the gap between the Islamic understanding of Prophethood and that of the others cannot be closed; for each religion, the understanding of the status of Abraham is different. For instance, Oruç says that the great Prophet Ibrahim as we know him in Islam is very different from Abraham, who is a simple tribal leader in the Biblical text.

There are others who find this term very problematic and argue that the notion of Abrahamic religions will lead the diverse religious traditions to create one universal religion or faith. One result of this would be to swallow Islamic identity in this universal pot.[47] For instance, Bayraktar considers the book written by a Palestinian-American priest and entitled al-Furqan al-Haqq, which brings Biblical and Qur’anic verses together, an attempt to manipulate and distort both the Qur’an and Islam. So, to seek a common essence, universal ethics and a way to general peace in various religious traditions by creating one universal religion is to undermine the very concept of religious differences. One critic goes so far as to claim that the Gülen Movement’s attempt to make a synthesis of these religions will result in, amongother disasters, the legitimization of usury and of alcohol consumption, the abrogation of marriage act and the promotion of illegitimate sexual activities.[48]

It is very difficult to justify such claims from an Islamic perspective, and I think it is equally difficult to justify them from a non-Islamic perspective. Proactive people in dialogue and especially the Hizmet Movement use the concept of Abrahamic religions for practical reasons and disregard its heavy dogmatic implications. Thus the claim that advocates of dialogue are bringing these three religions under the umbrella of Abraham and forcing them to become one is a slander. None of the participants in dialogue activities has such a heinous aim. Fethullah Gülen himself has stated many times that interfaith dialogue is not theological compromise. As noted above, he insists that the strength of the participants lies in their differences. Moreover, although this concept was used by participants from different religious traditions for time, inter-religious dialogue is not a static activity but changes and progresses constantly, and so during the last five years at dialogue events held in different parts of world the term ‘Abrahamic religions’ was rarely used. A similar refutation can be made of the accusation of seeking to create a universal religion. Differences are reality, factual fact; nobody considers them as a problem, and denying them against the nature of dialogue. Hizmet people insist that our differences enrich our societies, and so we should come together and collaborate sincerely. They never promote cultural, religious, or social homogeneity. Aydüz puts it unambiguously: ‘inter-religious dialogue is not to produce a new religion, melt all religions in one pot but a means to know each other and to be known in the atmosphere of tolerance’.[49]

The misuse of inter-religious dialogue

Some hostile writers accuse the Hizmet Movement of extensively misusing the term inter-religious dialogue.[50] For them, religions cannot engage in dialogue; only their adherents or followers can do this. These critics believe that inter-religious dialogue is a barrier to the propagation of Islam, and so argue that people in the Gülen Movement are directly or indirectly helping non-Muslims to stop the spread of Islam. As Bayraktar puts it, the notion of inter-religious dialogue is used as a disguise to bring about the defeat of Islam from within. This use of the concept is the final stage of the ongoing orientalist project in the Muslim world.[51] Why the critics are so allergic to this expression is a longstory, but it is very clear that their main aim is to find somethingwith which to criticize the Hizmet Movement. Years ago, Fethullah Gülen himself elaborated on this expression and made it very clear that although the term ‘inter-religious dialogue’ is conveniently used, dialogue actually takes place among the followers of these religions in question; everybody knows that religions cannot engage in dialogue but their followers can. People opposed to this expression justify their criticism on the basis of polemic rather than offering serious analytical discussion. For instance, Sezen insists that for Muslims there is only one religion, not religions. This one religion is Islam. The very concept of inter-religious dialogue thus creates a type who comes and goes between two religions, namely Islam and Christianity.[52] In other words, for Sezen, inter-religious dialogue is a means to confuse the truth with error because religiously Muslims have nothing in common with Christians.[53] However, the Gülen Movement uses expressions such as inter-religious and cultural dialogue for practical rather than theological purposes; thus, such criticisms in this context are unjust.

The notion of salvation

Critics attack Fethullah Gülen and Hizmet on the ground that they are in a great hurry to put all the People of the Book into paradise, thus transferring the monopoly on granting entry to paradise from God to the Gülen Movement. Consequently, people in the Movement rush to declare that many Western leaders are secret Muslims.[54] According to such critics, since Islam exclusively possesses the power of absolute salvation, interfaith dialogue and discourse on commonalities among various religions can serve to dilute the distinctiveness of the Islamic faith. Oruç states that interfaith dialogue is a means to induce Muslims to give up the belief that ‘my religion is the last one and the most authentic’.[55] These critics are certain that the promotion of the ‘common word’ in dialogue makes tawhid (Oneness of God) and tathlith (Trinity) equal.[56] Bayraktar goes so far as to claim that interfaith dialogue is an attempt to make Muslims abandon the community of Muhammad for the community of Jesus. Sezen remarks that Hizmet people believe that the difference between Islam and Christianity is as thin as a cigarette paper, and concludes that for Hizmet, beinga moral person is an unconditional requirement but being a Muslim is not. Elsewhere he says that there is a deep humanity and human love in the Gülen Movement but deep love of Islam is always absent.[57] Sezen recognizes no religious or moral criteria or scholarly norms in his evaluation of the Gülen Movement and so can easily blame them in whatever way he wishes. Aydın is, however, more cautious and scholarly than others, and observes ‘it is almost impossible to claim that both Muslims and Christians believe in the same God; nevertheless, we do not claim that the concept of God is the same in all Christians’ understanding’.[58]

Regarding the notion of salvation, the critics go into great detail in discussingabout Fethullah Gülen’s and Hizmet’s approach to the acceptance or rejection of the Prophet Muhammad by non-Muslims. They are indeed extremely critical, allegingthat Fethullah Gülen and his followers are workingvery hard to abrogate the second part of the Islamic formula of faith, kalima al-tawhid (There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is His messenger). Accordingto them, Fethullah Gülen promotes the idea that there will be salvation for those who do not approve the Prophethood of Muhammad.[59] To support this view, they generally quote Fethullah Gülen’s statement about ‘approachingwith compassion the people who only say `there is no god but Allah` and do not say `Muhammad is His messenger`’ which appears in his book Fasıldan Fasıla. Unfortunately, many critics do not study the context of this comment enough. Fethullah Gülen’s original talk has nothingto do with the salvation of non-Muslims or disregarding the second part of the declaration of the faith. Fethullah Gülen does not say that there are no differences between Islam and Christianity or that the differences which exist are not significant. For him, there are indeed important differences between the two. Nevertheless, the serious criticism of both Christians and Jews in the Qur’an, Fethullah Gülen says, needs to be viewed in its historical context.

This historical reading, accordingto Fethullah Gülen, will allow Muslims to re-establish healthier relationships with other communities, both religious and non-religious. He is against the partial readingof the Qur’an and says that some people are unable to comprehend the route the Qur’an is indicating. Consequently, they derive some conclusion which is not compatible with the Qur’anic text. For instance, a claim of salvation outside the tariq Ahmadiyya (the footpath of Prophet Muhammad) is one of these partial readings because if the verses in the Qur’an are investigated carefully, it becomes evident that the Qur’an is trying to build bridges for the People of the Book and is showing them various doors so that they may find a correct way. Accordingto Fethullah Gülen, the Qur’an should be read holistically otherwise it cannot be understood clearly. So the main issue is the tadrij (step by step) and the Qur’an indicates frankly where and how one should begin. Obviously, the startingpoint in Fethullah Gülen’s understanding is belief in One God, which is the central and normative basis of all moral values. In several places in his writings Fethullah Gülen deliberately avoids talking about salvation in the hereafter and points out cautiously that because salvation is in the hand of God and we can only learn it in the hereafter, no Muslim has a guarantee of salvation in this world. Surely someone who holds this view would never say that non-Muslims will be saved just by saying La ilaha illallah. To depict Fethullah Gülen as a man who is seeking to establish some kind of theological comprise is to draw an incorrect theological picture of him.

In reality, Fethullah Gülen’s emphasis is on the cultural and social aspects of pluralism rather than on the dogmatic ones. Anyone who is familiar with his writings must acknowledge his love of the Prophet and confirm that he never separates the second part of the kalima al-tawhid from the first, nor is there any relativism or pluralism regarding the truth in his understanding. Nevertheless, for Fethullah Gülen, real salvation is found not only in avoidance from sin but also in active engagement in improving the world.[60] In addition, he does not accept the view of those who say that ‘interfaith dialogue with non-Muslims is impossible because Muslims accept all the Prophets but non-Muslims do not accept the Prophet Muhammad’.[61] If non-Muslims accept the Prophet Muhammad, they become Muslims and the meaning of interfaith is not Muslims meeting with Muslims. Dialogue is accepting differences and trying to find a common ground on which to work together. Finally, it is worth notingthat Fethullah Gülen does not accept that ‘the People of the Book’ is a socio-legal description rather than a religious community. As many Qur’anic usages of this expression are related to dogmatic and theological matters, seeing them only as a socio-legal community[62] is a very reductionist approach. Reducing them to the category of unbeliever (kafir) is also not justifiable from the Qur’anic perspective.[63] There are others who reiterate their accusation that the Gülen Movement wants to unite the religions in the context of the notion of salvation,[64] but there is no need to open new page about this baseless claim.

Joint Iftar Dinners

The Hizmet Movement is also criticized for its joint iftar dinner organization. For some critics, this is an open insult to non-Muslims. Others think that interfaith dialogue should not include the participation of different religious groups in each other’s worship. To invite a person who is not fasting to an iftar dinner forces non-Muslims in return to organize an iftar dinner for Muslims. This is not the appropriate attitude.[65] Similarly, joint prayer, participation in each other’s funeral ceremony, and visiting each other on festive days[66] are considered by some critics an abuse of interfaith dialogue. They argue that these kinds of activity are outside the scope of inter-religious dialogue. There are others who see them in a more constructive way and believe that togetherness helps people to understand each other. For instance, Niyazi Öktem praises the prayer of peace held in İstanbul with the participation of religious leaders such as those of the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Syriac and Armenian Churches, and the Chief Rabbi, and Grand Mufti of İstanbul on 15 January 2004.[67] If such a prayer were theologically and ethically wrong why would the Mufti of İstanbul, Mustafa Çağrıcı, have accepted such an invitation? From Fethullah Gülen’s perspective, if an activity is compatible with basic disciplines of Islam, gives people the opportunity to come together rather than force them to avoid each other, and paves the way for reconciliation and harmony, it is worth trying. It should also be noted that these kinds of activities are not limited to Turkey, but are being held in many other countries. By attending an iftar dinner non-Muslims learn the content of Muslim fasting; when Hizmet people outside Turkey invite non-Muslims to share their iftar dinners, these guests visit a Muslim home and witness at first hand the Muslim way of life. Prejudice created by the media can only be broken by coming together amicably and the iftar dinner is one of the best opportunities for this. Finally, this kind of visit allows non-Muslims to witness the hospitality and generosity of Muslims. This is a unique way of showing the beauty of Islam.

Political issues

Inter-religious dialogue becomes Hizmet dialogue

Another important issue raised by many critics is that of representation and monopoly in dialogue activities. How can one be sure that in dialogue both sides are intellectually, institutionally, financially and influentially equal? In contrast to Christians, there is no strongorganizational body, very well-established hierarchy, and means to promote dialogue in Muslim communities. Furthermore, many critics believe that since Muslims have not often initiated the dialogue activities, they are generally passive receivers rather than independent contributors to this process. Aydın mentions another aspect of this issue, one which affects Muslims negatively, namely the use of a common language (English) in dialogue meetings. Since many Muslims are not native speakers, they feel at a disadvantage and do not express themselves very well.[68] In other words, on the one hand there are very well-trained Christians and on the other there are rather diffident Muslims. For many, this format does produces not a dialogue but a monologue.[69] So the main question to be answered is ‘who will participate in dialogue?’. For some critics, lay Muslims who take part in these activities with Christian theologians or priests are engaging not in dialogue but in missionary work as prospective converts.[70] Here the anti-dialogue advocates’ main concern is that these unequal encounters make Muslims vulnerable to outside influence; some see such meetings as posing a significant risk. It is also important to note that some critics make a distinction between institutional and individual dialogue: although many believe that any dialogue initiative carried out by the Church is simply missionary activity, very few deny that individual dialogue may contribute to the solution of common problems.

Be that as it may, anti-dialogue campaigners in Turkey constantly ask the same question: does the Gülen Movement represent all Muslims?[71] Some even go so far as to claim that this Movement, which has, according to them, been tryingto monopolize religion for a long time, now wants to control all dialogue activities too.[72] Although these accusations are baseless, it is very clear that some people are angry and disconcerted by the Movement’s dialogue activities. Seekingany opportunity to criticize, they question why Fethullah Gülen should visit the Pope; Since the Vatican is a state, does Fethullah Gülen have any official position that would justify the visit? How does he compose a letter to the Pope? Some interpret this visit as Fethullah Gülen’s assuminga leadership status above even that of the Presidency of Religious Affairs of the Turkish Republic. Fethullah Gülen is also criticized for his visit to the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in İstanbul. Some hardcore nationalists and secularists consider it an attempt to undermine the sovereignty of the Turkish state. Their criticisms are not limited to the above-mentioned points; for them the main issue is the problem of representation: put simply, the Gülen Movement represents neither Islam nor Muslims. Some even question the nature of the religious beliefs held by people in the Movement. They regard the Movement as a secret religious order or cult, operating like Masonic and Messianic movements, or like communists; its methods in dialogue are un-Islamic. Moreover, the Western description of Fethullah Gülen as an advocate of dialogue and the West’s support of the Gülen Movement are enough to cast suspicion on his dialogue activities.

First of all, Fethullah Gülen and his followers never claim to be the sole patrons of dialogue and representing all Muslims. For them, to encourage dialogue is to fulfil the Qur’anic command ‘compete in goodness,’ and so they open the door of dialogue to everyone. In fact, the critics’ main concern is not dialogue itself but their dissatisfaction with Hizmet’s involvement in dialogue. In other words, la li ḥubb ʿAliyy wa-lakin li bughḍ ʿUmar (Not through love of ʿAli but from hatred of ʿUmar) is the main motivation here. Secondly, Fethullah Gülen is not the only person who has met with Pope without holding any official title; moreover, he did not act independently but sought the advice of the Turkish authorities before the meeting. He has inspired a world-wide global movement and has earned the right to exchange ideas with other religious and political leaders, but no one should assume that his meeting with the Pope signaled any loss of adherence to Islam. He is very well aware of changes in the world, common problems and the importance of collaboration, and insists that the arena of interfaith activities is open to everyone. Fethullah Gülen strongly believes that dialogue is a vital, but to describe dialogue activities of the movement as an obsession, a way to please the West, the EU and the USA, eradicatingthe synthesis of Turkish-Islam, and promotingsecularization cannot be justified. To see the Movement’s dialogue activities as supporting the interests of Israel, the Vatican, the USA and its various centers in the Muslim world and Africa rather than sincere attempts at collaboration is to indulge are actually fantasies.

Some critics assert that immediately after Fethullah Gülen’s move to America, inter-religious dialogue became Hizmet Movement dialogue,[73] meaning that the initiative passed from the Vatican to the USA, and thereby implyingthat Hizmet is now a tool the Americans will use for the benefit of the USA. To support this view, Bayraktar and Sezen urge their readers to examine Fethullah Gülen’s discourse and see how he praises the USA. Critics habitually connect the Gülen Movement’s dialogue activities with outside powers. Some allege that since there is no hierarchy in Islam, the CIA trains its own Muslim scholars in various Muslim lands using bribery, threats and so on,[74] one implication being that because the Gülen Movement teaches English in its schools it must be part of this project. According to some, the dependence of Fethullah Gülen and his followers on foreign governments in their struggle with their own state is clear evidence of their close collaboration with outside powers;[75] others argue that behind Fethullah Gülen’s excessive emphasis on dialogue lies his commitment to protect the Hizmet schools and the activities of the Movement outside Turkey.[76] These two positions see a different form of pragmatism in Hizmet’s activities but both display a markedly reductionist understandingof the Gülen Movement’s vision of dialogue.

Finally, it is important to note that many critics believe that only the Diyanet has the authority to conduct dialogue activities Fethullah Gülen used to be a part of this institution and retains a great respect for it. Nevertheless, many critics miss the point that official and institutional dialogue is different from private and individual dialogue. Because they fear that some participants in dialogue are insincere they wish to keep dialogue activities at the level of experts and official institutions. If any organization other than the Diyanet takes part in dialogue, its activities can be divisive and uncontrollable.[77] Despite such arguments, the Gülen Movement sees the world as dar al-hizmet (the land of service);[78] consequently their activities go beyond the Turkish border and are not limited to religious people but include non-religious, atheists, secularists, free-thinkers and so on. It should be remembered that Hizmet is a civic movement and works for the common good. Its members have a strong religious conviction that informs what they do but they refrain from emphasizingthis constantly. Also, here are things that official bodies do best and there are activities best performed by civic. So the Hizmet movement never seeks to hold the monopoly in dialogue and indeed does not accept that there should be any monopolies. Some critics who condemn the movement for monopolizingdialogue fall into the same trap they set for Hizmet. A few critics argue that the Gülen Movement should engage in dialogue with other Muslims rather than non-Muslims, because if someone fails to engage in dialogue with their co-religionists, inter-religious dialogue is rendered meaningless. They also assert that intra-religious dialogue is harder than inter-religious dialogue.[79] I think these critics forget Gülen’s numerous letters to many Muslim leaders both within Turkey and outside Turkey on various occasions, few of whom have ever responded. It is also important to note that Gülen encourages his close friends to support other groups’ activities and not criticize any of them.

Light Islam

An interesting discussion in relation to the Movement’s dialogue activities concerns its alleged promotion of light or moderate Islam. Curiously, its critics in this regard include secularists and ultra-nationalists, who do not practice Islam. As mentioned above, many ordinary supporters of the Movement are devout Muslims who are very sensitive to any issues related what is to lawful and unlawful in Islam. Their aim in dialogue is not to domesticate the Islamic faith or reduce it to empty philosophical conceptualization, although Sezen claims they are guilty on both counts.[80] Critics have a strong belief that the Gülen Movement is helping outside powers to realize their project of breakingMuslims’ resistance by promoting light Islam; but ‘what is light Islam? For them, light Islam is a weak kind of faith that adapts to every kind of environment, sacrifices its fundamental principles, never gets involved in political and social issues, and displays an excessively obedient character. Light Islam is inspired not by Islam itself but by outside influences which promote a simple, cheap and lawless religion.[81] Thus Bayraktar regards dialogue activities as a spring-board to create light Islam,[82] and many hold the view that the USA is using the Gülen Movement as an instrument to foster moderate Islam in the Middle East as part of its greater plan in the region.[83] For this plan to succeed, the USA needs to soften Islamic principles and the Movement is an appropriate tool for this purpose. Another critic claims that donations made to some Islamic studies in Western countries are intended to enrich and empower light Islam.[84] These are the critics’ personal views expressed to insult the Movement, rather than a scientific investigation of its activities. Iworked for nearly six years in one of its institutions and do not remember myself or any other person in the movement sacrificing any principle we valued. On the contrary, you are only valuable in dialogue if you preserve your own identity and convictions. Unfortunately, many narrow-minded people believe that dialogue must involve compromise. Definitely not! Diversity and differences are the main strengths of dialogue. Critics seem not to want to understand that others can learn from you and you learn from others only through dialogue and serious engagement. People in the Movement practice their faith in dialogue organizations in all conditions. It should be noted that people who live with Gülen know their religious life very well and are sensitive to the minutest details of the religious commandments. If their religious life is light, Ido not know what to call that of others’.

Cities for dialogue

One of the major concerns reiterated by some critics is the selection of Turkish cities for dialogue activities. Bayraktar draws attention to the importance of these cities for Christians, and mentions some that used to be centers of Christianity: İstanbul, İzmir, Hatay (Antioch), Mardin, and Urfa.[85] Sezen makes the same insinuation and implies that the Gülen Movement is trying to reconnect these cities with their Christian heritage.[86] In reality, the Hizmet Movement’s dialogue activities are not confined to these cities but are organized in other cities in Turkey and in other countries. In addition, the Gülen Movement has never denied the importance of these cities to Muslims, Christians and many other minorities. Even today, outside the Gülen Movement, similar meetings are held by different groups in these places but no one criticizes them. The Gülen Movement also organizes dialogue meetings in London, Cambridge, Paris, Rome, Washington, Chicago, Melbourne, Sydney, Sarajevo, Cairo, Jakarta and many other cities; there is no need to look for hidden agendas in this selection.

Missionary Activities

In the Turkish context, when people talk about inter-religious dialogue, the first thing that comes to mind is the Vatican and their missionary activities.[87] Thus, some suspect the motives behind dialogue activities and some find the collaboration with missionaries very sinister.[88] For Turkish critics, the aim of inter-religious dialogue is to Christianize the Turks; when the period of colonialism and imperialism ended; Christian missionaries invented the concept of dialogue to support their missionary activities. In this context, many critics refer to the role played by missionaries in the collapse of the Ottoman state and argue that a similar fate is awaiting present-day Turks in the Turkish Republic, and in other Turkish countries in central Asia.[89] For others, the Movement for inter-religious dialogue is similar to the reformist movement, Wahhabism or Salafism, which they contend, aims to destroy Islam from within. The missionaries’ method, according to the critics, is simple: first devalue Islam in the eyes of Muslims, and then convert them to Christianity.[90]

Again, there is a strong conviction among the critics that participants in dialogue do not know its real face and content. Muslims are passive participants and dialogue is steered by Westerners and Christians to the detriment of Muslims. Sezen asks an interestingquestion ‘Does Turkey solve all its problems except interfaith dialogue issue?’ In other words, despite the fact that people in Turkey have many problems, why do we focus on interfaith issue?[91] It seems that critics in Turkey (and it is not clear whether they know the content of the various dialogue activities) are obsessed with the fear of missionary intervention. We do not claim that no mission-oriented people are engaged in dialogue, but it is wrong to see these countless events as tools of Christian missionaries. We must admit that some of the post-Vatican II documents issued by the Papal office and Catholic Christians such as Dialogue and Mission (1984), Redemptoris Mission (1990), Dialogue and Proclamation (1991), and Dominus Jesus (2001) make it clear that, for some, dialogue and mission are inseparable.[92] Moreover, the Frankfurt declaration issued by Lutheran Christians, which rejects dialogue and insists on the sole authenticity of Christianity,[93] and the various home or secret churches[94] established by different Protestant groups in the Muslim world constitute a serious obstacle to dialogue. Nevertheless, it is difficult to argue that every Christian who engages in dialogue seeks to convert Muslims to Christianity.[95] The number of Muslims converting to Christianity, which is reported in Turkish media and used by critics does not, however, reflect the actual fact.[96] There are also many Christians who oppose interfaith dialogue and express similar excuses to those used by Turkish critics. Rather than make ceaseless efforts and invest in the younggenerations’ education and religious upbringing, Turkish critics prefer to accuse others and discuss protective measures which are losing their importance in this century of mass communication technology. Seeing interfaith dialogue as detrimental to the notion of amr bi al-ma’ruf wa nahy an al-munkar (enjoininggood and forbiddingevil) is also a typical reflex of this protective mind-set. There are limitless ways of doing good and one of these is engaging in interfaith dialogue activities.

Death of Dialogue

Many Muslims, who participate actively in dialogue, were disappointed by the remark made by Pope Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg on 12 September 2006. After this speech, Pope Benedict invited Muslim ambassadors to the Vatican and reiterated the importance of inter-religious dialogue, and it is important to note that after this speech, there were many Muslim-Catholic dialogue initiatives in various parts of the world. Nevertheless, people in the Hizmet Movement, includingGülen, criticized the Pope’s remark, as did some Catholics. Moreover, many anti-dialogue writers regarded the Pope’s comment as markingthe end of inter-religious dialogue, and some believed that it was evidence of the bankruptcy of institutionalized dialogue activities.[97] They asked whether or not the Gülen Movement would continue its dialogue with Roman Catholics. Since 2006, there have been many major and minor dialogue activities between Muslims and Catholics, which show that people from both religions believe that dialogue must continue. This is not an attempt to justify what Pope Benedict said, but the praxis in both Catholic groups and the Gülen Movement indicates that people’s dedication to dialogue has not been disturbed by his remark. Even the Pope himself continued to engage in dialogue with other religious groups.


The relationship between majority and minorities is a difficult one. Because of the constant influx of immigration from war zones, economic deprivation, epidemic disease and so on, it seems that this discussion will preserve its vitality for a long time. The Gülen Movement is aware of global issues and problems and believes sincerely that these problems can be solved only by glocal cooperation. Here intercultural and tolerance education together with inter-religious dialogue play a significant role. If these are lacking, cultural intolerance may lead even very civilized people to commit injustice and show a complete disregard of others. The Gülen Movement has been working very hard to develop this active cooperation between various faith groups. Hizmet people are not doingthis because of the pressure on Muslims applied immediately after 9/11 but because they believe that the future prosperity of human beings depends on the mutual and collective efforts of all groups. In addition, as we explained in this article, they put their ideals and beliefs into practice wherever they live, no matter whether they belongto the majority or a minority. Gülen believes that Islam is theologically and historically a very tolerant religion and he wants to re-activate most neglected aspect. He asks his followers to engage proactively and positively with the contemporary world to establish permanent peace, security and a prosperous future for all (both minorities and majorities). Thus the Gülen/Hizmet movement acts consistently in both majority and minority positions despite the serious criticisms and allegations raised against it. For instance, as Salih Yücel points out, while he is accused of beingIslam’s Trojan horse in the Western Christian world, in the Turkish world he is paradoxically accused of beingthe Pope’s Trojan horse. His followers accused of being bad representatives of Islam and of catering to Jews and Christians. Although many appreciate the Hizmet Movement’s activities everywhere, polarized views about Gülen and the movement abound among those on the left and on the right wing, among the religious and irreligious. I think the main reason for this polarization lies in the movement’s consistent activities both within and outside Turkey, in education and dialogue, and in relief and health organizations.

[1] Peter C. Phan and Jonathan Y. Tan, ‘Interreligious Majority-Minority Dynamics,’ Understanding Interreligious Relations, (eds.) David Cheetham, Douglas Pratt, and David Thomas, Oxford: Oxford Press, 2013, 219; Ondřej Valenta, ‘Relationship Between Minority and Majority Population Groups: ExaminingFactors of Spatial Concentration of Ethnic Minorities,’, accessed on 5 May 2014.
[2] Berlin accommodates more than 360 religious communities; Basel and Zurich are known to house more than 370 different religious groups (Herman L. Beck, ‘Beyond Living Together in Fragments: Muslims, Religious Diversity and Religious Identity in the Netherlands,’ Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 33 (2013), 112; Valenta, ‘Relationship Between Minority and Majority Population Groups,’ 16).
[3] Valenta states that different historical experience of nation-state formation plays a significant role in this different performance of immigration policy. For instance, he mentions France, whose immigration policy most resembles the assimilation model. Nevertheless, there are other countries which have switched the assimilation model of their immigration policy to the pluralistic model (Valenta, ‘Relationship Between Minority and Majority Population Groups, 5–7). Staerklé and others draw attention to the progressive aspects of nationhood and ethno-cultural attachment which evolve and take on different forms and meanings over time. (C. Staerklé-J. Sidanius, E.G.T. Green, L. Molina, ‘Ethnic Minority-Majority Asymmetry and Attitudes Towards Immigrants Across 11 Nations, Psicologia Politica, 30 (2005), 24).
[4] Staerklé and others, 2005:10.
[5] Waardenburg, 2003:18; Valenta, ‘Relationship Between Minority and Majority Population Groups, 3.
[6] Nick Hopkins, Ponni Michelle Greenwood, Maisha Birchall, ‘Minority understaning of the dynamics to intergroup contact encounters: British Muslims’ (sometimes ambivalent) experiences of representingtheir group to others,’ South African Journal of Psychology, 37/4 (2007), 695.
[7] Hopkins, Greenwood and Birchall, 2007:684. There is no doubt that any necomer in the host society will gradually weaken their ties to their native cultural profile and values and subsequently adopt the cultural norms of the host society. One can even speak about the melting-pot model, when ethnic minorities gradually melt into the host society. Valenta draws attention to structural assimilation: ‘when structural assimilation (intermarriage etc.) has occurred, all of the other types of assimilation will naturally follow. Particular prejudice will decline (if not disappear), and the minority’s separate identity will wane’ (Valenta, ‘Relationship Between Minority and Majority Population Groups, 6).
[8] Valenta, ‘Relationship Between Minority and Majority Population Groups, 9.
[9] Phan and Tan, 2013:231.
[10] Serge Moscovici and Elisabeth Lage, ‘Studies in social influence III: Majority vesus minority influence in a group,’ Europe Journal of Social Psychology, 6/2, 151.
[11] Roger Boase (ed.), Islam and Global Dialogue: Religious Pluralism and Pursuit of Peace, England: Ashgate, 2005, 236; Waardenburg talks about this attitude as a common characteristic of majorities: ‘those who are in a majority position or simply have power, have only very occasionally been interested in taking initiatives for dialogue, except for the sake of law and order or for diplomatic reasons’ (Waardenburg, 2003:17).
[12] Boase, 2005:29.
[13] It should be noted that intra-religious tension is stronger than inter-religious tesion.
[14] Beck, 2013:120; Valenta, ‘Relationship Between Minority and Majority Population Groups, 10.
[15] This is the view of many political leaders and right-wing people in the West. Beck says that there is more attention is being paid to religious diversity now, but usually and mistakenly associated with the Muslim presence in the Netherlands (Beck, 2013:117, 119).
[16] Beck puts it very neatly by saying that a few people therefore think that, with the Muslims residing here, the Trojan horse has been let in. He also notes that Dutch people’s fear of Islam is founded on not only the Islamization of their country but also the introduction of sharia law (Beck, 2013:119–120).
[17] Hopkins, Greenwood and Birchall, 2007:693.
[18] Mahmut Aydın, Dinlerarası Diyalog: Mahiyet, İlkeler ve Tartışmalar, İstanbul: Pınar, 2008, 292, 314.
[19] Salih Yücel, ‘Muslim-Christian Dialogue: Nostra Aetate and Fethullah Gülen’s Philosophy of Dialogue,’ Australian eJournal of Theology, 20/3, (2013), 200.
[20] Yüksel A. Aslandoğan, ‘Historical Background of Turkish Democratization and Gülen/Hizmet Movement’s Contributions,’ (unpublished article), 13.
[21] İbrahim Özdemir, ‘Promotinga Culture of Tolerance through Education: with Special Reference to Turkey,’ Teaching for Tolerance in Muslim Majority Societies, (eds.) Recep Kaymakcan and Oddbjørn Leirvik, İstanbul: DEM, 2007, 82.
[22] Amer al-Roubaie-Shaifiq al-Alvi, ‘Globalization in the Light of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s Risale-i Nur,’ Globalization, Ethics and Islam: The Case of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, (eds.) Ian Markham and İbrahim Özdemir, USA: Ashgate 2005, 138.
[23] Niyazi Öktem, Çağımız Hıristiyan Müslüman Diyalog Önderleri, İstanbul: Selis, 2013, 188.
[24] Helen Rose Ebaugh, The Gülen Movement: A Sociological Analysis of a Civic Movement Rooted in Moderate Islam, London-New York: Springer, 2010, 39.
[25] Oliver Roy, Globalised Islam, 2004, 74–75.
[26] Joshua D. Hendrick, ‘The Regulated Potential of Kinetic Islam: Antitheses in Global Activism,’ Muslim Citizens of the Globalized World: Contribution of the Gülen Movement, Robert A. Hunt and Yüksel A. Aslandoğan, New Jersey: Light, 2006, 24.
[27] Beck, 2013:115.
[28] Ali Ünal and Alphonse Williams, Fethullah Gülen: Advocate of Dialogue, Fairfax: The Fountain 2000, 330.
[29] Recep Kaymakcan is the first Turkish academic to draw attention to this issue. Accordingto his research, non-Islamic religions are generally externalized as religions due to the explicit influence of the confessional approach in Turkish religious education. See Recep Kaymakcan, ‘Christianity in Turkish religious education,’ Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 10/3 (1999), 279–293.
[30] For instance, Yıldırım is accused of promotingclaims to pluralistic truth through his translation. It is claimed that by explainingQur’anic verses usingBiblical passages, Yıldırım is denyingthe notion of the distortion of the Biblical texts and confirming their authenticity. Some even say that his translation is not a scholarly accurate work (Mehmet Bayraktar, Dinlerarası Diyalog ve Başkalaştırılan İslam, İstanbul: Kelam, 2011, 128–130; Bayram Sevinç, Diyalog ve Korku: Postmodern Bir Dilemma, İstanbul: İz, 2012, 93; Yümni Sezen, Dinlerarası Diyalog İhaneti: Dini, Psikolojik, Sosyolojik Tahlil, İstanbul: Kelam, 2011, 21).
[31] Sevinç, 2012:89.
[32] Aydın, 2008:82.
[33] Sezen, 2011:41.
[34] Öktem, 2013:195.
[35] Gülen, Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism, New Jersey: Light, 2004, I.98.
[36] Gülen, ‘Hoşgörü Sürecinin Tahlili,’, accessed on August 19, 2014.
[37] Sevinç, 2012:65; Bayraktar, 2011:168–170.
[38] Sevinç, 2012:65.
[39] Yümni Sezen, Dinlerarası Diyalog İhaneti Dini, Psikolojik, Sosyolojik Tahlil, İstanbul: Kelam, 2011, 176.
[40] Sezen, 2011:228.
[41] Sezen, 2011:89.
[42] Sevinç, 2012:84–85.
[43] Bayraktar, 2011:67.
[44] Sezen, 2011:32, Bayraktar, 2011:180.
[45] Sevinç, 2012:28.
[46] Mehmet Oruç, Dinlerarası Diyalog Tuzağı ve Dinde Reform, İstanbul: Arı, 2004, 81.
[47] Bayraktar, 2011:37.
[48] Sezen, 2011:173.
[49] Davut Aydüz, Tarih Boyunca Dinlerarası Diyalog, İzmir, 2005, 20–22.
[50] Bayraktar, 2011:26, 204.
[51] Bayraktar, 2011:41; Bayraktar holds the view that inter-religious dialogue is also very dangerous to the other religious traditions. (Bayraktar, 2011:45).
[52] Interestingly, Turkish critics of dialogue reiterate that dialogue is generally coducted between Muslims and Christians, and not with any other religious groups. For instance, Jews are very reluctant to participate in dialogue. When they do take part, it is always indirectly. (See. Bayraktar, 2011:75; Oruç, 2004:114).
[53] Sezen, 2011:36, 85, 179, 207.
[54] Bayraktar, 2011:143–145.
[55] Oruç, 2004:21.
[56] Bayraktar, 2011:182.
[57] Sezen, 2011:157–158, 209.
[58] Aydın, 2008:323.
[59] Bayraktar, 2011: 105, 124, Sezen, 2011:131, Oruç, 2004:31.
[60] M. Hakan Yavuz, ‘Islam in the Public Sphere: The Case of the Nur Movement,’ in Turkish Islam and the Secular State: The Gülen Movement, (eds.) M. Hakan Yavuz and John L. Esposito, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2003, 25.
[61] Oruç, 2004:385.
[62] Bayraktar, 2011:172–173.
[63] Bayraktar condemns Ahmet Kurucan, a close associate of Gülen, for makingthis remark (Bayraktar, 2011:175). Nonetheless, we would argue that Kurucan’s remark is clearly based on the Qur’anic text.
[64] Sezen, 2011:148–149.
[65] Aydın, 2008:322.
[66] Oruç, 2004:87, 104.
[67] Öktem, 2013:197.
[68] Aydın, 2008:30.
[69] Oruç, 2004:44; Aydın, 2008:33, 300.
[70] Sezen, 2011:233.
[71] Bayraktar, 2011:119.
[72] Sezen, 2011:13. Sezen says, characteristically, that the movement puts itself in the place of religion (Sezen, 2011:17). Sezen seems unable to be moderate and says that the movement replaces religious consciousness with the consciousness of the leader of the movement (Sezen, 2011:176).
[73] Bayraktar, 2011:74.
[74] Oruç, 2004:26.
[75] Sezen, 2011:164, 176.
[76] Aydın, 2008:317.
[77] Sezen, 2011:182, 230.
[78] Sezen expresses his dissatisfaction with this term and criticizes hizmet by replaing the notions of dar al-harb (abode of unbelief) and dar al-Islam (abode of belief) with the concept of dar al-hizmet.(Sezen, 2011:170).
[79] Aydın, 2008:28, 49.
[80] Sezen, 2011:161, 194.
[81] Oruç, 2004:386; Sezen, 2011:210.
[82] Bayraktar, 2011:124.
[83] Aslandoğan, ‘Historical Background of Turkish Democratization and Gülen/Hizmet Movement’s Contributions,’ 17.
[84] Sezen, 2011:191.
[85] Bayraktar, 2011:150.
[86] Sezen, 2011:219.
[87] Aydın, 2008:293.
[88] Oruç, 2004:404.
[89] Sezen, 2011:208, 216.
[90] Oruç, 2004:121, 142.
[91] Sezen, 2011:152, 235.
[92] Aydın, 2008:91, 279.
[93] Mustafa Köylü, Dinlerarası Diyalog, İstanbul: İnsan, 2007, 147.
[94] Oruç, 2004:134.
[95] Aydın says that missionary agendas are very strongin Protestant Christian circles (Aydın, 2008:94).
[96] Oruç, 2004:117.
[97] Aydın, 2008:279–280, 286–287.

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