Fethullah Gülen's Meeting with the Pope

The twentieth century has seen the Informatin Age replace the Industrial Age. Huge advances in telecommunications have brought everyone into closer contact with each other. In such a century, ideas can become obsolete very quickly. If this is to be avoided, the idea must be "put in a window" where people can "see" it, so that it can become powerful and influential.

The Muslim world lags far behind the West in economic, political, and military power. Even if Muslims wanted to use physical force, they do not have the means to do so.

Despite the advances of science and technology, the Divinely revealed religions will continue to exist. Neither side can remove the other, and this fact means that their followers will have to live together in peace. But more than that, new developments and changes in the world force religions to cooperate against antireligious movements.

The Christian West initiated a dialogue after the Second Vatican Council, held between 1962-65. Nevertheless, although the Qur'an made a universal, ecumenical call to dialogue 14 centuries ago, Muslims are reluctant to participate in such a dialogue.

Christianity survived by opposing Islam and resorting to force when necessary. It also imagined that it could survive by distorting Islam's image. In the eyes of the Western world, Islam was obscurantist and fanatical, an artful forgery of Judaism and Christianity. For centuries, the Prophet was considered an imposter. However, seeing that the Christian world was moving even further away from Christianity, the Second Vatican Council announced one of the most important changes in its history: In the Council's opening speech, the Pope Paul VI stressed that although other religions have their imperfections and insufficiencies in, the Catholic Church appreciates their good and right elements.

The Vatican's call to dialogue has not been welcomed by Muslims. This may be due to the following reasons:

· There is no comparable official position or authority to represent Muslims.

· Western colonialism, which lasted for centuries and was supported by Christianity, make it easy for Muslims to believe that the Vatican has an ulterior political motive for making such a call.

· Muslims have not forgotten the Crusades and so remain on their guard.

· Muslims may see this as a new style of missionary activities.

· This call was made at a time when Muslims did not expect it. The Church was ready, thanks to the extensive studies of Christian Orientalists, to pursue it and counter its possible consequences; the Muslims were not.

Muslims in Turkey have long been indifferent to the Vatican's call to dialogue. While this is partly due to the reasons cited above, a more important reason is that Turkey largely has been closed to such developments beyond its borders.

It is difficult to approve of such indifference, for, looking at history, we see that the Turks had the closest relations with the West. Second, around 4 million Turks are living in Europe, and Turkey has a long history of trying to enter the EU. In addition, it would be easy for the West to manipulate the international image of Islam and Muslims against Turkey and other Muslim countries. So, it is up to Turkey as a state, as well as up to Muslim Turks because they are Muslims, to present the true image of Islam and prevent its being misunderstood by ordinary and unbiased non-Muslims.

Fethullah Gülen's meeting with the Pope

Fethullah Gülen, a well-known religious scholar, has been identified with efforts for a sincere dialogue within a Turkey torn by division. Except a few radicals on the right and left, his calls for dialogue based on mutual acceptance and respect of each other's identity, have received positive responses from almost all social segments. Since his calls and efforts have attracted a great dea of attention outside Turkey, last summer he organized and attended significant meetings in the US.

Gülen's position as a Muslim scholar in Turkey with a large following makes him an important person. His followers' activities in different fields, especially education, already cover a large area. Almost all communities within Turkey have greeted his calls for dialogue positively, including the representatives of religious communities: the Patriarch of the Turkish Orthodox community, the Patriarch of the Turkish Armenian community, and the Chief Rabbi of the Turkish Jewish community. These facts may have encouraged the Pope to meet with him.

The offers of Fethullah Gülen

Due to the widespread unfamiliarity with foreign languages and ignorance of basic Islamic beliefs, Muslim Turks have been isolated from the outside world for quite a while. The European destruction of the Ottoman State after centuries of attacks, as well as Europe's occupation of Turkey following the First World War, make Turkish Muslims very careful with they have to deal with the Christian West. Thus, it is only "natural" for them to be suspicious at the Vatican's call for dialogue.

The reaction of certain radicals to this meeting shows that people can still use the Crusades as an obstacle to such a meeting. Others, however few, think that a Muslim religious leader can meet his non-Muslim counterpart only to convert him or her to Islam. It is easy to understand why such people oppose Gülen's offers to the Pope.

Gülen suggested that he and the Pope make joint visits to such historically holy cities as Antioch, Ephesus, and Jerusalem, and hold conferences in the various great cities of the world. He suggested that they could open a university or a faculty of theology in Urfa to teach Islam, Christianity and Judaism and also that Jerusalem should be open to visa-less visits by Muslims, Christians, and Jews. These offers are significant steps toward a better understanding among members of these religions. As a religious scholar confident of his belief, fully dedicated to his cause, and of great vision, Gülen does not fear the weakening of Islam by establishing closer contacts with followers of other religions. He opines that past enmities should not be an obstacle to dialogue.

Coperation against antireligious movements

Muslims are weaker than Christians in material power. However, they are confident of their belief and have much to offer the world. Most of our problems come from a materialistic worldview and indifference to the moral values contained and propagated by religions. Muslims and Christians can offer all people, most of whom are ensnared in a corrupt and materialistic civilization, the spirituality and moral values they hold and which can inject a new hope into despairing souls. This is what such unbiased Western thinkers as Olivier Lacombe, Michel Lelong, and Montgomery Watt hope for. They explicitly write that the West, engrossed in materialism and secularism, can return to religion by seeing the power of faith among the Muslims and their submission to God.

So, can we use dialogue to promote Islam's religious, spiritual, and moral values? If one does not see Islam as an ideological and political weapon to be used against rivals or as a means of superiority, if one is not Muslim by name [only], one should be happy with accepting and promoting Islamic values.

Professor Griffith's views of dialogue

During his visit to the US last summer, Fethullah Gülen met with Sidney Griffith, a professor in The Catholic University, Washington, DC. In a subsequent interview he gave to a Turkish daily, Professor Griffith expressed his views of dialogue as helping

Many Western historians have not heard of the Crusades. Islam has been taught in the West only in faculties of political sciences. It has been approached as a political phenomenon from the viewpoint of orientalists. It has not been taught as a religion. This is where the main problem lies.