The Message Addressed to the International Conference on Islam That Has Been Held on April 29-30, 2005 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Messages

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To the members of Dialogue International and others who helped to organize this important conference, to the faculty members, academicians and students of UW Madison who have contributed to it, and to the honorable speakers and esteemed guests:

I am greatly saddened that my continuing health problems prevent me from joining such an important gathering of distinguished people. Because I believe that as all of humanity marches towards the future, our safest refuge against every kind of disunity and difficulties arising from differences is dialogue. And I think it praise worthy that you have gathered around this topic.

As is increasingly recognized by such scholars as yourselves, all religions have emphasized the same fundamentals and truths. Each messenger who has been sent by God continued, perfected and completed the main principles of the previous messenger in light of the conditions and the needs of the current time. That is, each one repeated the message of the previous messengers, perfecting it in accordance with new circumstances and conditions, elaborating the issues that needed explanation, and reforming those which needed renewal. All the prophets focused on the same topics: the Unity of God, Prophethood, Life after Death, worship. Leaving aside their individual style, personal manner and choice of rhetoric, these fundamentals have been the essence of every prophet's message. The differences between religions, meaning the extent to which issues are elaborated and clarified, or summarized or remain mysterious, and the extent to which some actions are permitted or prohibited- these differences are related to the contemporary advancement and development of humanity at the time. With each new manifestation of His Word (or revelation), God explains the universe, as well as giving detailed directives and specific laws, to each nation according to its level of science/knowledge, perception, and the kinds of problems and needs they faced.

Thus, although the logic and meaning was the same, there has been continual renewal in elaborating that which was summarized, prohibiting things which had been permitted, generalizing the particular, and clarifying the mysterious.

This means, what was regarded as sufficient for beginners required further explanation to serve the needs of those who came later; that which was appropriate for desert dwellers required further explanation to serve the needs of urban dwellers.

Because of this, there have been minor changes in the secondary points in the messages of the prophets from the first to the last. Yet, these changes have been confined to the details and none are related to the real essence of the message. In terms of the differences and the disputes and wars that result from the differences between members of various religions, these do not originate in the essence of revealed religion, but in human motivations such as wrong interpretations, hate and rage, self-interest and greed; these conflicts were and are initiated by those who have abandoned that essential message.

In fact, since the beginning, each prophet guided his followers as an ambassador of love (ask-emiri) and constructed his interactions with them in love. Prophet Moses (pbuh) has gathered his tribe around him with words of love, and saved them from Pharoah's burning hatred. Prophet Jesus (pbuh) composed a life-poem of love, a life which was a masterpiece of love, and fulfilled his mission by performing this poem in different forms. Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) was the voice of mercy all his life. The Torah, the New Testament and the Qur'an are manifestations of God's Attribute of speech; this Speech is the meeting point of love and longing.

God Almighty has made all the prophets, who invite humans to love, peace, and happiness in both worlds, perfect in a unique way, and made them known by these unique attributes. Prophet Adam was the symbol of purity, Prophet Noah was saved from the flood, Prophet Moses was addressed by God, Prophet Jesus was blessed with the spirit of God, Prophet Muhammad was the Beloved of God (Habibullah). Prophet Abraham was the Friend of God (Halilullah). Halîl means a loyal companion or bosom friend, who enters into the presence of the Friend (God) and feels His compassion in the deepest places of the heart. Prophet Abraham is the first person we know of who reached this level of loyalty. I believe that the sincerest, deepest form of friendship exemplified and represented by the Prophet Abraham is needed even more in our day. Establishing world peace will only be possible with the spirit of this unique kind of friendship. The biggest responsibility for establishing this peace is upon the descendents of Abraham.

Yes, although there are differences in their jurisprudence according to the needs of varying geographical and social conditions, the revealed religions present exactly the same model of faith and morals to humanity. All of them taught people the same basic truths about God's existence and oneness, the purpose of human life and all creation, how people should serve God, the ethical behaviors and lifestyle loved and favored by the Creator; the right and wrong, good and bad; how people should organize their life in this world, and what needs to be done in preparation for the Hereafter and eternal life.

Those who belong to the various religions revealed in different times and places, despite all their differences, indeed practice and share the same moral principles. Basic values such as avoiding theft, murder, adultery, lying; and being polite and respectful to others, all of these are common values. These morals also unite Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Just as they are discouraged by Islam, unethical behaviors such as ingratitude, self-pride, lying, greed, disrespect, gossip, hypocrisy, cheating, aggressiveness and instigation, disloyalty, stinginess, slander, injustice, are also guarded against in Christianity and Judaism. People are called instead to be respectful and loving, just, compassionate, merciful, helpful, humble, honest, trustworthy, generous, loyal, self sacrificing and gentle.

Many groups in the world are defending an understanding in complete opposition to these ethics taught by revealed religions. For example, in the last 200 years, materialist philosophy has become very powerful in the world, encouraging people to think only of their own benefit, and to let no rules or regulations stand int the way of their gain. Battles and conflicts, people who attack each other for a piece of land or for power and authority, oppressing the needy and weak more every day, the spread of injustice, and the increase of immorality are just a few examples of such corruption. This situation requires that the followers of the revealed religions unite to rescue humanity from being misled by materialism. It falls to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, with sincerity and common sense, to work together and help each other in struggling against this kind of evil.

I see two sides of our world, exhausted by the conflicts and wars of our day: from one perspective, it is becoming the potential site for new wars and conflict due to the greedy appetites of man, but from another perspective, it is becoming the cradle of brotherhood, love , and unity due to the efforts of people like you who are ambassadors of peace and dialogue. I have hope that the future will give birth to a more joyful, just, merciful and tolerant world, due to dialogue initiatives, started among Muslims, Christians, Jews, who, despite having competed with each other and opposed each other for centuries, are rooted in and nourished by the same source and share the same principles; and these initiatives among the 3 major world religions have grown to include Hinduism and Chinese religions.

Islam as well will make great contributions to the construction of this happy world and future "islands of peace", which are the vision pursued with dialogue and tolerance. Linguistically, the word Islam originated from the words peace, order and harmony; thus it means a person's complete submission to God Almighty, along with obedience and acceptance of God's rules and orders, so that from a muslim's tongue and hand no one receives any harm.

Islam is a lifestyle of justice and harmony in its widest sense, on the levels of the individual, family, and society. Thus, someone who practices Islam thinks honest, lives honest, and always tries not to transgress other people's rights. Starting from him or herself, a muslim stands up against injustice and persecution, and is extremely sensitive regarding the rights of others; protecting their rights from being violated even more than protecting one's own. And lives according to a metaphorical balance, always avoiding extremes.

Islam promotes equality as the will of God Almighty and requires mutual respect of fellow human beings; and states that any attempt to weaken or destroy this equality would be the biggest crime commited against humanity. It clearly rejects class differences based on color, race, region and social status; and in every platform, fights intellectually against this corrupt understanding. Islam embraces every individual and every group with the same equality and warmth. It responds to the expectations and needs of everyone in the same way. As if shouting at the top of its lungs that no one is superior to another human being, it frequently emphasizes equality and equal opportunity. Islam denounces social structures based on family background, and also clearly rejects differential treatment based on class, even if this is only played out in the simplest or smallest areas of life.

Those who have an ideological and political approach to Islam, sometimes due to prejudices and sometimes due the inconsistency of people who falsely present themselves as Muslims and their bad example, cannot free themselves from seeing Islam from the perspective of the most common and predominant ideological systems and views and therefore from erroneous presentations of Islam. In addition to that, some Muslims have attempted to reconcile Islam with the current ideologies and systems and often times choose an apologetic approach in doing so; and therefore could not present Islam in its authenticity and portrayed a different image each time. For example, Islam was associated with liberalism, capitalism and the principles that they are based on in the late 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century; it was also compared with socialism after World War II, due to the rising image of communism and socialism in the third world and in the Islamic world. The current approach is to identify Islam with globalization and the values associated with it. While yesterday it was presented first and foremost as an economic and political system, today it is presented in a completely different way: When reactions and criticism about the agenda formed by others are presented as Islamic positions or criticisms, Islam is degraded to the level of a reactionary philosophy.

In reality, Islam is a unique system for humanity that can be implemented in every aspect of life, and within its application there is flexibility in various aspects of implementation. It offers various solutions for the problems people encounter, from even the smallest conflicts arising in individual or family life to the most complex social issues. From the first moment it enters one's heart, its breadth and width encompasses every detail of life, down to the smallest moral questions. Every piece of its message is universal, a masterpiece of social harmony, a fresh breath of dialogue and tolerance. Discourtesy, disharmony, rage and hatred are reflections of the mind and heart of its opponents, or the reactionary outbursts of uneducated followers of Islam, arising from their envy. Because in a heart where Islam has settled, there is only and only love, compassion, and tolerance for the Creation arising from love for the Creator. In fact, there can be no hate, rage, or envy in a heart which has faith and a connection with God. Such a heart, every day, every week, every year, in different forms of worship, strengthens and rejuvenates its faith, its relationship with the Sustainer, its focus and direction, and if this heart remains pure, there is no possibility of its being open to enmity.

In closing, interfaith and intercultural dialogue is a must. Its first step is (as a contemporary Muslim scholar emphasized), to leave aside the polemical issues between different religions and bring to the fore the common points which are far more numerous. Mevlâna Celâleddin Rumî said, "One of my feet is in the center, the other rotating among all 72 nations". Thinking in this way, we must draw a circle wide enough to include not only religious people, but all of humanity, and stretch out our hands to everyone in peace. It is important not to forget that all relations between civilized people are through dialogue, through excluding and leaving behind the use of force to pursue any end against each other.

With these thoughts, I want to thank everyone who worked to organize this conference on "Islam and Dialogue", and congratulate the participants. I ask your pardon for my not being able to travel there due to my health problems, and send my deepest respects and greetings.

Fethullah Gülen