Renewing Islam by Service: A Christian View of Fethullah Gulen with Pim Valkenberg


Date posted: February 12, 2016

Renewing Islam by Service offers a theological account of the contemporary Turkish faith-based service movement started by Fethullah Gülen, and placed against the backdrop of changes in modern Turkish society. The life and works of Gülen are analyzed against the background of developments in Turkish society, and of spiritual Islamic tendencies in the transition from the Ottoman empire to the secular republic. Pim Valkenberg includes stories of his personal experiences with supporters of this movement, in a number of different countries, and analyzes the spiritual practices and the faith-based service of this movement that is also compared to some important Christian religious movements.

Durin this Luncheon Speaker Series, Dr. Paul Heck introduced Dr. Pim Valkenberg to discuss his book, published in the summer of 2015. Dr. Pim Valkenberg is currently a professor of religion and culture at the Catholic University of America, and a distinguished scholar in dogmatic theology, theology of religions, and Christian-Muslim relations.

Dr. Valkenberg has held several academic positions in the Netherlands and the United States, and has been a visiting scholar at several universities. He has authored numerous publications, many of which focus on religious dialogue.Renewing Islam by Service, his most recent book, which raises many issues relevant to today’s political and religious climate, endeavors to deepen our understanding of the Hizmet movement from a theological perspective.

Dr. Paul Heck opened the discussion by inviting Dr. Valkenberg to discuss why he chose to write about the Hizmet movement, and why he chose the particular approaches found in the book.

Dr. Valkenberg’s replied that his interest in Fethullah Gulen and the Hizmet movement began after his relationship with the Islam and Dialogue Foundation in the Netherlands, shortly after September 11, 2001. While preparing a colloquium on God and violence with the Dialogue Foundation, he encountered a quote that discussed the relationship between loving affection and detesting hate, and connected that relationship with the notion of personal religiosity. This line of thought carried a heavy significance; in a flurry of post 9/11 debate, many would argue that religion is the cause of violence. Conversely, others argued that religion had nothing to do with violence. Dr. Valkenberg feels that both of these rather polarized points are shortsighted. What interested him so deeply in the quote was the existence of duality; that religion contains both like and dislike. After researching and grappling with the idea of detesting hate, he found this concept in the works of Fethullah Gulen. Fethullah Gulen was one of the few scholars who wrote of the idea of detesting hate in specifically religious terms. After this discovery, Dr. Valkenberg became interested in the religious language that structures this theme. From a theological perspective, he endeavored to understand what motivates Muslims who are participating in service, or simply “doing good things”? What motivated the person who inspired these individuals? These questions spurred his interest in the Hizmet movement.

In regards to what makes his approach unique, Dr. Valkenberg emphasizes two main points. From his research, he gathered that most of the scholarship on the Hizmet movement speaks from a social scientific perspective, examining the form of the movement, its relationship to teaching, and how it functions as a network. Therefore, Dr. Valkenberg’s first point of difference lies in his examination of the Hizmet movement as a theologian. Rather than examining how the movement operates, he was interested in the narratives that explain the “why” of the movement and what people say about it. What were, and are, Fethullah Gulen’s motivations? What is his own relationship to the sources of his faith from which he is driven to inspire people? These are the questions that Dr. Valkenberg examines from a theological standpoint in his book. Secondly, after connecting with Rumi Forum to expand upon the Hizmet relationships he built in the Netherlands, was able to travel to Izmir to interview early students of the Hizmet movement. Using these interviews, and his research on Fethullah Gulen, Dr. Valkenberg was able to deal in his research with interpretation of the Quran and how it relates to the movement. In doing so, he had two main areas of focus: the idea of working for God’s pleasure, and the examination of what holds together members of the Hizmet movement and where they get their motivation. He found that examining the Hizmet movement using the concept of working for God’s pleasure expanded his understanding of the movement, functioning as an ‘interpretive key’ that tied together the goals of the movement. Dr. Valkenberg was also deeply interested in Fethullah Gulen’s sermons, which added greatly to his influence.

In conclusion, Dr. Valkenberg shared with the audience some information on the final chapter of his book. This final chapter is comparative; it offers a more explicit analysis of Fethullah Gulen and Hizmet from the point of view of a Christian theologian, and identifies the common threads between Islam and Christianity with respect to service movements.

Overall, Dr. Valkenberg notes that Fethullah Gulen possesses a unique perspective. He is acutely aware of the needs of people, and translates that awareness into his practice of religion, incorporating it into his sense of religious duty. This perspective, the professor notes, spurred his usage of the concept of renewal in the title of his book. The concept that people are in need, and that God created humans such that they cannot simply be blind or cold to the needs of others, so significant to the Hizmet movement, is found in Christian traditions as well. Finding meaningful linkages such as these between the two religions allowed him to reflect more deeply upon his own faith and to expand his knowledge of the Hizmet movement.

Source: Rumi Form


Related News

The genesis of the hatred against Gulen and the Hizmet Movement

By Kenyan Nomad May 2, 2012 Every now and then, we are subjected to a purportedly investigative report by a ‘respected’ (pun intended) journalist about famed Turkish Scholar, Fethullah Gulen and the movement he inspired: The Hizmet (service) Movement. On reading the said article or report, we realize it is the same innuendos, fabrications and the macabre claims […]

Don’t be fooled by Hizmet conspiracy theories

The March 31 opinion article by London-based attorney Robert Amsterdam (“Why should Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen operate charter schools on US Military bases?”) that appeared on The Hill’s Congress Blog was as flawed in content as it was in character. In his piece, Mr. Amsterdam, a henchman for the Turkish government who has made a […]

Return to Turkey or lose citizenship, gov’t tells Gülen followers

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) will revoke the citizenship of followers of the faith-based Gülen movement who sought refuge abroad due to a government crackdown on alleged movement sympathizers if they do not return to Turkey within a certain period of time, the pro-government Sabah daily reported on Thursday.

Turkish charity Kimse Yok Mu delivers aid to Afghani flood victims

Turkish Charity organization Kimse Yok Mu and Turkish Schools in Afghanistan delivered next party of aid consisting of food and other basic requirements for the Afghani families who lost their homes in Friday’s landslide in northeastern Badakshan province.

Turkish-American community grapples with Turkey coup’s aftermath

Dr. Gokcek said he is not optimistic. He is fearful about the growing tensions in the country and coup sympathizers who might be stigmatized as traitors. On a basic level, Gokcek said, he has been able to sit down and eat with other Turkish-Americans with whom he might not always agree. “Some of those friends, I might not be able to now,” he said.

“A Model for Peacemaking: In the Footprints of Francis & the Sultan”

Dialogue Institute of the Southwest co-sponsored a video production called “In the Footprints of Francis and the Sultan: A Model for Peacemaking”, which aims to advance interfaith dialogue and understanding between Christians and Muslims. This video uses the story of their meeting to help us negotiate our difficult interfaith encounters and other misunderstanding and hostility between peoples.

Latest News

Fethullah Gülen’s Condolence Message for South African Human Rights Defender Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Hizmet Movement Declares Core Values with Unified Voice

Ankara systematically tortures supporters of Gülen movement, Kurds, Turkey Tribunal rapporteurs say

Erdogan possessed by Pharaoh, Herod, Hitler spirits?

Devious Use of International Organizations to Persecute Dissidents Abroad: The Erdogan Case

A “Controlled Coup”: Erdogan’s Contribution to the Autocrats’ Playbook

Why is Turkey’s Erdogan persecuting the Gulen movement?

Purge-victim man sent back to prison over Gulen links despite stage 4 cancer diagnosis

University refuses admission to woman jailed over Gülen links

In Case You Missed It

Ex-CIA Director: Mike Flynn and Turkish Officials Discussed Removal of Gulen from U.S. without Going through Legal Process

ECtHR rules Bulgaria violated rights of Turkish journalist who was deported despite seeking asylum

Turkey will conduct ‘operations’ against Erdogan’s enemies in U.S.

Fethullah Gulen: ISIL Actions, Disgrace to Faith

Bryan couple joins interfaith tour of Turkey

Approval rate of Turkish schools abroad at 78 percent

Fethullah Gülen strongly condemns US consulate attack, extends condolences

Copyright 2023 Hizmet News