Mandela and Gülen by İbrahim Özdemir *

Illustration, Cem Kızıltuğ
Illustration, Cem Kızıltuğ

Date posted: July 3, 2013

(This story was written during the darkest days of the so-called Feb. 28 process and was published in the Zaman daily on Dec. 21, 1999. Today the whole world is focused on Nelson Mandela who has been in hospital for the last few days. I think it is time to rethink the message given by two great leaders of our time, Mandela and Fethullah Gülen, a decade ago at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. We join in the prayers for Mandela and wish these two great leaders health and peace.)

The Parliament of the World’s Religions held its largest and final meeting of the century on Dec. 1-8, 1999 in the South African city of Cape Town.

As is known, this parliament held its first meeting in Chicago in 1893. The second gathering was again held in Chicago a hundred years later. Approximately 8,000 people from various religions and beliefs participated in the latter event and accepted the Declaration of a Global Ethic.

Search for solutions to mankind’s problems

This point made by Parliament President Dr. Howard Sulkin was very important: The 20th century was the stage of two World Wars and many smaller ones. Emphasizing that approximately 200 million people had lost their lives in these wars, he said: “The scientific and technological advances in the 20th century caused many problems, the environmental crisis in particular. For this reason, it can be seen that many people are turning once again to spiritual traditions and religion as they enter a new century. All religions and their members have a great responsibility to make the 21st century an age of peace, tolerance and love. As was clearly seen in Communist Russia, it’s not possible to destroy religious belief by using violence and force. In addition, taking a lesson from religious wars in history, an opportunity should not be given to those who want to make the 21st century a stage for a war of civilizations. For this reason, we all have to take on great responsibility. Protecting our differences and taking strength from our spiritual traditions, we must find solutions to mankind’s problems.”

New turning point

As a result, the meeting held at Cape Town was very important and it appears that this will be a new turning point for all religions. Just like UN decisions, all decisions made here will be announced to the world and those acting contrary to these or those infringing on them will be publicly criticized and exposed. The most important aspect of this meeting, in which more than 6,000 people from different religions participated, was the fact that it was held in a spirit of civil initiative.

This meeting carried a unique meaning and Cape Town was specially selected. South Africa is not only a country of people whose people are black, but at the same time it is a country where one of this century’s darkest, most dictatorial, racist and oppressive regimes came to power. For many years people had been segregated into groups according to color, language, race and religion and were ruled by a white, racist regime that comprised only 13 percent of the population. When you take into account the fact that South Africa’s hero Mandela spent 28 years in prison and that the country had turned into a prison, the nature of the oppressive regime can be better understood. In addition, people had been divided into three categories: whites, mulattos and local blacks. Non-whites being able to enter white residential areas and certain districts in the city was dependent on “permission.”

However, all this oppression and persecution didn’t stand for long against man’s belief, honor and human rights and freedoms. The end came in 1994 when Mandela was elected president. Thus the underlying spirit of the Parliament of the World’s Religions gathering here was: It is not possible to eliminate man’s rights and freedoms and religious beliefs by means of force, oppression, violence or terror. In addition, one of the basic goals of the meeting was a discussion of religions’ contribution to man’s peace, security and a sustainable world.

Mandela: My belief kept me going

Participating in the meeting, Mandela made some very interesting points about the power of religion. Mandela is known by the slogan, “The Struggle Is My Life” and he endured unthinkable kinds and amounts of torture. “If I didn’t have religious belief, I could not have endured oppression and torture. My faith was the basic motivation of my spirit of struggle. In other words, if I’m addressing you here today, it’s a result of my religious faith and God’s grace. Without this kind of faith it wouldn’t be possible to withstand this kind of inhumane torture. As a result, many of my friends met ruin because they didn’t have such faith,” he said. Concerning the role of religions, Mandela said: “While we were in prison, our connections with the outside world were cut. However, Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious people and groups didn’t leave us all alone. With their help, we left prison as educated people. For this reason, in order for the 21st century to be a time of peace and not confrontation, great duties and responsibilities face religious people. In this respect, the significance of this parliament is even greater.”

Hocaefendi, Mandela and Dalai Lama

Everyone gave these views a standing ovation. Like Mandela, world-famous Tibetan monk the Dalai Lama was another leader who attracted a lot of attention. He was the center of attention, especially for Western youth and other groups. Pointing out the mission that awaits religions in the new millennium, the Dalai Lama emphasized the importance of dialogue among different faiths and civilizations. Even though he didn’t attend the meeting, Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi was another person who attracted attention with the message and presentations he sent in his stead. Hocaefendi was personally invited to the parliament, but he was unable to attend due to poor health. In spite of this, he sent a message of greetings and two presentations. In my opinion, this shows the importance and support Hocaefendi gave to the meeting, on the one hand, and to efforts for peace and tolerance among religions and civilizations on the other. Because of this, both the message and presentations were received with great interest. The West knows him not only for his wisdom and educational efforts, but also for his initiatives to build “Peace and Dialogue” on the foundations of love, mercy, accepting everyone as they are, mutual respect, human rights and justice. The image of his being received as a Muslim scholar by the Pope at the Vatican is preserved in Westerners’ memories. The interest in him shown by international communities is interesting in light of the fact that despite all these constructive efforts, some people in Turkey persist in not recognizing Hocaefendi or in misinterpreting his message. For this reason, I believe it’s necessary to underscore some of the points in Hocaefendi’s presentations.

The first point Fethullah Hoca made regarding the parliament was the meaning the 21st century has for all religions. “Every new dawn, every new day, every spring, every new century and millennium in human history means a new beginning and new hope. In this respect, within the wheel of time that turns regardless of our will, man has always sought a new breath in the freshness of the dawn and a new breath of life, especially in moments of difficulty, and with the ease of stepping out of the cradle, he felt hope and desire to step out of the darkness and into the light.

It can only be estimated how much time has passed since our first ancestors walked on this earth, which is mentioned together with the vast skies in the Quran and held as their equal in respect to its divine artistry and ontological meaning. It appears that it will always be only an estimate on man’s part. However, according to the calendar we use to measure time since Jesus’ (p.b.u.h.) birth, we are at the threshold of the third millennium. Actually, just as time is perceived by the individual’s perspective, the dimension in which he exists, according to its position in the universe, it turns in spiral relativity as well. For this reason, because of its meaning and date and social value, which is going from one condition to another, from tribalism to civilization, from belief to action, from the individual to society, the Hijra was accepted as the beginning of Islam’s calendar. Along with this, time measurement has gained an international character, and the world is at the threshold of a new millennium. At this point it is beneficial to mention that there is a situation of relativity here. It is a point to consider that in the history of man, just as a century is measured as 100 years, an average lifespan of 60 years could be considered a century as well. Approaching the matter from this angle, we are already in the fourth millennium A.D. and the third millennium A.H. On the other hand, using the measurement of 100 years as a century, we are already in the eighth millennium according to the Judaic calendar. In the Hindu historical line we are living in the “Kali Yuga” period. I especially wanted to mention this issue in view of the fact that frightening events that are expected in the third millennium by the Western world have already begun to have their effect on people’s spirits.”

In the following text, Hocaefendi emphasizes the importance of faith and belief, which were underscored in the previously mentioned words of Mandela, “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my religious faith.”

“Man always lives with hope; he is the child of hope. When hope is extinguished, his life is finished, even if it continues physically. Hope is in direct proportion to faith. Just as the winter season comprises one-fourth of the year, the periods similar to winter in an individual or society’s life are always less. The wheel of divine activity is so magnificent; Divine Unity, which surrounds all of existence and individual existence at the same time, turns with the wisdom of change. Just as each day the revolution of night and day constantly gives hope to man and life to his spirit, every year the purity of spring, the maturity of summer and the austerity of fall lead us to say ‘hello’ to winter. Similarly, in the full wheel of life, whether on the basis of individuals, nations or all mankind, the expectations of dawn, spring and summer make us smile at the winter snow. This wisdom-filled ‘period of Allah’ revolution is a vehicle for contemplation, insight and gratefulness rather than fear and pessimism for those who possess faith, foresight and the sensitivity to feel the truth, or, in other words, people whose hearts are clear and whose ears are open. Just as day develops in the bosom of night and just as winter serves as the womb of spring, in this evolution life becomes clarified, matures and gives the expected fruit. Within this evolution, the aptitudes latent in man become skills; like rose petals opening, knowledge weaves technology on the loom of time and, parallel to the advancement of time, mankind draws closer, step by step, to the result that is destined for it.”

At this meeting attended by members of all the world’s major religions and where discussions were held on what religion could contribute to resolving the problems facing mankind in the 21st century, Hocaefendi summarized what was required as follows: “It is necessary to neither close our eyes to reality nor to leave it as it is. Man mirrors all of Allah’s attributes and names and he has the honor of being the means for the task of construction on this Earth in His name and he has the responsibilities this entails. If he doesn’t see the wisdom in events which are absolute good in respect to creation and the Creator, but contain evil in some aspects respective to man, then he cannot be saved from the despair and pessimism that man usually falls into, like the existentialists who expressed themselves in the most spectacular way of the century. Thus, life becomes a meaningless process; existence is an emptiness without substance; nonsense is the only criterion; suicide has value and death is the only inevitable truth. In this respect, in the awareness and acceptance that one spoke of the wheel that moves history forward is tied to man, it is necessary to see and pinpoint the realities of life and mankind. On the other hand, it is necessary to give direction to these realities in line with the purpose and ideals based on that which has existed since the first day without changing and which will continue to exist in the foundation of universal values based on faith. This is a necessity of being a man and the only way to sustain life within an orbit of hope, love, excitement, enthusiasm and joy.”

Hocaefendi described the meaning and importance of inter-faith dialogue and tolerance for mankind as follows:

“I hope and believe that the new millennium, contrary to what the West fears, will promise at least a happier, more just and more merciful world than the previous one. Although Islam, Christianity and Judaism come from the same root, possess the same basic principles and are fed from the same source, they have existed for centuries as rival religions. Now, we witness that efforts for dialogue among these religions, efforts that extend to even the ancient Hindu and Chinese religions, are having positive results. As was briefly mentioned previously, in a world that has become a global village, this dialogue will develop as a necessary process and members of the great religions mentioned will inevitably draw closer to one another and find ways to help one another.”

Pointing out that even the conflict between religion and science has lost its attraction and that a more compatible atmosphere has developed between them, Hocaefendi underscored the important role of the Risale-i Nur in this as follows:

“The word of God, which is a ladder of light taking man to God, is manifested in historical form in the Qur’an and the Old and New Testaments. Nature and, on the micro plane, man are manifestations of the will and might of God. Thus, there can be no real conflict between religion and science which examines nature and man. However, previous centuries have painfully witnessed that science has led to a positivist and materialist denial of religion. Christianity has been most affected by this. Efforts made on this issue whether by Christian theologians and scientists or by Muslims, especially the book, Risale-i Nur, taking up this subject in a wonderful way, have enabled this conflict to be resolved. I am hopeful that this centuries-old conflict between religion and science will come to an end, or at least that the futility of such a conflict will be verified.”

As can be seen, a culture of peace, tolerance, acceptance of differences and living together in harmony has met wide acceptance all over the world. In spite of those who see their interests and gains in conflict, genocide and war, mankind wants to enter the new millennium in peace, harmony and justice. It is suggested that national funds spent on arms, conflict and war be spent in the solution of problems that affect us all, especially education, health, poverty and the environment. The most joyful point is that people and groups of different religions and beliefs are showing the will to work together and cooperate on these issues. There is no reason not to hope that the coming century will be better than the previous one.

*İbrahim Özdemir is the former rector of Hasan Kalyoncu University.

Source: TodaysZaman, 30 June, 2013

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