The Future of Islamic Civilization in A Globalizing World

Date posted: August 8, 2013

By Muzaffar K Awan, M.D.  Grand Rapids Michigan USA

The Muslim civilization was developed historically (spanning from 7th through the 17th centuries) dominating the world close to a millennium. It had transformed the world particularly during its golden age (8th to the 12th centuries); had become universal, supremely successful in all human endeavors, education, democratic ideals, sciences and technology of the era.

Civilization in the Islamic context actually means a transformed and advanced state of human society in which a high level of culture with morality, science, industry, and government has been reached. Individually, Muslims are required to be highly civil when they reach the transformed state of being able to communicate not only with each other but also respect those of different customs, cultures, and faiths. Collectively, Muslims are to promote and speak of universal prosperity and civility to the world and all of humanity. So-called civilized globalization cannot be true without the practical civility concept and when there are still conflicts and clashes of cultures and civilizations around the globe. Historically, there are many examples of civilizations that have coexisted without any clashes or conflicts (as exemplified in “La Convivencia ” in Islamic Spain from the early eighth century until the late fifteenth century). Civilizations are thus not unitary entities; there are official and unofficial, current and countercurrent voices within each civilization. Each civilization is however, a dynamic plural entity, not a ‘shut-down, sealed-off’ unit.

Scholars and historian from around the world have affirmed further that the Islamic civilization and Muslim scientists made tremendous contributions to the revival of modern western civilization during the European Renaissance and Enlightenment eras. The West returned to its great ancient Greek tradition through the Arabic translations of Greek scholars available in the Muslim world. [1] The scholarship of Medieval Islamic ‘giants’ like Al- Kindi, Al-Razi, A-Farabi, Ibn Sina, Al-Ghazali, and Ibn Rushd and numerous other scientists/scholars contributed to the reasoning and rationality that made western sciences possible and provided the critical thinking which led eventually to the Reformation of the West. Thus Islamic Civilization contributed not only to the scientific and literary revival in the West but also to the intellectual challenges to Christian theology. [2]

Muslim genius of nearly a thousand years had veered into modern times and regression from its golden Muslim era. Since the 16th and 17th centuries, the Islamic civilization had been declining and its lowest ebb came with disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, “Europe’s sick man” in the early 20th Century. Ever since, Muslim nations had become developing nations. This does not mean that Islamic world has lost its civilization, but it does mean that all civilizations historically and naturally rise and decline, and not unlike all other civilizations, the Islamic civilization too had changed and declined with time, due to numerous internal and external factors – the declining state of affairs in the Muslim world has not been due to a genetic factors or fundamental cultural values.

The Western Civilization followed Islamic Civilization for 500 years and the Western Civilization during its own tremendous rise brought further advances in all kinds of ways of which we should be enormously proud.  Science, technology, industrialization, democracy, individual rights, personal freedoms, property rights, the rule of law, faith, humanism, organization, economics, gender equality, civil rights, philosophy, music, art, even Imperialism that have all, on balance, further transformed the world for the better but creating new and changing life conditions with challenges and serous problems are confronting us today. History reveals that all civilizations have contributed to the development of subsequent ones but there had been times when many things started to go wrong  .The Western Civilization has had its rise, fall and rebirth (renaissance). Presently, the West too is undergoing another decline not unlike the previous historical civilizations that have had rise and decline of their own.

The world of 1870 to 1914 did seem to have a positive outlook with rising hope and spirit of the global community. The French called those four decades before WWI, “La Belle Époque” (the Beautiful Age) as peace and prosperity were on the horizon. The   standards of living appeared on the rise, democratizing was on the rise; railroads, steam ships, automobiles, airplanes, the telegraph, and the telephone were connecting continents. Things however, began to go wrong, when Great Western powers started to become increasingly hungry and started conquering and colonizing of lands and resources in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Controlling over raw materials and markets and strategic positioning in the world were the driving force. The power gained by industrialized nations made them overly ambitious for the right to rule, and in numerous situations oppressing, those who did not have power. People from many other parts of the world could only acquire a Western level of advancement by learning to think like the West, and missionaries would often define civilization as a combination of Western religion and science

The Great Powers had then formed alliances and Europe was experiencing nationalism. Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy formed the Alliance, and France, Russia and Britain formed the cooperative. The empires of Russia and Austria-Hungary competed for influence over the Balkans while the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire had begun. The First World War began, and the rest is a known history and the beautiful age became disastrous.

Today, and a century later, the comparison appears to be telling of the similar dynamics in our present world in turmoil. In the recent era of globalization (1991-2000), the world looked  ” La Belle Époque” beautiful again like just before 1914, coming together by the forces of global economy and global political ties. The world of the Cold War and nuclear armament appeared to have changed into a world of globalization in the 1990s. Science and technology again being the real force for achieving the new world order and status. Information technology brought the world to global village-type communities. Advances in the new knowledge of lasers, semiconductors, biotechnology, and the like have transformed human life with revolutionary improvements in communication and health, and we even began to dream of a future on other planets.

Not withstanding the conflicts and disorders around the world including the middle East, the nations of the world were aiming for a united globe through understanding and cooperation – the role of the UN – and through economic developments-the role of globalization. The desire to achieve better peace and stability through global coherence had been articulated, for example, in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS), a decree that was endorsed by all member states of the United Nations in September of 2000 with the objectives of attacking global problems such as poverty, diseases, and education for all people of the globe. Through cooperation, many agreements and accords had been reached: the disarmament agreement between the United States and Russia known as START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty); the peace agreement for a NATO and Russian partnership; the agreement for the banning of landmines; the UN International War Crimes Tribunal; and global conferences to address problems such as the environment, water resources, and disease etc.

But then, on September 11, 2001, a horrific attack on the United States occurred causing chaos adding to and compounding the global disorder.  A short-term cause turned into long-term global problem with an impulsive impact on the sole superpower in the world. Also, the political system, which is heavily influenced by strong lobbying and capitalistic media, at times has created a widening gulf between the West and other countries despite the fact that United States is a unique country and with the diversity in its population has resulted in an amalgamated culture – a melting pot. But this new culture is not necessarily knowledgeable about the original cultures of its people from around the world. The United States knows its being especially unique and possessing the ultimate power – that of science and technology – and this power makes it a ruling and dominating force over global economy, markets, and its status as a military-industrial-complex.

America is still in a state of shock and disbelief, and the response in the country has varied from moderate to fanatic. Sadly, the September 11 attack may have coincided with neoconservative and political agendas. With this confusion and confluence, now is the most appropriate time that America needs visionary leadership the most. A vision of unity is in the best interests of all of humanity. The United States has a responsibility to lead the globe into becoming a united global civilization of love and tolerance. The world still remembers the Marshall Plan and the Peace Corps as examples of uniting initiatives of the recent past. America cannot afford to alienate people around the world, and it must apply the same standards of fairness at home and abroad. We must all look for the real sources that actually kindle terrorism and not try to conceal the real reasons behind it. In the long run, the key is not to ignore the have-nots, not to ignore the frustrated part of the world, politically and economically, and to recognize that poverty and hopelessness are the primary sources of terrorism and the disruption of world order.

The rise of popular social youth movements throughout the world including MENA (Middle East /North Africa), Europe and North America in 2011 has seriously challenged the globalism’s hegemonic discourse of the post-cold war (1991-2000) era. The dominant mode in the streets of Tunis, Cairo, Aden, Tehran, Madrid, New York, Athens, London and Istanbul is neither the End of history nor the Clash of Civilizations. People occupying Tahrir, Taksim and Times Squares, Wall Street and other major symbolic institutions of the neo-liberal order want to reclaim their dignity. They demand their humanity, their rights and destiny, a genuine democracy and social justice. This is no less than a discursive paradigm shift, a new beginning to the history, a move towards new alternatives to the status quo. These new movements are laying waste to the whole discourse of neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism and elitism of the East or the West.

As the present situation of humankind (world-wide) has precipitated into turmoil, economic melt-downs, tribulations and dangers of clash of cultures, Islamic civilization must be moved into playing its historic and constructive role (through love and tolerance) once again in the globalizing world peacefully. The essence of meta-history for today is that civilizations will only survive and thrive on the basis of their innovative ideas and peaceful coexistence. As occidental and the oriental societies polish their ideas, their pens and realize that they no longer need to clash or confront each other in wars. A global civilization (of love and tolerance) is the most suitable to this day and age, and we can only then inherit the harmonious future, and unite the entire mankind into a universal brotherhood and fraternity.

We of the Muslim world today, first and foremost, need to explore, plan and safeguard the future of our own Civilization through ongoing debates and discussions with visionary Muslim intellectuals and insightful leaders from around the world. We must rejuvenate our self-confidence, energy, and direction as a culture and civilization. Our mission is to recreate a positive environment in which the evolutionary intellectuals and scholars at the leading edge can share their know-how and set out their vision for our future to inspire others. In this writing, we refer to the renaissance of the Muslim Civilization that took roots in Turkey with Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1877-1960) as the prime mover and being furthered by Fethullah Gulen (who was inspired by Nursi).  Gulen was born in 1941 (Turkey) and lived there until a decade ago and he now lives in the USA since 1999.

There is thus this proto-type Gulen’s hizmet (serving humanity) global and visionary social movement trajectory in place that has been sewing the seeds of ongoing global transformation and renaissance initiated in Turkey since 1960s. It has spread already in close to 150 countries. It was not only inherited from the Nur (Nursi) Movement [3] or its dedication to hizmet but also from particular Cold War socio-political conditions during the period of its emergence and growth. This global and social movement (non-political and faith-based) has been inspired and put into practice by one of the most genuine, creative and courageous thinkers named Fetullah Gulen [4] with world-wide recognition and the one who really cares about all of our humanity as to where it is and where it is heading.

Under the radical secular practices of the Turkish Republic during that earlier era, the adherents of hizmet could engage only in a circumspect, cautious activism in order to protect themselves from being blacklisted and made outcasts by the radical Kemalist  bureaucracy [5] over the decades. Tedbir (caution) has been a commonly used term among hizmet adherents who lived through the military regimes and nominally democratic periods of recent past Turkish Republic history. Because of the lack of freedom of expression, Gülen had to take extra cautionary steps in every stage of the movement’s evolution. This has become characteristic of the hizmet movement’s general and constructive approach.

In the Muslim world there are still two different strategic approaches towards Islamic activism in the contemporary era: an Indirect moderating Model, which seems best exemplified by the Indonesian Model and hizmet Movement in Turkey and beyond, and a Direct Model manifested by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan.  These strategic approaches grapple with the identity crisis created by modernity and globalization while attempting to appeal to the Middle East and the Islamic world at large. This analysis has heuristic value for further studies in positing that the first model tends to flourish in constitutionally soft secular moderating political systems; whereas the latter tends to exist in monarchies or authoritarianism (either secularist or Islamist).

Our Muslim Civilization today along-with the Western civilization faces enormous threats, challenges and still has the unprecedented potential and opportunities to evolve into a really amazing and cohesive future in parallel with evolving global civilization (inclusive of Western and Eastern civilizations) in this post-modern and post-colonial age.

The goal of universal peace and harmony allows us to judge the importance Gulen ascribes to the Muslim, and for that matter, non-Muslim world. In a short English biography, often used as an introduction to most of Gulen’s translated books, it states:

He envisions a twenty-first century in which we shall witness the rebirth of a spiritual dynamic that will revitalize long-dormant moral values; an age of tolerance, understanding, and international cooperation that will ultimately lead, through intercultural dialogue and sharing of values, to a global, inclusive civilization. [6]

In one of his earlier writings, Gülen stated that this inclusive civilization would emerge from the cooperation of the East and West and the respective values and strengths each represents:

The communities based on the cooperation of science and morality always has established true civilizations. For this reason, Western civilization remains paralyzed because it is based mainly on materialism and science, and Eastern (oriental) civilizations are not “true” because, in their present conditions, they have had weaker scientific background. The civilization of the future will have to be established upon a combination of Western science and Eastern faith and morality. [7]

When there’s so much changing all at once, all old structures are failing and there is a huge array of emerging threats and uncertainties. All that generates a lot of anxiety, pessimism and fear which distract us all from putting energy into generating new ideas, creating new solutions, and envisioning a better future for all of our human family. Behind the News Headlines, usually quietly, there has already been a lot of good stuff going on; the seeds of the future have been taking roots and at the present a new paradigm is in the making slowly but surely. There are a lot of evolutionary thinkers trying out new ideas, new technologies, new ways of organizing integrated, conscious and balanced ways of being, thinking and doing things.

We must engage with a large range of hizmet minded people across a variety of roles, professions, beliefs, politics, nationalities, religions, social classes and backgrounds. What is quite clear to us is that while the world we live in has become very highly- complex, we operate in it using a kind of mini-map of our local or regional civilization in our minds which we have been using to navigate through the world, guided by our inner compass of intuition and rational thought. It is astonishing how similar these inner maps are and the patterns are clear from East to the West. This is how we self-organize in what is a complex living system- just like a beehive or wildebeest migration. We are now super-connected by the Internet, media and mass travels. We carry in our pockets access to billions of people and to just about all the knowledge that ever existed. Turning inwards we have access to our instinctive intuition, heart, spirit, wisdom, common sense and judgment.  All this put together, represents a vast and collective human potential and the most amazing opportunities for personal growth, socio- cultural integration and collective evolution ever.

Looked at it like that, just about all of our shared challenges, threats and problems are solvable and a much better world is highly possible, realistic and predictable. We’re engaged in a conscious evolution of ourselves, our cultures, our regional civilizations and our participation in a global civilization of love and tolerance despite a huge range of threats and challenges to the East, the West and to the whole World. People focus their attention on different aspects depending on their local or regional situation, beliefs and emotional make-ups. The list is pretty depressing and overwhelming- so we must turn our attention to a list of positive and collective questions instead.

Rethinking in the Muslim context… bears the attributes of sociology of the city, community and faith. Gulen gives practical examples while criticizing those approaches that restrict belief systems, their true meanings and domains. He combines the current living process with history, builds cause and effect relationships, and emphasizes the determination of understanding the actual phenomena, instead of getting stuck in the complexities of difficult area and trying to approve them. We need to understand what is religious, what is civil, and what is secular. While analyzing a movement that has a higher religious-based motivation, no positivist, modernist, or political reading can lead us to the ultimate truth. The Gülen thought and reality is something beyond all these. Those who look at it from outside and refuse to accept it, as well as those who look at it from inside with envy, unite at the same point. Ali Bulaç’s writing [8] convinces us to re-examine the hizmet movement that many of us think we knew so well. The “reality” and the “depth” are not always as we know them. We are often shallow, and there is a lot more depth to learn and comprehend.

Many had claimed in a Western-style reading that religion would withdraw from public life. However, after the 1950s we saw that the flow of history did not reflect what was predicted. This was not the case just for us in the East; and it is so indeed for the West in the end, religion was understood to be the most important factor influencing the social life, politics, and the masses. It happened so eventually for the Westerners, for us in the East, it did not go anywhere to begin with.

Social scientists do not always think deep enough generally in the Islamic or even the Western world and many are not ready to accept the fact of religious beliefs. Since the philosophical base of our modernization project is positivism, it is assumed that religion is unable to make any positive and constructive contributions.

There has been still continuity between the Ottoman Empire and Turkey. Under the Ottomans, the seyfiye (army and administration), ilmiye (religious, educational, and judicial authorities) and kalemiye (bureaucrats) controlled the center. There was a center but not a centralist government, as well as a strong civil society on the periphery. In addition, there was no conflict between religion and state. After Tanzimat (Early Reform in the Ottoman Empire 1774-1839), the actors in the center changed and a centralized structure had emerged. Under the Republic, the military and civil bureaucrats, judiciary, universities, capital, and state artists formed the center. The ilmiye was replaced by the media and [radical secular] intellectuals with manifestations of a conflict between  intellectuals and the public.

The [radical secular] Intellectuals never defended the values of society; rather, they acted on behalf of the state and undertook the mission of transforming society. However, to modernize society and, as a result, Turkey’s modernization project was turned upside down. The most important factor after 1950 that led to the emergence of [religious] communities in Turkey was the major changes in demographics. Community became a phenomenon that belonged to the city, and therefore communities emerged and expanded with migration from rural to urban. Political Islam is also a product of city and migration. The state cared about this urbanizing migration, since it believed that the city could modernize the masses. But the urbanizing migrants saw the segregation there and started to look for alternative channels and communities.

The communities took on the mission to absorb [cultural] shocks, and they performed many great functions. Since the state and society tended to swallow the individual, the individuals could only protect themselves through communities of their own choice. Communities in the West are non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The most important factors behind their continued viability are their representation of the Anatolian community’s energy and economic rationality. In today’s world, it is only rational for an individual to belong to a community of his/her free choice. Their immediate and long-term future is in the presence of such communities.

The hizmet movement is all–encompassing product of Turkish sociology and thus contains all ethnic groups. It would be wrong to call the movement “Turkish Muslim” or “Anatolian Muslim,” for the all-compassing heritage of the Ottomans is well pronounced in the movement. It also resembles the movement that led to the establishment of the Seljuk’s. Back then, the great economic activity in central Anatolia was motivated mainly by religion (not unlike the Anatolian Tigers of today). The hizmet movement attracts similar energy from Anatolia to this day.

Just like the Seljuk’s and the Ottomans emerged and spread to the Balkans and the Middle East, the hizmet repeats a similar experience in a different manner – by participating in the globalization process. Globalization shakes the nation-state, and tends to dissolve local society. The Hizmet movement, despite being part of globalization process, protects the individual and the society from the resulting negative side effects of globalism. The movement has a founding attribute– the drive to put Turkey at the helm and gather the hinterland around this center of attraction. All communities have to and they do participate in globalization to some degree, but the hizmet movement is larger, faster, and most successful.

Hizmet is not secular in the French Laic sense, since such an entity is not possible in Turkey to begin with. [Secularity] is something that was made up in Turkey’s imagination, a domain with which religion politically is not to interfere. However, according to holistic Islamic perspective, no area is outside of the divine will and power, and hence soft secularity is part of Deen and Dunya without which it is impossible to progress.

Hizmet is a civil movement characterized by a high degree of faith-based motivation. Balanced, moderating and faith-based communities in Turkey serve three functions: they democratize society, they help society participate in modernization, and at the same time they civilize and transform society. This situation baffles social scientists and hard-core secular intellectuals. In 1950, 1970, and between 1990 and 1994, Turkey experienced three large waves of urbanizing immigration. The religious communities adjusted migrating to the city life and that made them eventually belong to the city life. They didn’t confine themselves just to abstract activities, but also engaged in economic activities creating job opportunities. If Turkey hadn’t been a fertile ground for faith-based communities, it would have ended up in a far more complicated and problematic situation. The hizmet movement as a community was neither against the state nor was it an extension of it.

Hizmet transforms society, rebuilds social relationships from the grass-root, and produces a new and unique (individual) person and society. The Hizmet has a vein of social Islam. These  (faith based) Hizmet communities are open to the outside, and all members are free to enter and exit as they wish. It adds something to a person’s spiritual world and makes a community more meaningful.

Hizmet helps develop human, spiritual and social capital individually and collectively. In the movement, sacrifice, living for others, serving, sharing, helping, and making a firm commitment to a basic code of behavior are required. According to Francis Fukuyama, the West, despite its scientific accumulation, technological advancement, and material wealth, does not possess this “social capital.” Without it, social peace, harmony and tranquility cannot be achieved and sustained.

Gulen had understood this era very well. His life consisted of three periods of evolution: local, national, and global most appropriately termed glocal (keeping all three communities still linked or to think globally and to act locally. It is a path that started from Erzurum (Gulen’s hometown) and today it has spread worldwide.

Besides the individual and collective human transformation, these periods have been transforming the material world, financial circumstances, or conditions that the world goes through affecting and impacting an individual and the society. According to Gulen, Turkey will transcend further due to its transforming individuals, but first these individuals had to be brought up properly, best educated and groomed for creating a new and “golden generation” that Gulen has already brought up in millions and they are already engaged in volunteer hizmet works around the globe.

Gulen had indeed read the changes in the region and the world in an accurate and timely manner, and took an appropriate and practical approach. The movement has undergone self-renewal over time. This is what makes Gulen and the movement stands out in distinction. There were some other movements and community leaders in Turkey and other Muslim Nations, but they were using the direct political language and approach of the Cold War and post-Cold War era. The 1990s brought globalization, a new culture and new social relationships. As the leaders of other movements could not read these developments, they were gradually phased out.

Gulen differed from other Muslim world and community leaders, scholars, and academics having been born visionary and having had a much broader education and a solid knowledge of Islamic sciences. This was an important advantage. He studied the modern world closely and has had insights into the social sciences as well. Gulen is seen as a proto-typical and the best example of a profound traditional Muslim scholar-intellectual. Besides being so profound, he is also a “man of action.”

Service or hizmet is certainly the key that sustains the movement and keeps it together. There is a grand ideal, an ideal that was offered to and accepted by the civil society. Otherwise, you would not have all these students who graduate from the Bosporus and other Turkish Universities doing volunteer works in obscure locations all over the world.

The concept of community does not intimidate the individuals. The individual is the essence, and thus this concept cannot deny individuality. Individuals have a crucial role within a community and they are transforming, realizing and actualizing themselves. And so they are happy and serene. In Turkey, communities of such individuals have been building a true civil society for several decades by now.

The movement still has somewhat a lack of the higher intellectual stock; Gulen’s adherents generally do not reflect his brilliant intellectual performance understandably. The biggest problem has been the community’s inability to produce enough number of higher-level intellectuals. One is the leader for two reasons: firstly his/her influence on his/her followers’ minds, even though he/she does not desire it, and secondly the style of their work: they are continuously in action.

There in no pressure from Gulen himself, yet he sets the horizons high that are hard to surpass. I think Gulen is aware of the problem. Until the 1990s, the positive sciences were the focus; now, the social sciences are being emphasized. Of course, the higher intellectual stock needs to be increased and it is being done as much as possible.

I have been following Gulen and the movement since the 2003. First of all, Gulen is bound to traditional Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). Second, he is bound to Islamic methodology (usul). Third, he is bound to the umma’s main body and the Sunna of the prophet. We cannot call him a reformist or a revivalist, but most appropriately a mujaddid who is visionary, societal evolutionary, philosopher and encyclopedic scholar. The legitimate concepts in Islamic history are those of mujaddid (renewed), tejdid (the act of renewing), ihya (reviving), and islah (rehabilitation). He is an outstanding and unique traditionalist and a historical legend in the Muslim world today. He is leading a globalizing  civilization and renaissance project that is presently and positively facilitating the entire global rehabilitation process. Such an accomplishment is difficult to comprehend.

We need to accept that he is a very different and well-equipped person. He came from a very remote and humble background and location in Anatolia and has succeeded on the global scale. This shows what a great potential the Creator can instill into each human being. Anyone can achieve a great success, although success of this caliber cannot be bestowed upon everyone.

It is not hard to understand Gulen. He is a plain person, and he really is. Even his language is plain. One just needs to follow him attentively, read him, and make a sincere attempt to understand him. He is one of the people who use the Turkish language most eloquently but translations of his writings are available in English and multiple other languages. Many People act with prejudice. Even some people in other religious groups are prejudiced against him. Academicians are jealous of him to a great extent, because, they think he is simply an Imam, and “an imam’s job is to preach, so why does he concern himself with broader and global civilizational issues?” He speaks on numerous subjects that are the province of the academicians of various and multiple disciplines, and yet he speaks about them profoundly. Because he is interested and keen, he is very well read, continuing the tradition, and is very well aware of multiple domains of knowledge, human evolution and life. Another of his characteristics, along with his comprehensive and multiple intellectual repertoires, is being a man of persistent action and he does not choose to live in an ivory tower.

He is not a theoretical or hypothetical Muslim, but a person who practices what he preaches. He is extremely careful in his religious practice. Those who have stayed close to him and observed him, confirm that they have never seen a person pray with such a deep reverence. It is astounding. Everyone may have a different perception of Islam, but for it to be legitimate it has to be in accordance with Islam’s foundations: the Qur’an and the Sunna. Gulen thinks and lives totally according to these foundations.

Globalization’s major handicap is the ambiguity and greed of some of its corporate actors and the elites. The hizmet movement adherents say that they don’t have the power to resist the wave of globalization. If they did, it will eliminate them quickly. Therefore, being part of the process and affecting it positively to the degree they can is the best way to go. Turkey is exposed to globalization in every aspect. To not perish, you need to participate consciously and constructively. Otherwise, it may sweep you along and you become a passive object.

Since you participate mind-fully and consciously in the globalization, you are an active subject. You are instructing all basic sciences in Chile, Kazakhstan, the United States, Germany and numerous other countries… You are teaching English, but at the same time you are teaching Turkish and carrying your manner, model character and culture there. While you are giving, you are also taking; this is an interactive relationship. If you have nothing to give, you are in great danger. Turkey’s greatest response to globalization is these worldwide Turkish schools building human character and civility.

With the movement’s financial supporters ( about 2000 in numbers), culture, institutions, and schools, it is indeed an economic power. The movement’s base is small- a mid-size Anatolian business community (Anatolian Tigers). [9] They finance schools worldwide. There isn’t another example like this in the Islamic or the rest of the world.

Globalization has a transformative effect too. Without necessary discretion, it may transform religious life into a visual show. For example, the spirit of whirling dervishes is being shown substantially  to the world in this process. We can  even question globalization while we are in it, we will not face any dangers. I am very touched and optimistic on this issue; Gulen’s life is very straight forward, and pious. Those in general and particularly in the Muslim world, who have been stumbling for so long should look at Gulen’s thought and practice, hizmet movement and action.

Hizmet has an increasingly positive and constructive global impact and yet despite all of this, there is a systematic negative attitude towards the movement by some. Those who take a negative stand perceive this civil global movement as a rival. The Turkish state for example had also been pro-community, a Kemalist community, one that attempted to manage all social and administrative relations through a centralist base seeing all other civil communities as rivals. In addition, the center sought to modernize Turkey based on its own hardline radical and secular views but it failed to do so because the public chose independent modernization over “state imposed modernization.” Parents wanted their daughters to wear the veils and also wanted them to become computer engineers, doctors or whatever they wished to be. The “core” that controlled the state was against the movement.

There has been a human struggle for existence between science and morality. How can one live like a decent human being today in this modern world? This is the goal of the movement, as well as the goal of Islam and other faiths, for all of humanity the best way of being is becoming simply moral human beings.

The social movements like hizmet around the world should stay civil. They must constructively and positively affect and impact the human beings, state and politics, but they should not want to become the states. They don’t have principles or the political mandates to rule the states, and above all they are to focus primarily on helping human beings live as humans in a civil society. This is a democratic, civil, fair, and innocent demand everywhere in the world.

Shaping the future of humanity will depend on leaders who have the capacity to turn it into a hizmet like epoch of universal hope for peace, harmony and prosperity or into the ongoing divisiveness and disorder. Those who do not really know history will not make history. Leadership of the world should use the benefits of practical knowledge gained through Hizmet over the decades to better shaping of a hopeful future for our children and grandchildren, for posterity. This can only be achieved by understanding the need for justice and fairness in the world and by promoting dialogues and cooperation among all countries and peoples of the world, the global community.

It becomes mandatory at this point in time to overhaul and maintain a financially strong and independent UN away from the influences of the elitist powers or superpowers for shaping a better future for humankind. Regardless of the difficulties and complexities in world affairs, undermining of the UN  (as a viable institution for global education, peace and tranquility) has been a tragedy of enormous consequences thus far and cannot go on. Even the superpowers, like the United States (whose population is only 5% or less than that of the population on our planet Earth), cannot be the world’s judge, jury, and executioner.

To shape a brighter and sustainable future of our world in the age of globalizing civilization we need to develop a newer and hizmet like perspective – encompassing the economic, political, religious, and cultural dimensions of our global affairs. We must view the world from a universal perspective. A true, visionary and moral leadership will eventually see our world with a universal perspective that is unifying for all of humanity. And only then our wars will become wars on ignorance, poverty, disunity, disease and despair.


[1] Mehdi nakosteen, History of Islamic Origins of Western Education (Bethesda: ibex Publishers, 2006).

[2] S.M. ghazanfar, The Dialogue of Civilizations: Medieval Social Thought, Latin- European Renaissance and Islamic Influences (Manchester: Foundation for Science Technology and Civilization, 2004).

[3]  The Nur Movement was a “renewalist” movement led by Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1876-1960), which taught that the Qur’an as a living text can have different meanings for different generations and that renewal (tajdid) requires aligning meanings with the challenges of the present day. See M. G. Şahin, “Said Nursi and the Nur Movement in Turkey: An Atomistic Approach,” Digest of Middle East Studies 20 (2011): 226–227. See also Tamer Balcı, “Islam and Democracy in the Thought of Nursi and Gülen,” Chapter Three in this same volume.

[4] The Hizmet (service to others) elaborates the issue of coexistence between Islam and democracy, as well as peaceful accommodation with the West as proposed by the movement, a progressive faith-based movement that has long suggested solutions to the contemporary questions of the Middle East and the Muslim world in general. M. Fethullah Gülen (1941-present), the founder and spiritual leader, was arguing for the compatibility of Islam and democracy long before the Arab Spring was on the horizon. As is well known, the Hizmet is a modern Turkish- Islamic movement which functions in many areas from education, media, and healthcare services to interfaith and intercultural dialogue. As Gülen’s ideas have evolved since the 1960s to 1980s and to present, so the movement has become global in scope. According to the editors of the introductory chapter, one defining characteristic of the Hizmet is its open acceptance of modernism and Gülen has grasped the modern age’s mass communication and education structures well. Unlike ordinary scholars, Gülen encouraged his adherents to open schools instead of mosques. He regarded learning and teaching as two divine duties of an individual, and incorporating the term hizmet allows for reflection upon overlapping features shared by the Gulen movement and the earlier Nur Movement, from which the Gulen movement   borrowed greatly (movement led by Bediuzzaman Said Nursi).

Among Gulen’s main ideas are the following: inter-cultural dialogue, inclusive civilization, appropriate universal education, respect for the rights of others, democracy as the only viable political system, the necessity of interfaith dialogue.

[5] Kemalism, named after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938), the founder of the Turkish republic, is the official ideology of Turkey. See Chapter Three in this volume for more details on Kemalism.

[6] Woodhall & Cetin 2005: viii

[7] Gülen 2006: 56

[8] Bulac Ali, (2008) Din, Kent ve Cemaat: Fethullah Gülen Örneği [Religion, City and Community: Fethullah Gülen’s Example]. Istanbul: Ufuk. Ali Bulac is a sociologist, journalist and writer. He writes regularly for Zaman daily and Today’s Zaman. He focuses in his writings on the contemporary Islamic world, its intellectual problems, and societal change and renewal.

[9] TUSKON, Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkiye: Anatolian Tigers’ are Fearsome on the Export Front: 01.06.2011

Source: The Muslim Times , August 07, 2013

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