Peace and Interreligious Dialogue
Prof. Dr. Lynn Evans Mitchel
As I understand, the reason why I was invited here, was not to actually write a paper, but to – since I am basically a story-teller and a preacher, as well as an academic – I’m supposed to give people a kind of a personal existential feel for my involvement in Gylen movement and how it has progressed and how it has affected already interfaith dialogue in the United States of America, Texas, by the way is still part of USA.
And so what I will be doing primarily is just going over this abstract and making some further comments for a paper I’ve already written presented to Georgetown University that was entitled “Fethullah Gylen: preacher of pietism and of activism with integrity”, and that is what really streaked the most as I got involved with the people who were supporting the Gylen Movement. And that is that there was not enough emphasis at that time on the fact that Fethullah Gylen was a preacher.
One of the reasons is because in western and American scholarship for the last several decades there’s just a kind of a drift to the understanding that religion and religious piety really doesn’t have to do with anything good. That religious piety is the source of almost all bad things and that I believe is one of the things that Fethullah Gylen is working against. And so, I think that aspect of his personality and of his work and his influence needs to be kept in mind, because like all movements it will be probably sectorized to some extent and maybe even sectorized itself out of existence if it has the impact that Dr. Webb says it may have.
But on the other hand I always want to keep the historical fact in mind that almost all of the great movements, particularly in the English speaking world (England and America) were not advanced by people of the European Enlightenment. They were primarily advanced – at least in their success – by preachers, and I think that’s true in the case of Mr. Gylen. His power does not come necessarily from his academic knowledge which is very great, but his commitment to God and his commitment to the fact that without God in the world – whether it’s because just nominal Christianity or nominal Islam, or some people call Real Christianity or not-Real Christianity; real Islam, not real Islam – the activism is going to come primarily from people who have a very deep commitment. In fact in the paper that I wrote for Georgetown which you can find on the Gylen website, so I will not read very much of it, I head the paper with a quotation from Boris Pasternak: “It is not revolution and upheavals that clear roads to new and better days, but someone’s soul inspired and a blaze”. I think Mr. Pasternak captures the essence of what I’ve thought for a long time in terms of academic study. Actually my position at the University of Houston (I’ve talked for the St. Thomas
University for 11 years and I’ve been at University of Houston for 26 years. I had ten year at the University St. Thomas but I didn’t take that to University of Houston. Instead I applied for a clinical professorship which in United Stated means you’re part of the community and you are offering your services to the university, so that university can keep integrated with community). And so my field of religious studies is to me not just an academic exercise, but a very personal and existential exercise. I didn’t know anything about Islam when I was growing up. My mother would always read to me, maybe it would be unbelievable, and every year put a story about the oral dervishes. It told you that these people were from Turkey but it didn’t tell you they were Muslims. So I didn’t know much about Islam and it wasn’t more than 60 years later that I actually met the oral dervishes in Konya and got their autographs just like they were rock stars. But that’s lot that happened in between. I got a call in 2003 from the University of Texas, and I’ve been involved in interfaith dialogue for 35 years.
Primarily studying interfaith dialogue between Christian and Jews and then I established the first interfaith dialogue between Muslims, Jews and Christians, and then an interfaith dialogue of all religions, but I was functioned primarily by the conference on the interfaith dialogue between Christians and Jews and then endeavored in the interfaith dialogue bussines. So I was kind of strand out for several years till I got this call and they said “we have a man here who’s been teaching in the social department and we’d like to know if you’d like to have a Muslim scholar to be a visiting professor”. And I said “yes sir, I would very much like that”. And so Mohammed Jed showed up in my office and he didn’t let me know very much about who he was, except that he was a Muslim. And I was kind of supposed to keep my eye open over his shoulder because he was still working on his Ph.D in England. So I tried to do that but I didn’t really have to do very much, because he is a great man and a great scholar, and is especially passionate in his writings. But he got me involved in the Gylen movement and took me to the first Turkish trip with my wife. It was the best trip I’ve ever had in my life, even though I was afraid to go because if you know Mohammed you know that he keeps things closed to his chest and so I really didn’t know what was going to take place. But when I got to Turkey my whole life changed to certain extent and so the last seven years have been one of the high points in my life getting to know these people, being my best friends. In fact I tell my church when I go to one of these meetings that I’m going to go talk to people who respect me. So that they’ll know maybe they ought to treat me a little better, because it’s the Gylen people that treat me the best that used to.
Anyway, since I met Mohammed (I now serve on the board of an IID, on the board of Gylen Institute at the University of Houston and I served on the board of the Harmony Schools in Texas, established since Mohammed came to Houston.) It’s just been a great experience. But I think it’s also been great for America as a whole because these people are doing things that I never hear of. Even though I’m on the board, I never hear of them until they already go on great in some other university on some other part of the United States. And these people know how to get people’s attention to the problem of a possible conflict of civilizations. So one of the first courses I taught with the help of Mohammed was a course in the conflict of civilizations. Of course, that course was followed by a question mark, because that discussion had loud really taken hold very much in United States. Since then, I also have a number of teachers teaching for me at the University of Houston and I teach courses with them. For instance this semester I’m teaching a course on “Stories in the Quran and the Bible, how comparative literary”. A course with Ibrahim Sumer, and he is a great teacher, he’s becoming a United States citizen. So I’m going back home Monday and give him a Texas cowboy hat. But anyway these people are just people that you’ll fall in love with, because of their servanthood, because of their commitment. Actually, they committed to a lot of work for a very little financial reward themselves. But their reward is that they are dedicated to the ideals of Mr. Gylen, and I think that is one of the great injections into the American conversation.
The state of Texas just a few weeks ago passed a resolution. This is the State of Texas Congress which is made up probably the majority of what we call in America Tea Party. But they passed a resolution honoring Fethullah Gylen. And it they immediately got flack, metaphorical flack, of course. We have to go to up Austin and encourage the guys who had passed this and I think they’re going to stick with it. But this is one of the ways in which Gylen movement affects places all over the United States in ways that absolutely call forth dialogue and discussion. So that’s the reason I’m so much in favor of the movement. In my paper, which you can get online from the Gylen website, I compare Gylen to an English preacher (actually he wasn’t a formal pastor, but he was what I would call a great preacher). When I first heard things that went on in the Gylen movement, I thought first of John Wesley.
One of my goals is to try to let people know who he was, even thou there are cities named after him and colleges named after him in the United States, and he influenced obviously Abraham Lincoln and so forth. But anyway, what I’m trying to get across here is probably what one sociologist or psychologist call “the blick”. I’m trying to give you a feeling of excitement that I and a lot of people in the United States feel about being associated with this group, because we have never found a way to get the kind of dialogue going.
Let me just conclude by saying that what Gylen is trying to do is the same kind of thing that we before and a lot of other people – Martin Luther King and other people in United States – did, that is proclaiming a strong humanitarian condemnation of terrorism, slavery or moral grounds. They showed the incapability of terrorism of slavery with most profound principles of their religious traditions. They showed how religious texts have been abused and pointing to the fact that individuals, special interest and special economic trades are profiting from the continuation of these horrific activities, or economic or political power, and providing practical service in education that promotes mutual understanding, respect, opportunity and hope. So in the case of the institutions encouraged by Gylen they would foster interfaith, intercultural dialogue, mutual understanding and respect, giving hope for upward mobility. This golden generation, who stroke at the right time and believe deep in this soul and the great deal of prevailing cultural Christianity, could be clearly contrasted with what he called real Christianity. We would never have heard of it. The same may be said about Martin Luther King in the 60’s, Nelson Mandela in South Africa. If Fethullah Gylen and his teachers had not had the moral audacity to speak of a true Islam, as opposed to an Islam which was nearly cultural or fundamentalist, we would never have heard of him and would not be gathered together in this conference. So this approach is right for sharing with the world views and shared values of Christians and Muslims, and even more particularly with the movements we’ve describing. As one will before scholar describes this approach, it is providing vision, establishing a networking and finally making goodness fashionable. Thank You!