Hizmet: A Transnational Social Movement with Participants in Turkey, the US, and around the World

This presentation will review a social movement, known as Hizmet, originated by observant Muslims around the ideas of Turkish scholar, preacher and social advocate Fethullah Gulen. The movement combines personal spiritual development with social responsibility. Primary areas of activity include education, dialogue, media, healthcare, and disaster relief. Recently the movement and its source of inspiration Mr. Fethullah Gulen attracted attention due to political developments in Turkey and the controversy around public schools in the U.S. In Turkey, the struggle for democratization brought the movement to the limelight as many adherents of the historically authoritarian military-judicial tutelage system were brought to civilian courts by alleged Gulen sympathizers. Questions about the future of Turkish democracy, Kurdish citizens, freedom of the press, the authoritarian tendencies in the political system and the movement’s role in this context were discussed by Turkish and international media. In the U.S. the nature of Gulen’s influence on Turkish-American teachers who work at highly successful public schools were brought to the national attention. This presentation will examine the history, activities, organizational nature and motivational factors within the movement and respond to some of the questions and allegations regarding what appeared in the mass media.

Alp Aslandogan is the president of the Alliance for Shared Values, a not-for-profit umbrella organization that brings together interfaith and intercultural dialogue organizations for the purpose of advancing human understanding of living in peace and harmony in diversity. Prior to his current position Dr. Aslandogan served as the board president of the Institute of Interfaith Dialog in Houston, Texas where he oversaw the organization of academic as well as grassroots activities of the institute around topics such as shared values of humanity, social cognition and conflicts, the art of living together, foundations and methodology of interfaith and intercultural dialogue, and the role of faithful citizens in democracy. Dr. Aslandogan recently co-edited a book entitled “Muslim Citizens of the Globalized World: Contributions of the Gulen Movement”, published by the Institute of Interfaith Dialog. He is also the co-author of an upcoming book on the history of democracy in Turkey. Dr. Aslandogan is an author and an editor of the Fountain magazine, and a board member of the Journal of Interreligious Dialogue.

Thomas Michel, S.J. was born in St. Louis, MO, in 1941, ordained a Catholic priest in 1967, and took vows as a Jesuit in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in 1969. After studying Arabic in Egypt and Lebanon, he received a doctorate in Islamic thought from the University of Chicago with a thesis entitled “Ibn Taymiyya’s Al-Jawab al-Sahih: A Muslim Theologian’s Critique of Christianity.” After a year teaching at Columbia University in New York, he taught Islamic studies at Sanata Dharma University in Indonesia as well as Christian theology in Islamic theological institutes. In 1981-1994, Fr. Michel worked in the Vatican as Head of the Office for relations with Muslims. During this time he spent four years teaching Christian theology in Turkish universities. In 1994-2008, Fr. Michel served in Bangkok as Secretary for Interreligious Affairs for the Catholic bishops of Asia and as Jesuit Secretary for Interreligious Dialogue in Rome. Until recently, he was living in Turkey and has published extensively on modern Muslim thinkers such as Said Nursi and Fethullah Gülen. He is currently on the staff of Georgetown University as Senior Fellow of the Woodstock Theological Center and Senior Fellow of the Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. The fall semester of 2012 he held the Wade Chair at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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